A changing of the guard. That’s what fans of the Indianapolis Colts can look forward to when the NFL draft commences tonight at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Indianapolis is in full rebuilding mode. That fact was brought into sharp focus last month when the team released five veteran players, four who have been key ingredients in the Colts’ recent run of success.
Gone is four-time NFL Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning, who was released last month and subsequently signed with Denver. Filling that huge gap for Indianapolis will be former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who will be the first player selected in the draft.
Luck is considered to be the best prospect at his position in close to 30 years — even better than the much-decorated and much-heralded Manning, who was the top pick by the Colts in the 1998 draft.
Indianapolis also parted ways with tight end Dallas Clark, tight end Jacob Tamme, cornerback Jacob Lacey, running back Joseph Addai, linebacker Gary Brackett, safety Melvin Bullitt and quarterback Curtis Painter.
Now it’s up to general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano — both in their first months of work with the Colts — to chart the course for the immediate future of the franchise.
“[My goal is] to get football players who love to play the game. Guys you don’t have to worry about when you’re not watching them. Guys that have talent,” Grigson said last week as he previewed the draft.
“You can’t just pick one type of player. You have to sprinkle different types in all over the place. At the end of the day, they all need to love to play the game and have some level of talent that will help you win eventually.”
It’s safe to say that Indianapolis needs help across the board, but specifically at wide receiver, cornerback and on the defensive line. But it doesn’t stop there.
Don’t be surprised if Grigson and Pagano look to beef up the roster along the offensive line, at linebacker and at strong safety. But drafting simply for need is not good enough. Coming off a 2-14 season in 2011, though, the Colts are looking for help across the board.
“You never want to pass on a really good football player. Somebody that was easy for you to do when you went in to watch the film the first time, the second time, the third time, the 10th time. You usually know the guys you like pretty quickly,” the Indianapolis general manager said.
“If you’re building a team that you want to have sustained success, you want the best players. It doesn’t do you any good to draft a guy that’s just a guy, when you compare him to someone else at another position where you maybe have a little depth that’s just markedly better talent-wise. It’s tough sometimes, but you have to be disciplined. The teams that draft really well, I think, are disciplined in following their [draft] board and not reaching due to need.”
• Wide receiver — The Colts re-signed veteran Reggie Wayne and that’s the good news. Austin Collie is back as a slot receiver. But Indianapolis lost Pierre Garcon (Washington) to free agency. Getting a big, physical receiver who can stretch the defense would seem to be among the team’s top priorities in the draft this year.
• Cornerback — Indianapolis has been hit hard by injuries at cornerback the last two seasons. Third-year veteran Jerraud Powers, hurt in 2010 and 2011, has proven to be the team’s best overall cornerback. Finding a dependable and physical play-making cover corner would help stabilize the secondary.
• Defensive line — With the Colts expected to move into a 3-4 defensive scheme and away from the team’s 4-3 alignment, finding a 3-4 nose tackle is paramount. Free-agent addition Brandon McKinney and returning veteran Antonio Johnson can play there.
• Tight end — With Clark and Tamme gone, Indianapolis needs to find a pass-catching tight end. Free-agent addition Kyle Miller has been filling that role during the team’s voluntary mini-camp. Miller, though, doesn’t have a lot of NFL experience.
Once Luck is selected, the Colts and St. Louis Rams (who also had a 2-14 season last year) will trade off the first pick in rounds two through seven. After the Rams make the second-round selection, Indianapolis will have to decide what it wants to do.
Could Grigson and Pagano opt to trade up, in order to take a coveted tight end like Stanford’s Coby Fleener, or will they decide to move down a few spots?
“I’m always inclined to do anything if it involves us securing a better player or a player I really wanted or a player that we feel could help us. To trade, maneuver and do those things just for the sake of maneuvering is not in my makeup,” Grigson said.
“I like to really keep a laser focus on the board and see who is coming off. You let the draft come to you and let that board speak to me.”
Pagano says that the Colts sit in a good position.
“There is speculation all of the time [about possible trades]. Obviously, we are sitting in a spot in all of the rounds where if there is somebody there that somebody else covets, we have some [draft picks],” the Indianapolis coach pointed out Wednesday.
“Being at the top of the rounds is a great spot to be in. It is not one you want to be in the future, but certainly this year it is a great spot for us. Our guys are armed and ready to field any calls that you get.”