All of ESPN’s NFL reporters converged in Bristol, Connecticut, this week for the annual NFL Nation Mock Draft.
The Indianapolis Colts have their highest draft pick since 2012, at No. 6. But by the time the Colts were on the clock in our mock, pass-rusher Bradley Chubb and running back Saquon Barkley were both off the board already.
That left Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson and Georgia linebacker Raquon Smith as the top players for me to choose from. Both players fit the category of best available and are in positions of need. Smith could be the anchor of the defense with his "freakish" athleticism for years to come.
I went back-and-forth on the decision before finally settling on Nelson.
Two words: Andrew Luck.
The Colts have spent the past 15 months taking methodical steps to try to get Luck’s right shoulder healthy. Why increase the odds of Luck getting hurt again by putting him on the field with a suspect offensive line?
As I pointed out during the mock draft, getting Luck back and having him get rid of the ball quicker are only parts of the equation. The Colts need to put an adequate offensive line up front for the quarterback, a line that can block and also ease any mental obstacles Luck may face once he plays in his first game since Week 17 of the 2016 season.
The Colts haven’t addressed that need yet. They’re returning the same core group of offensive linemen who played a part in giving up an NFL-high 56 sacks last season. They also signed veteran Ryan Slauson.
That news is not going to cause anybody to get overly excited after how the unit played last season.
Selecting a guard this high in the draft would seem untraditional (three guards have been taken in the top 10 since 2010), but Nelson is that good and he would be another piece to go along with center Ryan Kelly and left tackle Anthony Castonzo in building a foundation along the offensive line.
In past years, the Colts have tried to address the line later in the draft, but for some reason the pick didn’t pan out due to injuries, poor play or still waiting to develop. Zach Banner, who was taken in the fourth round of the 2017 draft, didn’t even make the 53-man roster last season.
It’s going to be difficult enough for Luck to return to being the quarterback he was before the injury in Week 3 of the 2015 season. The last thing the Colts need to worry about is whether there will be any added issues for their franchise quarterback due to an inability to protect up front.
Not with Luck at quarterback and not when Colts owner Jim Irsay is paying him $140 million.