Mel Kiper Jr. has Colts going with Bradley Chubb at No. 3 in draft

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Until proven otherwise, the Indianapolis Colts are set at quarterback.

Andrew Luck, still on the mend from surgery on his right shoulder, is optimistic his on-going rehab will allow him to participate in the offseason program, which begins in early April. We should get some type of update on his progress in the next few weeks.

Jacoby Brissett displayed during a Luck-less 2017 he’s at worst a capable fill-in, and at best a young prospect who might develop into a viable year-after-year starter.

Which brings us to the Colts’ position in April’s NFL Draft. They sit on the No. 3 rung behind Cleveland and the New York Giants. With the Browns and Giants expected to target quarterbacks, the Colts are in line to go after the best non-quarterback on general manager Chris Ballard’s board.

That might be North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb.

Or it might be Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Barkley No. 1 and Chubb No. 2 on his “Big Board,’’ but slotted Chubb to Indy in his first mock draft that was posted Thursday.

His rationale?

“It’s just a gut feel,’’ Kiper said during an afternoon conference call. “I opted for the guy who’s not easy to find over a running back that you can historically find later in the draft.’’

Chubb is considered the premier pass-rush option in the draft. He generated 25 sacks and 54.5 tackles for loss at North Carolina State. The 6-4, 275-pound end had 10 sacks and at least 20 tackles for loss in each of his last two seasons.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Colts desperately need a pass rusher. They earned their lofty draft status with a 4-12 record in part because of a defense that finished with just 25 sacks. Only Tampa Bay (22) had fewer. It marked dramatic drop from ’16 (49) and was the team’s fewest since 2006 (25).

Chubb might be the difference-maker that’s been missing since Robert Mathis terrorized the NFL with a franchise-record 19.5 sacks in 2013.

“You could make the argument (Chubb) is the best player in the draft,’’ Kiper said. “He’s not that far off from being the No. 1 guy in the draft. He had two great years back-to-back. He’s got a great attitude, great approach.

“He’s not the elite talent that Myles Garrett is, but he’s more consistent and more on a daily basis gave you everything he had against the run and the pass. He chased down plays. He’s not Myles Garrett, but he’s close enough to say, ‘Hey, he could be the No. 1 player on anybody’s board.’’’

The Cleveland Browns used the first overall pick in 2017 on Garrett.

Mathis is proof elite pass rushers can be found late in the draft. He was a 2003 fifth-round pick (138 overall) who retired after the ’16 season with a team-record 123 sacks.

However, of the top 14 sack producers last season, nine were first-round picks. Four were top-10 selections (the Chargers Joey Bosa, third; Detroits Ziggy Ansah, fifth; Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs, 10th; Carolina’s Julius Peppers, second. In 2014, Houston selected Jadeveon Clowney No. 1 overall and Oakland chose Khalil Mack fifth. Denver’s Von Miller was the second overall pick in 2011.

The Colts used the 11th overall pick in 2002 on Dwight Freeney, and hit a home run. He ranks second in team history with 107.5 sacks and tied for 17th in NFL history with 125.5.

The argument for Barkley is he would offer a game-changer on offense. He rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons at Penn State and piled up at least 1,800 total yards from scrimmage in each of the last two. The 5-11, 230-pounder finished with 3,843 yards and 43 touchdowns as a rusher and 1,195 yards and another 8 TDs as a receiver.

But as Kiper pointed out, effective running backs can be found at various levels of the draft, or as undrafted talent.

Nine running backs cracked the 1,000-yard mark this season, including four taken in the first round. But Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing (1,327), and the Chiefs selected him in the third round with the 86th overall pick. Another rookie phenom – New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara – was a third-round pick. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell was a second-round pick in 2013.

The last time the Colts found themselves at the top of the draft, they invested in their future. Luck was the first overall pick in 2012.

The previous time they had a top-5 pick was in 1999 and, after using the first overall pick in the 1998 draft on quarterback Peyton Manning, they secured running back Edgerrin James.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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