After the draft, Kelly penned a piece, “The NFL’s Win-Now Rookies,” in which he was in search for “this year’s Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott,” and named 11 rookies from the Class of 2017 who “could impact the playoffs next season.”
Kelly went on to praise new Colts general manager Chris Ballard with re-tooling the team’s defensive front through free agency, but then hand-picking just the right additional pieces in the draft — namely Hooker and Wilson — to really show that Indy is on the up-and-up once again:
“The Colts have been the inverse of the Texans for the past few years: In
Ballard shored up the Colts’ front seven with the free-agent signings of defensive tackle
With his first two picks of the draft, Ballard grabbed Ohio State free safety Hooker and Florida cornerback Wilson. Wilson should start opposite
Hooker’s impact should extend beyond just creating turnovers, too. His instincts as the last line of defense can help Indy cut down on touchdowns and big plays down the middle of the field, and his range to provide support over the top and break up deep passes toward the sidelines should make Davis and Wilson that much more effective on the outside. With Davis, Wilson, and Hooker patrolling deep, the Colts defense could finally make a long-awaited jump and help the team take a big step up on last year’s 8–8 finish.”
Kelly’s analysis seems spot on — and likely along the same line of thinking of Ballard and his personnel staff when they set out their plan for offseason additions a few months back.
In fact, Ballard said he thought Hooker was “the best athlete in the draft” when he began prospect evaluations months (and maybe even years) ago.
“He’s got a unique skill set. He’s got size. He’s got speed. He’s got great instincts and ball skills,” Ballard said. “And guys that can take away the football are hard to find, and we think he can do that at this level. Is he a ready-made guy? He’s going to need work, but his first year starting at Ohio State he picks off seven balls.”
Wilson, meanwhile, seemed like more of a raw cornerback prospect coming out of Florida, but Ballard likes his size, his physical play and his confidence on the field.
“Wilson is a good fit for what we want to do,” Ballard said. “Any defense I’ve ever been (with) – he’d of been a good fit in Chicago, he’d be a good fit in Kansas City. Big, athletic corners don’t fall off trees. He’s got a unique skillset. He’s a big corner with long arms and good ball skills. He needs work, he knows it. He’s confident, but he knows he’s got to go to work to hit his ceiling.”
You’ll notice Ballard is quick to caution that both Hooker and Wilson are exciting prospects, but will need some time and proper seasoning to become the complete players he believes they can be. This wasn’t different for the Cowboys’ Prescott or Elliott; although both players never seemed to hit that proverbial “rookie wall” last season, they had lots of talent and leadership around them to help mask some of their youthful mistakes from time to time.
With an expected better push up front, this should certainly help youngsters like Hooker and Wilson in the back end of the Colts’ defense. The less time the opposing quarterback has to throw the ball, the more likely a member of the secondary can turn his head and pick up on a bad mistake.
The Colts, by the way, are just one of three teams in the AFC South Division that acquired at least one of the 11 rookies that Kelly believes will make a “win-now” impact for their teams; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson also made the cut.
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