INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL draft is a little more than a week away, and the spotlight will be on general manager Chris Ballard after a relatively quiet free-agency period. Ballard showed how much he values building the roster through the draft when he moved back three spots to sixth, while also collecting two more second-round picks and an additional second-round pick next year.
Now he has to make sure he has a fairly good success rate because the roster has many holes in it.
There hasn’t been any indication that Andrew Luck won’t play next season after missing all of the 2017 season while recovering from right shoulder surgery. Luck said on April 9 that he’s “very, very confident and very, very optimistic” he'll be “absolutely fine and come back better” than he was before. That sounds good and all, but the questions will continue until he starts throwing the football and doesn’t suffer any setbacks. Jacoby Brissett started 15 games last season after being acquired by New England a week before the start of the regular season. Brissett threw for 3,098 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven touchdowns. He should be a better quarterback after a full offseason in new coach Frank Reich’s offensive system. The Colts also have Phillip Walker and Brad Kaaya on the roster at quarterback. They’ll have nothing to worry about as long as Luck returns healthy.
Importance meter: 3
Frank Gore’s time with the Colts came to an end after three seasons. The Colts are now searching for a primary running back and some solid backups. Marlon Mack, who backed up Gore as a rookie, will likely get the first shot to start after averaging 3.8 yards a carry and 10.7 yards a reception last season. The running back group could end up being an underrated group if Mack continues to develop and when you look at the other players at the position. The Colts also have veteran Robert Turbin, Matt Jones (who, the team has high hopes for after he spent most of the season on the inactive list), Josh Ferguson and Christine Michael. Reich’s offense in Philadelphia the past two seasons depended on depth at the position.
Importance meter: 5
Jack Doyle is coming off a Pro Bowl appearance after having a team-high 80 receptions for 690 yards and four touchdowns. The Colts believe they can get the best out of Eric Ebron after four unimpressive seasons in Detroit. He could end up being used as a hybrid receiver/tight end in Reich’s offense. Erik Swoope is back after missing last season with a knee injury. The former college basketball player had 15 receptions and a touchdown in his first full season in 2016.
Importance meter: 1
The Colts need help, lots of help, at this position. Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton and Chester Rogers are the only returning receivers who caught a pass last season after Donte Moncrief and Kamar Aiken were not re-signed. Ryan Grant, who spent the past the four seasons in Washington, is coming off a year where he had 573 yards receiving. He’ll be in the mix for significant snaps. The rest of the receiving group is relatively inexperienced or unknown. The Colts will likely use one of their nine draft picks on a receiver.
Importance meter: 10
To no surprise, the Colts have issues along the offensive line. The only moves they made up front so far is re-signing guard Jack Mewhort, who has dealt with health issues the past two seasons, and signing veteran Matt Slauson. It’s a pretty safe bet that the Colts will be addressing the offensive line in the draft, even as early as their first pick at No. 6, after giving up 56 sacks last season. Luck has taken a pounding because of poor play up front most of his career.
Importance meter: 10
The defensive line is undergoing a transformation under new coordinator Matt Eberflus. They’ll be going from using a three-man front to a four-man front that puts an emphasis on speed in the 4-3. The change caused the Colts to release Johnathan Hankins, who had a strong 2017 season. The only defensive lineman signed so far is Denico Autry. The returning group consists of Henry Anderson, Al Woods, Hassan Ridgeway and Grover Stewart, among others.
Importance meter: 5
John Simon and Jabaal Sheard are the leaders when it comes to the two outside linebackers. The issue lies in the middle where an argument could be made that the Colts need an upgrade over Antonio Morrison. Anthony Walker, who was injured most of his rookie season, could be in the mix for snaps at middle linebacker. You can also expect the Colts to select a middle linebacker in the draft. The Colts signed Najee Goode, who was part of Philadelphia's Super Bowl winning defense last season. Goode can play all three linebacker positions, but he got most of his playing time at middle linebacker last season.
Importance meter: 6
This is the position where the Colts have made the biggest commitment to youth. They’re potentially looking at Pierre Desir, Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston as their top three cornerbacks next season. Wilson and Hairston were both rookies last season, and Desir has 13 career starts in four seasons. Kenny Moore, Kenneth Acker and Chris Milton round out the group currently on the roster. Cornerback is a position of need in the draft.
Importance meter: 7
This could be one of the better positions on the entire roster. The key, like most cases, is for players to be healthy. Clayton Geathers (neck) and Malik Hooker (knee) both missed significant time last season due to injuries. Hooker tore his ACL in Week 7 against Jacksonville. Matthias Farley started 15 of 16 games last season and will push Hooker and Geathers for playing time. It’s getting to point where the Colts will have to decide if T.J. Green, their second-round pick in 2016, fits into their long-term plans after he struggled in his first two seasons. Part of the problem is the Colts have to see if he’s a safety or cornerback.
Importance meter: 3
Forty-five-year-old Adam Vinatieri, the ageless kicker who is 58 points shy of passing Hall of Famer Morten Andersen (2,544) for the top spot on the NFL's career scoring list, re-signed in February. Punter Rigoberto Sanchez had a solid rookie season (44.8 yards) as Pat McAfee’s replacement, and long snapper Luke Rhodes has already signed his exclusive rights tender.
Importance meter: 0