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INDIANAPOLIS — We're all susceptible to it as sports fanatics: NFL teams do something surprising in the draft, and our jaws drop like the league hasn't been telling us to expect the unexpected for the last 84 years.
However, we're here today to try and tether us all to the earth before we inevitably shout "WHAT?!" within the first half hour of the 2020 NFL Draft on Thursday evening.
With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down half of the in-person draft process, this draft is going to be especially different. A lack of pro days, on-site facility visits and private workouts means that a player's tape is going to have to do the heaviest talking on his behalf.
And while we can't speak intimately for all the other 31 NFL teams, we can tell you a thing or two about the Indianapolis Colts when it comes to the draft:
First thing's first: Best. Players. Available. The Colts do not make selections based solely on the positions for which they have perceived needs. They simply take the best players available on the board when they're on the clock. Sometimes, a player who plays a position that they do need will be among the best available, and that can be the tiebreaker between who they take, but only if it's not reaching on their board. If a new, drafted player is potentially better than someone already on the roster, upgrades will be made.
The next key thing to remember: The draft is seven rounds long. This often gets blurred with the drafting for need factor, but many fans tend to panic if a team doesn't address an important or needy area of the roster with their first pick. Remember that this thing is much longer than just one pick.
With all of that out of the way, here are several things you shouldn't be surprised to see the Colts do this week.
...DRAFT AN OFFENSIVE LINEMAN OR SAFETY EARLY
At first glance, it may not seem like the Colts need offensive linemen or safeties — and while neither may actually be a pressing need currently, there could be outstanding talent there to be had. The Colts also could have a need at the position this time next year, or even sooner if any injuries occur.
As it pertains to the offensive line, you should always expect it to be a possibility with the Colts' decision-makers. They hold being strong in the trenches in the highest regard and believe in fortifying the roster from the inside-out. You don't want to be caught needing help on the line because a starter is injured, either. They'd like to have nine or 10 starting-level players on their 53-man roster. Protecting the quarterback and being able to establish the run are very, very important, and that starts up front.
Both starting tackles, Anthony Castonzo and Braden Smith, are only signed for two more years, and Castonzo is at the point in his career where he's evaluating his future after each season, so the Colts will need to be prepared. Day 2 of the draft should have plenty of talented offensive tackles, guards and center to choose from, including guys who can play multiple spots.
At safety, we've seen starters miss games over the last few years, so we know first-hand that you have to be prepared. This offseason, former starting strong safety Clayton Geathers became a free agent, leaving the Colts with Malik Hooker and Khari Willis as the starters, with George Odum and Rolan Milligan as the reserves. The Colts not only could use some depth at the position, but we've seen that they'll use more than two safeties in certain packages if they're comfortable with the personnel they have.
Players like Jeremy Chinn, Grant Delpit, Kyle Dugger and Xavier McKinney could make things very interesting at the top of Round 2 depending on who is still available.
...DON'T DRAFT A WIDE RECEIVER EARLY
While it's generally believed the Colts will take a receiver within their first few picks, don't be surprised if they don't. Yes, this draft class is crazy deep at receiver, and that's likely to align with the Colts' need at the position at some point, but it's because of its depth that they might wait.
This year's draft class has guys who could be considered WR2 or WR3 starters easily heading into Day 3 of the draft, and they're players who match what the Colts look for in receivers as well. So, if a receiver isn't near the top of their board when it comes time to pick within their first few picks, it's likely to come up again later in the draft.
Some mid-to-late-round receivers that make sense for the Colts could be Gabriel Davis, Bryan Edwards, Antonio Gandy-Golden, John Hightower, Isaiah Hodgins and Van Jefferson.
The Colts do currently have a talented group of pass-catchers for new quarterback Philip Rivers in T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell, Jack Doyle and Nyheim Hines, so it's not something that's going to cause a huge issue for the Colts if they don't take a receiver early.
...AREN'T PICKING AT NO. 34 OVERALL
As we all know by now, where the Colts are currently slated to pick before the draft begins does not typically translate during the three days of the draft.
Since general manager Chris Ballard arrived in 2017, he has made seven trades during the draft that have involved swapping picks for picks. In two of the trades, they traded up (acquired a combined two picks in exchange for four), and the other five occasions, they traded back (acquired a combined 10 picks in exchange for five).
