INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – They don’t spend their time tossing darts at a wall plastered with names.
In general, the mock drafters – we know, that’s not their official job title, but it fits – roll up their collective sleeves and do the dirty work. They grind. They evaluate video from college games, the Senior Bowl and, most recently, the NFL Scouting Combine.
They consider the perceived needs of 32 teams and attempt to align talent with need, or slot the Best Player Available – get used to that phrase as the April 23-25 NFL Draft approaches – with the corresponding rung in the draft process. The latter is especially true in the first round.
Gotta come away with the Best Player Available.
Unless a glaring need steers a team in another direction, that is.
With the draft seven weeks from today, it’s worth perusing a variety of mock drafts. Not surprising, there’s no consensus advice for Chris Ballard to consider.
We checked out 10, and they project Ballard targeting seven different players with his first-round pick. The only players mentioned more than once: South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (three times) and Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert (twice).
Force us to make a selection today, without knowing how Ballard upgrades the roster with veteran free agency, and we’re going with Kinlaw.
A look at how others see it:
TODD McSHAY, ESPN
Player: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Comment: In the first season since Andrew Luck shockingly retired, the Colts’ passing game averaged 194.3 yards per game, third-worst in the league, under Jacoby Brissett. . . . A chance under center is likely needed. Brissett has another year on his deal, and that’ll be important. Herbert needs little more time. The 6-6 gunslinger tested well at the combine and lit up the Senior Bowl in January, but consistency concerns haven’t gone away. He has the physical traits you want in a quarterback, including a big arm and mobility, but questions about whether he can lead an NFL offense explain why Herbert is available to the Colts at No. 13.
MEL KIPER, JR., ESPN
Player: Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
Comment: The Colts, a surprise playoff team in 2018, took a step backward last season, but it wasn’t just on offense. No, Jacoby Brissett wasn’t Andrew Luck, but injuries decimated Brissett’s receiving corp. And injuries hurt the defense too, with Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore II, Malik Hooker and Jabaal Sheard among the starters who missed time. The defense needs depth. The Colts could target a corner here, but this might be Kinlaw’s floor, and he’ll help the back end on the defense, too. A massive, 6-6 interior penetrator, Kinlaw was one of the best prospects in the Senior Bowl.
DANIEL JEREMIAH, NFL.com
Player: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
Comment: I believe the Colts will bring in a veteran QB (likely Philip Rivers) and that will allow Love plenty of time to develop.
CHARLEY CASSERLY, NFL.com
Player: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Comment: D-line and wideout are the Colts’ top two needs. If they can solve their QB question in free agency, the aerial attack could take off in a hurry, given the immense talent at receiver in this draft class. A 1-2 punch of T.Y. Hilton and Lamb sounds pretty potent.
DANE BRUGLER, The Athletic
Player: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Comment: A quarterback should not be ruled out here, regardless of whether the Colts sign a veteran like Philip Rivers prior to the draft. But whoever is under center needs more weapons and Jeudy and his electric play speed would fill a substantial need.
MICHAEL RENNER, Pro Football Focus
Player: A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa (after projected trade with Dallas; Colts slide back from No. 13 to No. 17)
Comment: General manager Chris Ballard lives to move down and accumulate more picks in the draft. Epenesa rarely flashed the on-field dominance that his immense physical tools at 6-5, 280 pounds would suggest, but he was consistent against both the run and pass. His versatility would be the perfect addition to the Colts’ defensive line.
KEVIN HANSON, SI.com
Player: Javon Kinlaw
Comment: As Chris Ballard said last month, “the 3-technique drives” this defense and “we’ve got to be able to get some more interior pressure.” Kinlaw has generated 10 sacks over the last two seasons by using his blend of length, strength and quickness.
CHAD TRAPASSO, CBSSports.com
Player: Justin Herbert.
Comment: This is probably the most mutually beneficial landing spot for Herbert in round 1. He wouldn’t have to start immediately and would find himself in an amazing situation behind Indianapolis’ devastating offensive line, and he’d learn under Frank Reich.
Player: Javon Kinlaw
Comment: You can never have enough dominant pass rushers, and the Colts could opt to use an early draft pick on a successor for Justin Houston. They could also find a stud in the interior of their defensive front, and filling that area would allow them to take the best player available. Kinlaw is a great athlete, and he has been a major disruptor in 2019. He dominated the Senior Bowl, just like Aaron Donald did six years ago.
CHAD REUTER, NFL.com
Player: Jacob Eason, QB, Washington
Comment: The Colts find their future starter. Eason’s arm strength will look great to teams in his pre-draft workouts. A quarterback coach and offensive coordinator will believe they can work on the rest of his game.
And be sure to catch the Colts Blue Zone Podcast: