Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Positional Needs In The Draft, Grass Vs. Turf, Will Luck & Leonard Take Home Hardware?

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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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» Lerenzo B. (Atlanta):do you thing the colts will draft a prospect like Dk Metcalf

Walker: While it’s way, way too early to say which specific prospects the Colts might be targeting in this year’s NFL Draft, I think it’s clear that many outsiders believe a guy like Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf could very well be available and prime for the picking when Indianapolis goes on the clock with the 26th overall pick in the first round. In fact, in our initial version of “Mock Draft Monday,” Metcalf was a popular selection for the Colts among the various draft experts; both WalterFootball.com’s Walter Cherepinsky and CBS Sports’ R.J. White had him landing in Indy in their most recent mocks. The Colts clearly want to see somebody emerge at that No. 2 spot opposite T.Y. Hilton; a guy like Metcalf seems to have those kinds of traits initially, but we’ll have to get a little deeper in the process before really starting to predict what Indy might do at No. 26.

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» Douglas B. (Reynolds, Ind.):Thanks for the opportunity to ask a question. Lookin at the draft & free agency. Would we try and get wide receiver as first pick or go for an interior defensive lineman?or do we see what we can do in free agency?

Walker: Thanks for sending in the question, Douglas. To continue what I was saying in the question above, however, it’s really way too early to try to even predict what way the Colts will go in the first round of the draft. I’ll tell you why: the personnel folks just yesterday began their two to three weeks of draft meetings. That’s when they go over each and every prospect and begin to build and tweak their board. So without the board even being built — and Chris Ballard and his staff are very, very selective about who they put on that board to begin with — it’s hard, as of yet, to really get a good read on what they might do. Last year, for example, we knew Ballard talked at great length about the need to get better up front, and particularly along the offensive line. So that’s what made the Quenton Nelson pick at No. 6 not so surprising to those who were actually paying attention. This year, the No. 1 priority, according to Ballard, is pass rush, but it’s not quite as pressing as the need for offensive linemen last year. So I really think the Colts could go any number of ways with their first-round pick, but once we get a little later down the road — past the Scouting Combine and pro days, etc. — then I’ll start to get a better feel for what Indy might be doing.

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» Isaac B. (Denham Springs, La.):We have a first-round pick and two second-round picks. What position do you think we should go with the top three picks.

Walker: If it’s just me talking here, I’d say the Colts’ first three picks, all within the first two rounds, should be at the edge rusher, wide receiver and offensive line positions. And those are really in no particular order. Some may scoff at taking an offensive lineman so high this year after using two of the team’s first three picks last year on Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith, but don’t be surprised at all if that’s what Ballard decides to do this time around. He is dead-set on having nine or 10 starting-caliber offensive linemen on his roster at all times, and while all five of the Colts’ starters up front are set to return in 2019, you just never know what will happen with injuries or with contracts beyond the 2019 season. Case in point: left tackle Anthony Castonzo is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this upcoming year, so will the Colts elect to re-sign him heading into his age-32 season? It’s very possible — he’s played extremely well the last two years, particularly — but you’ve got to have a contingency plan in place just in case that doesn’t end up coming to fruition.

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» Anthony S. (Evansville, Ind.):Am the only one who has Seen this, maybe I haven't Read it? It seems like the games that the Colts get beat in are always, or usually on real grass. Anytime they are playing outside on grass no offense

Walker: Good as time as any to do a little research, eh Anthony? Here’s what I’ve got, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com: the Colts in 2018 were 3-3, an even .500, in games played on natural grass, including the playoffs. Indy was 8-4 in games (including the playoffs) in games played on artificial turf. What’s interesting, however, is the Colts lost their first four games played on artificial turf before closing out the season on an eight-game win streak on that surface. The games played on grass, however, were alternated the whole season between wins and losses; win against the Redskins, loss to the Eagles, win against the Raiders, loss to the Jaguars, win against the Titans, loss to the Chiefs. So, at least most recently, while the Colts are more successful playing on an artificial surface, there’s really no truth to the fact that they can’t win games played on natural grass, either.

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» Willie W. (Macomb, Ill.):What role does the analytics staff play in your evaluations of players during Senior Bowl week?