With seven picks heading into the start of this year's draft, don't be surprised if the Colts are willing trade partners once again, starting with their first pick at No. 34 overall.
"To be honest with you, I would like more picks. I feel very confident. I'd like more picks," Ballard told reporters recently during his pre-draft press conference. "We'll see if that happens or not, but I feel confident in our group. I feel confident in our work and what we have done, and we think we are going to acquire good players."
On the other side of the coin, while the betting odds with Ballard always lean toward trading backwards out of picks in order to acquire more, this is also a unique year.
The Colts finds themselves searching for a quarterback the future, and this draft class has some good ones in it. If someone they like (doesn't have to be a quarterback) begins slipping closer to them at pick No. 34, do they pull the trigger and package a couple of picks to move up? The Colts already surprised us once this offseason by swapping a draft pick straight-up for a player for the first time since Ballard arrived when they acquired DeForest Buckner from the San Francisco 49ers.
...WAIT TO DRAFT A QUARTERBACK
"You can't force the quarterback position, especially in the draft. I think history has shown that. It's got to be the right guy, the right fit for us and for our staff and for our organization. So I don't know when that's going to happen – maybe this year, maybe next year, maybe two years from now. I don't know," Ballard said about drafting the Colts' quarterback of the future. "I'm not going to force it, much to everybody's dismay, and it might drive everybody nuts, but I'm not going to force that issue. When we decide to take one up that we think is going to be the future guy of this franchise you've got to be right."
There you have it; the Colts aren't going to pick a quarterback to be Rivers or Jacoby Brissett's successor just to do it. It may be a player that a lot of people like, but if the Colts have reservations about it, then they will not force it.
However, just because the Colts don't draft a quarterback early doesn't mean they won't take a developmental guy with a lot of upside in the middle rounds. There are mid-to-late-round guys who could make sense, like Anthony Gordon, Brian Lewerke, Steven Montez or James Morgan.
...DRAFT A RUNNING BACK IN THE MIDDLE ROUNDS
Current starting running back Marlon Mack is entering a contract year, and while the team loves what Mack brings to the table, there's no been no official indication of an extension as of yet.
Backup running back Jonathan Williams — who had two 100-yard games in 2019 — also remains an unsigned free agent, and while Nyheim Hines plays a key role, he hasn't really been utilized in that "bellcow" role, even with Mack out with various injuries the past two seasons. Therefore, that leaves Mack and Jordan Wilkins as the Colts' only load-bearing backs currently on the roster, and one of them could become an attractive free agent by next offseason.
Day 3 of the draft is always the perfect time to draft a running back. You don't have to pay them early-round money on their rookie contract and then follow it up by signing them to a costly extension once they become free agents. While early-round running backs often do perform at a high level, we always see guys who were drafted later on (or not drafted at all) become studs. The Colts have the offensive line to help running backs be as successful as possible, and they have every intention of keeping their line performing at that level.
Starting around Round 3 or 4, keep an eye on Darius "Jet" Anderson, Cam Akers, Eno Benjamin, A.J. Dillon, Darrynton Evans, Joshua Kelley, Zack Moss and Patrick Taylor Jr..
...DRAFT A PLAYER AND FLIP THEIR POSITION
We went over this earlier today by discussing safety Jeremy Chinn and cornerback Bryce Hall as potential position switches, but they're not the only candidates in this draft.
Since 2017, we've seen the Colts tinker with or full-on change the positions for guys like T.J. Green, Braden Smith, Tyquan Lewis, Ben Banogu and Marvell Tell III.
The most common swaps we're likely to see around the league are teams that draft offensive tackles to play guard, or center to play guard, and then cornerbacks to play safety and vice versa, as well as safeties to play slot defender. Some defensive linemen even are known to make the 180-degree switch to a role along the offensive line.
At the Combine, there were also six tight ends and wide receivers who were asked to workout as fullbacks/running backs, and four running backs asked to workout as receivers.
...TAKE PLAYERS WHO MAY BE CONSIDERED A REACH
The Colts' board is their board. With limited pro days, face-to-face meetings and personal workouts, boards around the league are likely going to look much different than normal and will likely be heavily tape-based.
While we all have our opinion on who the best players are, nobody knows more information about these players than the teams and the scouts who have been investigating them for months.
As has been proven recently with a guy like two-time All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard — who was well-documented as being considered a reach by the Colts in 2018 — we've got to be patient and let the players prove themselves.