The Colts predraft offseason took a Herculean effort to plug holes on a quickly rebuilt ship with hopes of a maiden voyage deep into the playoffs next year. After acquiring plagued quarterback Carson Wentz, losing several defensive stalwarts, and resigning veterans, the Colts utilized the draft to bolster and replace key positional deficiencies on the roster.
The Colts draft strategy was hyper-focused on positions rather than a best-player-available strategy. General Manager Chris Ballard double-dipped on the defensive line early in the draft. Their goal was to turn a weakness to a strength; giving the team multiple opportunities to get a suitable starting defensive end. It also will allows for the players to grow and develop together, instead of one player bearing the bulk of the snaps.
The Colts lost both Justin Houston and Denico Autry in free agency, who combined accounted for almost 40% of the team’s sacks last season. They immediately replaced those two stars with rookies Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo.
Though much higher than any pick the Texans had, the Colts picked two athletes with a ton of risk. First round pick Kwity Paye was probably the best defensive lineman in the 2021 NFL Draft based on sheer raw athletic ability. Though he only had two years of production at Michigan, Paye was a strong distruptor on the defensive line.
Paye receives quite a lot of negative publicity about having only 11.5 sacks in 26 games, but compared to last year’s 14th pick Javon Kinlaw and 20th pick K’Lavon Chaisson, Paye got to the quarterback at a higher clip than either of those defensive linemen. Both of which received higher grades than Paye did on NFL.com.
What Paye lacks in respect, he makes up for in raw talent. His frame and agility are textbook defensive end assets. What will hold Paye back is his lack of technique at the point of contact and ability to stay on the field for all four downs. The Colts drafted a good one with Paye, but it is far from a golden ticket at this point.
Speaking of tickets, Odeyingbo is a lottery ticket if there ever was one. He tore his Achilles in January at the Senior Bowl and will most likely miss some time this season. Even our frenemies at Stampede Blue believe the defensive end is a risky bet on elite traits. Odeyingbo is a flashy, also raw defensive end whose traits will make or break him at the next level. Hailing from Irving, Texas, Odeyingbo looks like Elastigirl from the Incredibles with freakishly long arms, well built legs, and a frame that stretches for miles.
Along with the Achilles tear, Odeyingbo never truly was dominant at the SEC. He played against the nation’s best offensive linemen, but was not considered a game-breaking talent at Vanderbilt. Once healthy, he should be a boom or bust player for the Colts.
The Colts love their tight ends, and so does Carson Wentz. They drafted SMU product Kylen Granson in the third round. At this point, Colts fans were scratching their head but also clapping. Colts were obviously passing their biggest hole at left tackle, but they found an immediate replacement for Trey Burton, and they may have already had a deal in place with Eric Fisher that wouldn’t affect their compensatory picks. Granson won’t be the next Travis Kelce, but you’ll bury your heads in your hands when he is wide open underneath for 12 yards and then plunges himself into the soul of our safeties. He’ll be a rotational piece in the passing game and instant friend to Wentz
He is fun. Not the biggest guy, but he was a real mismatch in the SMU offense. Teams who like Brevin Jordan will also like Granson.— Nick Larson (@nmlarson_4) January 27, 2021
The back half of the draft was a case study in building depth through the draft in positions of need. Former Texas Longhorn quarterback Sam Ehlinger fell to the Colts in the fifth round and will be the shinier version of Jacoby Brisset. Ehlinger will be a great locker room addition, but doesn’t have the technique or skill set to step in if/when Wentz continues to go downhill.
They also added wide receiver Mike Strachan from Charleston who excelled early in his college career, but didn't play in 2020 since Charleston cancelled their season. The 6’5” receiver will be a nice addition to a complicated pass catcher room in Indianapolis. Another pure lottery pick guy, but overall he could develop into a reliable player down the line.
The Colts last pick in the draft was offensive lineman Will Fries from Penn State. If tackle is your biggest need, why wait until the last round to address it? The answer: they were in the process of signing veteran LT Eric Fisher in free agency. Fisher is recovering from a torn Achilles this past season, which was his first missed snaps since 2014. Fries will slide into the offensive line room as a backup and briefcase holder for what could be an elite offensive line in 2021.
Colts made the playoffs in 2020 and are likely top to bottom the best team in the AFC South. This rookie class may not make a significant impact in 2021, but look out for this class to either disappear or appear all over the field in the near future.