Mike Wells breaks down the Indianapolis Colts' 2017 draft class.
Round 1, No. 15 overall: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
My take: It’s not surprising that the Colts used their first-round pick on a defensive player. That has been their theme the entire offseason. Hooker is the ninth new defensive player the Colts have signed or drafted this offseason. The defensive overload makes sense because they finished 30th in the NFL in that category last season. They need all the help they can get defensively, when you consider that their AFC South counterparts used their first-round picks on offensive players. Jacksonville selected running back Leonard Fournette, Tennessee picked receiver Corey Davis, and Houston traded up to get Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. Colts coach Chuck Pagano said the team didn’t think Hooker would be available at No. 15. Pagano referred to the Ohio State product as a “rare, rare athlete.” Hooker knows how to pursue the football. He returned three of his Big Ten-leading seven interceptions for touchdowns last season. The Colts? They had zero pick-sixes, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Green odd player out? In the 2016 draft, the Colts used their second-round pick to select Clemson safety T.J. Green. Now he could be the odd man out in the group, given the addition of Hooker to go with Clayton Geathers and Darius Butler. Green struggled with discipline during his rookie season. Geathers is the most talented safety the Colts have on the roster. He’s versatile enough that the Colts have used him as a fifth linebacker at times in his first two seasons. The Colts moved Butler to safety this offseason after he split time between safety and cornerback last season. He’s expected to be one of the veteran leaders at safety.
No offseason for Hooker: Pagano said Hooker likely won’t be available until training camp because he had surgery in January to repair sports hernias and a torn labrum in his left hip. That means Hooker will miss rookie camp and the rest of the team’s offseason workouts. “You’d love to have him get every rep as he possibly can,” Pagano said. “He’s going to miss those 10 OTAs, two minicamps. There’s a bunch of reps physically that you need to go through.” Hooker said he’s about 85-90 percent healthy.
Round 2, No. 46: Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
My take: Drafting cornerbacks has been a foreign concept for the Colts under coach Chuck Pagano. Wilson is just the second cornerback the team has selected in its five seasons with Pagano as coach. The Colts hope Wilson will turn out better than the most recent cornerback they chose, D'Joun Smith, the team’s third-round pick in 2015. Smith played a total of four games with the Colts before being released before the start of the regular season last year. Wilson adds to the offseason theme of new general manager Chris Ballard. It started during free agency, when the Colts signed eight defensive players, and it has continued, as Wilson joins safety Malik Hooker as the team’s first two picks in the draft. The Colts are potentially looking at six new starting players on a defense that finished 30th overall last season. Ballard no longer wants the Colts to rely on Andrew Luck and the offense to carry them. He wants balance on offense, defense and special teams.
How he fits: Wilson will be given every opportunity to join Vontae Davis in the starting lineup at cornerback when the Colts face the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1. That shouldn’t be too hard to do when you take into consideration the Colts' lack of depth at that position. Cornerback has been a need of theirs following the release of Patrick Robinson and the move of Darius Butler to safety earlier this offseason. Wilson had three interceptions and a sack last season at Florida. He’s definitely a player who exudes confidence. “I’m just a shutdown corner,” Wilson said. “I frustrate a lot of receivers when I play them.”
Round 3, No. 80: Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio
My take: It’s pretty obvious -- if it wasn’t already -- that Ballard was not a fan of what he saw of the Colts' defense on film. Ballard increased his offseason total of defensive players acquired through free agency or the draft to 11 out of 15 players, including all three draft picks now that the team has added Ohio University defensive end Tarell Basham with the 80th overall pick. The defense has routinely lagged behind the offense under Pagano since the Colts selected quarterback Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012. The Colts have finished 20th or worse in four of the five seasons when Pagano has been coach. It might not happen next season, but Ballard’s determination in reshaping the defense will pay off at some point.
How he fits: Basham will try to help the Colts fill a void when it comes to getting the quarterback. They lost three of their top four sack leaders from last season, including Erik Walden, who recorded a team-high 11 sacks. Basham, like longtime Colt Robert Mathis, will likely have to make the transition from playing defensive end in a 4-3 defensive scheme in college to playing outside linebacker in Pagano’s 3-4 scheme. He’ll compete with Jabaal Sheard for playing time at outside linebacker.
