Indianapolis Colts draft preview: Inside linebacker

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D'Qwell Jackson

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (April 11, 2016) – Here’s an undeniable reality in the NFL: high-profile free-agent signings drive public interest, but the draft is the lifeblood to building a championship-caliber roster.

Listen to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.

“The draft is where we’re really going to be better,” he said. “I think we have to over these next two drafts continue to identify guys, particularly defensively, that are going to be key guys as we go forward.”

The Colts hold six picks in the April 28-30 draft – they sent their sixth-rounder to Oakland for linebacker Sio Moore – and it’s not hyperbole to insist their status as perennial playoff contender hinges on general manager Ryan Grigson and his personnel staff adequately addressing several roster deficiencies.

That in mind, over the next few weeks we’ll look at areas of concern.

Today: inside linebacker.

  • Starters: D’Qwell Jackson, Nate Irving.
  • Top backups: Sio Moore, Amarlo Herrera
  • Key stat: The message hasn’t wavered since Chuck Pagano and his 3-4 defense arrived in 2012. Stop the run. Stop the run. Stop the run. Well, we’re still waiting. Over the last four seasons, the Colts’ run defense has ranked No. 25 (in 2015), No. 18, No. 26 and No. 29. The inability to adequately deal with the run, though, didn’t start with Pagano. Over the last 20 seasons, the run defense has ranked No. 20 or worse 15 times, including No. 25 or worse on 10 occasions. The Colts’ last top-10 run defense? You have to go back to 1995 (No. 9). Make it stop. We’re certainly not placing the blame at the feet of the linebackers. Freeman enjoyed a solid four seasons and Jackson has led the team in tackles the past two seasons and made his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2014. But the Colts must be strong up the middle.
  • Degree of concern: High. Freeman rode free agency to Chicago and Jackson turns 33 in September. The jury remains out on Moore, who appeared in 10 games and managed 10 tackles after being acquired in the September trade with the Raiders, and Irving, a free-agent pickup from Denver who still was in rehab mode (knee) last season. Irving appeared in eight games, two as a starter, and finished with 18 tackles.
  • What about: Reggie Ragland, Alabama; Joshua Perry, Ohio State; Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia; B.J. Goodson, Clemson; Kentrell Brothers, Missouri.
  • More about Perry: Perry checks all of the boxes. He was durable at Ohio State, starting 37 of 42 games over the past three seasons. He was productive, leading the Buckeyes with 124 tackles as a junior during their national championship run and finishing second with 105 as a senior. His 298 career tackles rank No. 16 in school history. He was a leader, serving as a co-captain last season. Perry brings good size to the NFL – 6-4, 254 pounds – as well as the ability to play sideline-to-sideline.
  • More from Perry: (Being the Buckeyes’ latest elite linebacker) “It’s huge. Every so often I think about those guys and I have contact with some from time to time. But to be a part of that is huge and that’s the reason why I came to Ohio State is I knew that being a linebacker for The Ohio State University is a big deal and also just the tradition at the school and then moving forward into the NFL those guys are generally successful. That was a big draw for me.”
  • Perry on Making an impact in the NFL: “I guess you want to get down to production because every team is looking for productive guys, so a guy that can make tackles but just being a bigger guy, a guy that can thump. Every team needs one of those. We played on a fast defense with some really good athletes out there, but I think people kind of undersell my athleticism a bit.”
  • Final word: If Grigson opts to strengthen the position in the first round, the only viable option is Ragland. We doubt that happens. A more likely scenario has the Colts looking for help in the middle rounds. Perry would be a nice fit, ideally in round 3 if he’s still on the board.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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