Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Breakout Candidates, Run Game Tweaks, Super Bowl Expectations

040619_mailbag

INDIANAPOLIS — Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out on the party this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here.

Let’s jump right into this week’s questions:

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» Joshua S. (Fountain City, Ind.):The "With the Next pick" 5-Part series started Wednesday. If it airs every Wednesday, that would mean the last part would air the Wednesday after the Draft. Will that last part be centered around the actual day(s) of the Draft? That would be awesome.

Walker: Yep, that’s the plan! Chris Ballard has really peeled back the curtain and granted us access to everything they do to prepare for the draft, and that should continue into the war room for the draft itself. Stay tuned — and while you're waiting, all episodes (and recaps) will be housed here.

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» Sean K. (Colquitt, Ga.):Hey how are you I'm a long time die hard Colts fan and I love everything we've been doing with free agency and the the last couple of drafts I have a Mock Draft for you and let me know how realistic you think it is :

Rd.1 Jaylen Ferguson DE

Rd.2 Taylor Rapp DB

Rd.2 Jeffery Simmons DT

Rd.3 Myles Boykin WR

\Rd.4 Michael Jackson CB \

\Rd.4 Bryce Love RB \

Rd.5 BPA

\Rd.6 BPA \

Rd.7 BPA

Walker: Sean, my guy, thanks for writing in. I think this could be a pretty darn good haul for the Colts if it ended up panning out that way; it certainly addresses a bunch of needs. I think you’d agree with me, however, that Jeffery Simmons remains the wild card of perhaps this entire draft class. He’s a dynamite prospect as far as talent is concerned, but considering the fact that he could miss a huge chunk or the entirety of the 2019 season after tearing his ACL during workouts this offseason and how he requires a deep dive into his character after he was arrested for assaulting a woman before he got into college, it’s anyone’s guess where Simmons will actually land. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he went Top-15, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was there for the Colts to take with their second pick later in the second round. I'll be keeping my eye on him, for sure.

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» Tyler C. (Dallas):My question is how do I get tickets to the 2019 NFL Draft to support my team? I am driving all the way from Dallas, TX to Nashville, TN to show my Colts Pride. It would mean so much to me to be able to experience that.

Walker: I’ve got good news for you, Tyler: this year’s NFL Draft is being billed as the most fan-friendly event in its history — and tickets to get in are completely free. Make sure to download the NFL Fan Mobile Pass app (when it’s available), which is where you can access tickets to the draft in Nashville. You’ll need a ticket for each day you’re planning on going; the festivities will be going on from noon to 10 p.m. on April 25 and 26, and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on April 27. I believe those are in the Central Time Zone. Have fun!

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» Steven B. (Columbus, Ohio):I was always a fan of Austin Collie. The Colts were able to get him in the fourth round. Do you see anyone in the draft who has a similar skillset and should be available around the same place in the draft?

Walker: I wish I had this question last year, because I would’ve said Penn State’s Daesean Hamilton definitely reminded me of Austin Collie coming out of BYU. This year? I’d go with Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow. Here’s a guy that won’t blow you away with any of his measurables — he just gets the job done and catches the ball. Collie and Renfrow are close enough in size (6-1/200 pounds vs. 5-10/180 pounds), and they had similar performances at the NFL Scouting Combine. Collie ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds; Renfrow ran it in 4.59. Collie did the 3-cone drill in 6.78 seconds; Renfrow did it in 6.80 seconds. Plus, Renfrow right now is being projected by many to be a possible fourth-round pick, just like where Collie was selected. So that would be my best guess if I had to give one comparison right this minute.

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» Seth S. (Portland, Ind.):Hey Andrew, my question is about the draft. We always talk about the first round of the draft and not a lot about the later rounds. Who are your sleeper players, that not a lot of people are talking about, that you think the Colts might end up taking in the later rounds? I really liked the Deon Cain pick and thought that he could have been a contributor from day one last year.

