INDIANAPOLIS — Late in the 2016 season, the Indianapolis Colts gave the keys to their defense to two youngsters in the middle in Edwin Jackson, a first-year Georgia Southern product, and rookie Antonio Morrison, whom the team selected in the fourth round of last year's draft.
But will the Colts continue that youth movement at inside linebacker with their first-round selection in this year's NFL Draft?
In his most recent mock draft, The Washington Post's John Harris believes Indianapolis and new general manager Chris Ballard will do just that, as Harris has the Colts taking talented Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster with their pick in the middle of the first round.
You can see Harris' full mock draft by clicking here, but here's what he had to write about the Colts and Foster specifically:*
The Colts lost D'Qwell Jackson for the remainder of the season at inside linebacker due to a suspension. The loss of Jackson created a major void on a defense that already needed a ton of help. Foster will start from Day 1 and could be the best Colts defender by the end of the season. The offensive line needs work, but the late season improvement by LeRaven Clark at tackle is promising.*
Foster, who stands at 6 foot 1 and weighs a slim 228 pounds, actually benefitted from a loss of 20 pounds last summer, which allowed him to show off much more speed on the field. The result was a unanimous All-American season — and the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker — in 2016, leading the Crimson Tide with 115 tackles (13 for a loss) while also adding five sacks.
Of his strengths, NFL.com's Lance Zierlein wrote that Foster has a "Alpha mentality with ferocious hitting style that puts offensive skill positions on alert."
"Outstanding athlete with springy, reactive feet," Zierlein wrote in Foster’s NFL.com Draft Profile. "Loose hips and long stride allows him to open and chase immediately. Has elite sideline-to-sideline range. Tough as nails. Brings swagger to a linebacking corps. Never passive and always means it. Willing to take his shots downhill and into gaps."
Could Foster — who is earning comparisons to NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate Bobby Wagner — come in and start right away for the Colts, as Harris hinted?
Well, maybe; maybe not. The aforementioned D'Qwell Jackson, the team's starter at the MIKE position, was just released on Thursday.
But let's not forget that the Colts' coaching staff was very high on the play and the effort last season from Edwin Jackson, who started eight games and then stepped into that leadership role at inside linebacker during D'Qwell Jackson's suspension.
Nevertheless, Zierlein learned that Foster could be a perfect candidate in the NFL at the WILL linebacker position, so if he were to come to a team like the Colts, one would imagine he would at the very least get every opportunity there is to compete for a starting job opposite D'Qwell Jackson.
"He's not a MIKE linebacker. I think he's a pure run-and-hit WILL linebacker with good cover talent," one NFC director of scouting told Zierlein. "I'm worried about what his medicals will show because he's had some issues with stingers during his career. I have a higher grade on him than I had on Reggie Ragland. Better pro potential to me."
The inside linebacker position should have some continuity for the Colts in 2017, as it returns Edwin Jackson, Morrison (who started four games in D'Qwell Jackson's place towards the end of the season), as well as guys like Deon King and Luke Rhodes, who played as undrafted rookies in 2016.
Only one inside linebacker, Josh McNary, is expected to become a restricted free agent this offseason.
The analysis from those producing content on Colts.com does not necessarily represent the thoughts of the Indianapolis Colts organization. Any conjecture, analysis or opinions formed by Colts.com content creators is not based on inside knowledge gained from team officials, players or staff.