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Grading the draft: A closer look at the Indianapolis Colts’ 11 new players

Analysis from CBS4Indy.com contributor Joe Hopkins

You know that rich person who, despite their abundance of wealth, continues to cut out coupons to save 50 cents on shaving cream?

That was Chris Ballard this free agency period.

The Colts boasted the third-most cap space heading into free agency and finished amongst the league’s worst in nearly every statistical category last season. Nonetheless, Indianapolis remained quiet, signing only tight end Eric Ebron and defensive end Denico Autry to multi-year contracts.

Ballard’s inaction left many scratching their heads. With one of the NFL’s more barren rosters, one would think he’d look to fill at least a couple holes by signing outside talent. But the 48-year-old general manager remains adamant in building through the draft and re-signing his own players. This has the feel of a full-on Philadelphia 76ers-like rebuild.

I hope Colts fans are ready to “trust the process.”

With so much emphasis put on the draft, Indianapolis needed to acquire more picks. They did just that by taking advantage of the quarterback-desperate Jets. By trading down from pick three to pick six, the Colts collected three second-round draft choices, one of which comes in 2019. A few in-draft trades landed Indy a couple more late-round selections, ultimately giving the team eleven in total, second-most only to Baltimore.

Possessing an army of draft picks is great, but what matters more is what you do with them. Below I grade every pick based on the quality of player, how crucial of a need they fill, and what other players were available at the time of the selection.

Overall Grade – B+ 

Ballard stuck to the game plan during the 2018 NFL Draft. His mission was to add high-character athletes who would bring speed, power and toughness to a team lacking those elements. In doing so, Indy passed on seemingly more gifted prospects in lieu of players that fit the new mold.

Five of the Colts’ eleven draft choices were team captains in college, which increases the level of leadership and accountability in the locker room. What will ultimately make or break this draft class is the coaching staff’s ability to develop the players chosen on day two and three.

Round 1 – 6th Overall: Quenton Nelson – OG – Notre Dame

Selection Grade – A+ 

NFL Comparison- Brandon Scherff 

The early run on quarterbacks allowed the Colts to trade back and still nab arguably the best player in the draft. Nelson is a mountain of a man who easily bullies the defender in front of him. He was a team captain at Notre Dame and will help shore up an offensive-line that has held the team back for years.

Round 2 – 36th Overall: Derius Leonard – LB – South Carolina State

Selection Grade – B+ 

NFL Comparison- Telvin Smith

The Colts bypassed more high-profile players to take Leonard because he fits what they want on defense. The 22-year-old is an off-the-ball, run-and-chase linebacker who brings speed, instincts and the versatility to both rush the passer and cover tight ends/running backs. Leonard is instantly the team’s most talented linebacker.

Round 2 – 37th Overall: Braden Smith – OG – Auburn

Selection Grade – B

NFL Comparison- Richie Incognito

Smith, another team captain, is a mauler who dominates with size, strength and toughness. Though his lack of reactive quickness can be a problem against speed-rushers, Smith’s technique, tenacity and power are enough to win most downs. He joins Nelson and Kelly to give Indianapolis one of the nastiest interior offensive lines in football.

Round 2 – 52nd Overall: Kemoko Turay – DE – Rutgers

Selection Grade – A-

NFL Comparison- Ziggy Ansah 

Though incredibly raw, Turay is a high upside pass rusher who explodes off the edge and possesses a freakish combination of length and speed. Whether the Guinea native turns into Von Miller or Barkevious Mingo all depends on his development. Turay will rotate in on passing downs as a rookie.

Round 2 – 64th Overall: Tyquan Lewis – DE – Ohio State

Selection Grade – B

NFL Comparison- Vinny Curry

The effort to upgrade a pass rush that finished with the second-fewest sacks in 2017 (25) continues with the selection of Lewis. The two-time team captain is a power-rusher with solid get-off, good length and the ability to attack the quarterback from the interior on passing downs. He needs to improve versus the run.

Round 4 – 104th Overall: Nyheim Hines – RB – North Carolina State

Selection Grade – B+

NFL Comparison- Darren Sproles  

No running back posted a faster 40 time (4.38) than Hines did at this year’s combine. The 5’8” weapon played receiver in college before transitioning to running back and is capable of scoring every time he touches the ball. He brings added value on special teams, returning two kicks and one punt for touchdowns at N.C. State.

Round 5 – 159th Overall: Daurice Fountain – WR – Northern Iowa

Selection Grade – C

NFL Comparison- Chris Conley

Another small-school prospect with impressive physical traits, Fountain’s pro day numbers include a 42.5” vertical jump and a 4.46 40 yard dash. Standing nearly 6’2” tall, Fountain brings size to a receiver corps that lacks jump-ball pass-catchers. Despite a strong work ethic, the former Panthers’ game is extremely unrefined to this point.

Round 5 – 169th Overall: Jordan Wilkins – RB –Mississippi

Selection Grade – B-

NFL Comparison- Chris Carson

Wilkins adds depth and competition to Indy’s running back room and should excel during outside-zone rushes. The 23-year-old uses his spectacular balance, vision and agility to elude defenders. The knock is that he doesn’t run through contact despite weighing 216 lbs. Wilkins could be a solid change-of-pace ‘back as a rookie.

Round 6 – 185th Overall: Deon Cain – WR – Clemson

Selection Grade – A

NFL Comparison- Amari Cooper

If you want to talk about a steal, look no further than Deon Cain. The latest talent from “Wide Receiver University” brings size, speed, agility and route running to Indianapolis. He slid in the draft due to inconsistent play and drops, but Cain has the potential to start from day one.

Round 7 – 221st Overall: Matthew Adams – LB – Houston

Selection Grade – C

NFL Comparison- Najee Goode

A team captain at Houston, Adams is an undersized linebacker who has solid speed and fits the run-and-hit style the Colts are looking for. He’ll be competing for a roster spot this summer and will need to establish himself on special teams in order to make the team.

Round 7 – 235th Overall: Zaire Franklin – LB – Syracuse

Selection Grade – B-

NFL Comparison- Chris Borland

The Colts went with another high-character prospect in Franklin who was a three-time team captain at Syracuse. Franklin has terrific speed and flows to the ball well. The issue comes when blockers get their hands on him, as Franklin struggles to disengage. Like Adams, he brings competition to the linebacker position and will have to battle for a spot on the team.