Walker: So, Seth, not trying to avoid answering your question here, but here’s my best response: keep an eye on our website next week, when Jake Arthur will present some options he feels could be Colts fits in each round of the upcoming NFL Draft. I think that should give you a pretty good idea what later-round guys to keep an eye on over the next few weeks. Hope that helps!

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» Tim B. (Indianapolis):Nyheim Hines had a rough preseason but really put together a solid 2018 regular season. Will the Colts give him another chance to be the return specialist?

Walker: I think it’s safe to say that the Colts certainly haven’t given up on the possibility of Nyheim Hines being one (or both) of their returners moving forward. As you alluded to, he had a pretty rough go of it at times during his first preseason action as a rookie, and, accordingly, Zach Pascal (kickoffs) and Chester Rogers (punts) eventually earned those returner spots. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hines in the mix at returner throughout the offseason and into training camp once again; after all, he was one of the best returners in college football during his career at N.C. State, and with a little confidence, maybe he could get back to that type of explosive potential again in 2019 and into the future.

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» Bruce I. (New Whiteland, Ind.):I love Mr. Irsay and everything he does for his team, but I think he is putting to much on the team talking about winning super bowls especially 3 in a row. I love what Mr. Ballard and coach is doing, and they will reach their goal in time, we just need to give them time, and do it right . GO COLTS

Walker: Bruce, I wouldn’t take Jim Irsay’s comments about wanting to win three straight Super Bowls as him putting pressure on the team to go out and immediately get it done, or else. Irsay had mentioned on Twitter in February how winning three straight Super Bowls — which has never been done before — would be setting the “G.O.A.T. Standard,” but he also knows how difficult it is just to get one title. "I really feel like this is a young team that's ascending," he said last week at the owners meetings in Phoenix. "You guys know, I will unabashedly say, I'd like to win three in a row. How hard is it? I mean, it's hard as hell just to win one.” I think these two things can be true at the same time: Jim Irsay wants his Colts to become the first NFL franchise to win three straight Super Bowls, but he also will give Chris Ballard and Frank Reich the resources and time required to get to that point.

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» Barbara C. (Crawfordsville, Ind.):Good day to you, love the mailbag☺What do you think of Hassan Ridgeway? He flashed in the pre-season games last year but he doesn't get many opportunities to grow Also, what about Daurice Fountain? He dropped the only pass thrown to him but can't blame the guy if he doesn't get a lot of touches maybe Thank you and have a great day

Walker: Good day to you, Barbara! Thanks for writing. I think this will be a huge offseason for both Hassan Ridgeway and Daurice Fountain, as there’s already a bit of a logjam at both of their positions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Colts added another couple of players at those spots in the draft to create even more competition. With Ridgeway, you’re absolutely right: he was a preseason stud last year, tying for the NFL lead with 4.0 sacks. But a good number of those plays came against the opposing team’s second and third stringers, so you have to also balance how he has performed in matchups against better competition during the regular season. In limited action (103 snaps over seven games, two of them in the playoffs), Ridgeway earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 73.9 in 2018, which is by far the best of his career. So perhaps he can take that momentum into the offseason and into camp and the preseason and once again try to earn a spot along a pretty deep defensive line group. As for Fountain, the Colts are counting on him to continue developing this offseason. Coming from an FCS school, Northern Iowa, Fountain perhaps hasn’t had quite as many reps against top-tier talent as some of the other players at the wide receiver position on the Colts’ roster, so the more he can go out and just get practice reps — and the more he can take advantage of those opportunities — the better.

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» Barbara K. (Indianapolis):Where is the draft party being held and what are the times, this year?

Walker: Wow; two Barbaras submitting questions this week? Who’s next — Barbara Eden? Anyway, here’s the info on the Colts’ draft festivities this year:

» Click here for Day 3 (in my wonderful hometown of Muncie, Ind.)