Round 4, No. 137: Zach Banner, OT, USC
My take: It took three defensive picks and a trade back before the Colts selected their first offensive player in the draft, USC offensive lineman Zach Banner. This isn’t surprising, considering the Colts went into the draft focused on improving their defense. Banner started the final 37 games of his career at USC. He’s the fifth offensive lineman the Colts have selected the past two drafts, as they continue to try to stockpile players up front to protect quarterback Andrew Luck.
How he fits: Banner adds depth and competition, which general manager Chris Ballard is trying to accomplish, on the offensive line. It’ll likely be determined later if Banner is better suited as a right tackle or on the left side protecting Luck’s blindside. Banner will have a better chance to play right tackle because veteran Anthony Castonzo is locked in on the left side.
Round 4, No. 143: Marlon Mack, RB, South Florida
My take: The selection of running back Marlon Mack is about the future more than the present for the Colts. They have to start preparing to find a replacement for starter Frank Gore. The veteran turns 34 years old next month, and he’s headed into the final year of his contract. Mack is South Florida’s all-time rushing leader, having totaled 3,609 yards on the ground. He rushed for 275 yards in a game against Western Carolina in 2014.
How he fits: The opportunity will be there for Mack to get some carries because the Colts want to try to reduce Gore’s workload. Gore had 199 more carries than his next closest teammate -- quarterback Andrew Luck -- last season. Mack will compete with Robert Turbin to take some snaps as Gore’s backup. Mack can be a threat on passing downs, as he had 65 receptions in his three seasons at South Florida.
Round 4, No. 144: Grover Stewart, DT, Albany State
My take: Depth and competition have been the theme GM Chris Ballard has consistently talked about. The addition of defensive lineman Grover Stewart does that on a line that already features the likes of Al Woods, Johnathan Hankins, David Parry, Henry Anderson and Kendall Langford. The Colts want to be able to wear teams down by the fourth quarter by consistently rotating fresh bodies into the game.
How he fits: Grover finished his career at Albany State, a Division II school, with 23.5 sacks and 43 tackles while being named to the All-SIAC team in all four seasons. The Colts believe Grover has the tools to play defensive and nose tackle on a defensive line that finished 25th in the NFL against the run last season.
Round 5, No. 158: Nate Hairston, CB, Temple
My take: The Colts entered the draft with cornerback as a need that wasn’t talked about as much as pass-rusher. They ended the draft having selected two cornerbacks in Hairston and second-round pick Wilson, who will get the first shot to start with Vontae Davis. Hairston and Wilson join Davis, Rashaan Melvin, Charles James, Tevin Mitchel, Frankie Williams and Darryl Morris at cornerback on the Colts' roster.
How he fits: The opportunity for playing time will be there for Hairston, who spent his first two seasons at Temple playing receiver before he made the switch to cornerback for his final two seasons. The move turned out pretty well because Hairston did not give up a touchdown after being targeted 36 times last season at Temple. Ballard wants players who get their hands on the ball and create turnovers to get Luck and the offense back on the field. Hairston, who can also play in the slot, had two interceptions to go with three tackles for losses last season.
Round 5, No. 161: Anthony Walker Jr., ILB, Northwestern
My take: It’s only fitting that the Colts ended their draft by selecting a defensive player. You wouldn’t expect anything else when you consider that’s what they wanted to get accomplished heading into the weekend. The Colts used six of their eight draft picks on defensive players in hopes of improving a unit that finished 30th in the NFL last season. Ballard warned not to expect immediate success; he said it’ll likely take time for the defensive unit to come together.
How he fits: Walker will compete with Antonio Morrison, Edwin Jackson, Jon Bostic and Sean Spence for snaps at middle linebacker. Spence has the inside track for one of the inside linebacker spots. Walker, who declared for the draft after his junior season, made 105 tackles last season at Northwestern. He caused plenty of havoc in the backfield during his sophomore season, when he recorded 20.5 tackles for a loss.