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» Bransen H. (Tipton, Ind.):Greetings, Andrew. Always a fan of your writing. Looking at the defensive roster, it’s clear that we could upgrade our interior pass rush although we didn’t do too bad last year, even though those sacks came from scheme and coverage. Is Tyquan Lewis definitely moving inside this year? I know the Colts value him more in that position. Does that decrease the need of taking an interior lineman round 1? People seem to forget about Hassan Ridgeway. This is a 24 year old who has been with us for four years now. He is a quick interior DT that has flashed on lesser competition but hasn’t made that jump; is he on the bubble for roster cuts or do the Colts have a plan for him? It is certainly amazing how Ballard has fixed the linebacking core in two years. However, given that most 4-3 teams almost never run their base formation anymore (to keep the nickel CB on the field) begind Walker and Leanord we don’t really have guaranteed backups, do you see this being solved with a mid round draft selection?

Walker: Greetings, Bransen, and thank you so much for your kind words. I would say the plan moving forward is definitely to move Tyquan Lewis to more of a role inside than we saw the second half of the 2018 season, when he was utilized mostly as a defensive end. Chris Ballard actually said this about Lewis recently at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix: “Our first initial thought was we were gonna put him at the three (-technique). We’d like to have him and Denico (Autry) at the three and let ‘em get after it and, you know, compete. There’s nothing like battling for snaps — guys battling to play, man; I mean, battling for snaps, especially those third-down rushes. Everybody wants to be in the game on third down. But when we took Tyquan, that was our initial thought, was we’re gonna make him a three-technique. Well, depth, injuries, we had to end up playing him at defensive end. I don’t wanna say it’s a curse, because he does have the ability to play both; we just think long-term, in this scheme, three-technique’s his best spot. Is that to say we won’t play him at some end? No. We sure could. I just think it all depends on how we move going forward and who we add in the draft and if we’re able to add anymore pieces outside.”

And you can read my thoughts on Hassan Ridgeway above. Spots along that defensive line will be at a premium once final cuts are made, and a guy like Ridgeway, who is entering a contract year for the first time in his career, knows exactly what’s at stake.

As for the depth behind Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker at linebacker, I think if you’re the Colts you feel good about the fact you have guys like Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin, both 2018 seventh-round picks who were forced into action at SAM linebacker (and sometimes elsewhere) during their rookie seasons, and I also wouldn’t forget about Skai Moore, who was on and off the active roster in 2018 and saw his season end on injured reserve on Dec. 13 after suffering a neck injury. So you have pieces there. But certainly, I think the Colts will target more linebackers in the draft, as well as add a couple undrafted guys to the mix, to add competition there behind Leonard and Walker. Speed and striking ability are the name of the game.

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» Trevor E. (Brownsburg, Ind.):Hey Andrew! Always love your insight and witty replies. As the Colts start their second year in the Reich/Eberflus systems, which 2 off./2 def. players might have a second year jump in production?

Walker: Thanks, Trevor! On offense, I feel as if Mo Alie-Cox and Braden Smith have a chance to really make huge jumps in 2019. With Alie-Cox, the progression you saw in his game overall, but particularly as a blocker, was really impressive last year, especially considering it was his first year of full NFL action, and with Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron back, opposing defenses might not have any choice but to provide Alie-Cox with some favorable matchups if the Colts want to go with a tight end-heavy alignment. Smith’s selection is simple, meanwhile: he’s going to get a full offseason to work at one position, which is right tackle. He performed quite well there, especially for a rookie, last year, but we all know his primary position coming into the league was guard. So just more time focusing on tackle should do wonders for Smith.

Defensively, I’m going to go with Kemoko Turay and Quincy Wilson. Turay showed plenty of flash his rookie year — his four sacks with limited reps were nothing to sneeze at — but he still had, and has, plenty of polishing to do to be a more consistent NFL pass rusher. I think the fact Turay has continued to work with Robert Mathis, as well as get his body more in line with what he’ll need to withstand an entire NFL season, should be extremely value. Having Justin Houston around doesn’t hurt, either. As for Wilson, I think there’s a good chance he really starts to put it all together in Year 3. His rookie season, he fell out of favor with the former coaching staff, but really ended the year on a strong note. Last year he was inconsistent early, but seemed to really come along in more of a hybrid role down the stretch, playing both at corner and in the box at times for defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. I’m looking forward to what Wilson brings to the table this offseason.

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» G.R. J. (Frankfort, Ind.):I just started reading your mailbag, sorry didn't know it existed until this season, and feel like you have answered a lot of my questions pundits and news couldn't. Maybe you have answered mine earlier. Adam Vinitari has signed a contract, but do you think they will address a replacement in this years draft? Late round or undrafted? Thanks.

Walker: Ahh, Frankfort: home of the Hot Dogs. Speaking of hot dogs, I need to get to a Cincinnati Reds game as soon as humanly possible. Anyway, G.R., I can’t imagine the Colts will use a draft pick on a kicker this year, although the team usually brings in a second kicker for pretty much the entirety of the offseason program through training camp and the preseason. Last year, for example, undrafted rookie Mike Badgley eventually parlayed an excellent preseason performance with the Colts into the kicking job with the Los Angeles Chargers. Adam Vinatieri is signed for the 2019 season, and I think the Colts will always have a plan ready to go should he ever decide to hang ‘em up. It’s just not really anything to worry about right now, however.

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» Michael M. (Birmingham, Ala.):I really thank you for the mailbag! You are awesome. Please keep up the great work. How far do you think the Colts are from Super Bowl contention? What pieces do you think are missing?

Walker: Thanks, Michael. Please don’t tell people I bribed you into writing those nice words. I personally think the Divisional Round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs showed exactly where the Colts needed to improve to make that jump from simply being playoff contenders to Super Bowl contenders. On offense, I think it was clear that the team needed a No. 2 threat at wide receiver to take the heat of T.Y. Hilton. Having a guy like Jack Doyle at tight end could’ve certainly helped, but perhaps this is where the signing of Devin Funchess will really pay off. On defense, I thought the lack of consistent pass rush was apparent, as was the lack of depth at safety. If you’re going to be facing a guy like Patrick Mahomes in the postseason — and there’s no reason to believe the Colts and Chiefs won’t have some more playoff matchups in the coming years — you need to not only keep him in the pocket and fluster him in the backfield, but you also need to ensure all zones in the secondary are accounted for, because he can hit any of them on any given play if he has the opportunity. Having Malik Hooker healthy and available to play might’ve been huge for Indy in that game, but we’ll never know. So those are the general areas that I think the Colts are working on addressing this offseason so they can be even better prepared to make deeper playoff runs moving forward.

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» Jose R. (Jersey City, N.J.):Hi Andrew love the mailbag. Colt fan since 1969 and first time question.Frank wants the colts be in the top five running game.So why aren't they going after beast mode or Ajay Aiyi either guy should get us to that point. What do you think and Thanks Again.

Walker: Always good to get a longtime fan’s first Mailbag question. Keep ‘em coming, Jose. To get to where Frank Reich wants to go in the run game, I think it’s his belief that he can do it with the personnel the team currently has at the running back position. I mean, if Marlon Mack played a full season last year, he would’ve had probably 1,300 yards and 10 or more touchdowns. You’re not likely to get that kind of production out of a Jay Ajayi or a Marshawn Lynch at this point. But the fact I especially want to drive home is that the Colts believe the changes they’re making up front could really make a huge difference in the run game. The team has a brand new offensive line coach in Chris Strausser, and brand new assistant offensive line coach in Klayton Adams and the legendary Howard Mudd is back to help with the O-line, too. So with different run blocking techniques being taught to a group of offensive linemen who clearly have talent, that could really make waves for Indy and its run game in 2019.

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