Walker: I can’t give you a specific answer about what the analytics folks do for Senior Bowl week, particularly, but I can tell you that the team does rely upon analytics throughout the prospect evaluation process. For example, here’s what Chris Ballard said about that very topic when talking with 1070 The Fan’s Dan Dakich just last week: “There’s some height, weight and speed perimeters that (affect) guys that play in the league, and when you start taking the exceptions to the rule, now you’re going in the bottom percentile of what plays in the league. Like, if our analytics guys tell me, ‘Hey Chris, this guy’s in the bottom-10 percentile of his position for height, weight and speed,’ well, the miss factor now is a lot greater; you’re talking about a 90-percent miss factor with a player. Are there exceptions? Absolutely there are. But when you take those exceptions, they better have some unique quality that overplays it; instincts, competitive nature, there’s gotta be something that puts them over the top that says they’re gonna make it.” I know this doesn’t answer your specific question, Willie, but for the most part, I think the Colts’ personnel folks use the Senior Bowl to conduct dozens of prospect interviews, and then digest the practice and game tape as needed. Pretty simple stuff.

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» Bryan Y. (Winston-Salem, N.C.):With the NFL honors coming up, what are the chances Luck and the maniac take home the honors they were front runners for?

Walker: Well-timed question, Bryan, considering the NFL Honors show is being aired at 9 p.m. ET tonight on CBS. While I think it’s pretty clear Andrew Luck should be the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year and Darius Leonard should be the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, one aspect that concerns me is the timing of the voting, which I believe was conducted by eligible AP voters back in early-December. At that time, the Colts were coming off a relatively-deflating 6-0 shutout loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and so their hype train hadn’t picked up as much steam as it would a few weeks later, when the team rebounded with a four-game win streak to end the season and make the playoffs. So you kind of have to put yourself in shoes of the voters in early-December, although, to me, Luck and Leonard had already wrapped up their respective awards at that point. Another point: I believe if the voting was done at the end of the season, Frank Reich would be a much more viable candidate for NFL Coach of the Year, too. So while I expect Luck and Leonard to earn some hardware by the time tonight is over with, it’s anything but a given at this point.

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» Tim H. (Lafayette, Ind.):Thanks for all of your work addressing Colts questions. We have heard discussion about Jacoby Brissett and possible moves. This could be the year to move him and get important high draft stock or players for him. If colts ttrade Jacoby what do we see as our backup plan. Andrew is healthy and performing well. But we need a legitimate back up plan. Who would you see Colts obtaining as our backup. Good luck Colts in FA and Draft. Go Colta in 2019.

Walker: Thanks for the question and for your thoughts, Tim. I think everything you said is certainly going through the minds of Chris Ballard and Frank Reich as the team explores the possibility of trading a guy like Jacoby Brissett this offseason. To walk you through it, the main pros of trading Brissett are he’s entering the final year of his rookie contract and he’s a talented player at the most coveted position in the game; that means you don’t have much money tied up in the player for other teams to get hung up on, and you can probably get back a decent return for him. The cons, though, are that Brissett is one heck of a security blanket should Luck go down with an injury, not to mention everything Brissett brings as a teammate and leader. But whether or not you do trade Brissett, the fact of the matter is his contract expires at the end of the 2019 season. Common sense tells you he’s going to command a pretty nice second contract, wherever that may be, and you know he’s competitive and would likely want to land in a spot where he has a shot at winning a starting job. So, in my opinion, if you’re the Colts, you’re already exploring your future backup quarterback options, regardless of if you end up trading Brissett this year or not. Does the team pursue a quarterback in the draft? Do they keep developing a guy like Phillip Walker, who has had success in limited opportunities during preseason games? Is there a free agent or a quarterback currently on another team that you’ve had your eyes on that you pursue? Or, if you’re the Colts, do you pony up some serious cash and invest in Brissett as your backup and hope that he decides to re-sign with the team? All of these factors are why I believe this is one of the more interesting storylines to follow over the next few months.

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» Thomas R. (Upland, Ind.):Hey Andrew...love the mailbag reads. First time writer, long time reader lol. My question is...Do you think the Colts & Ballard will bargain for more picks in the draft? I remember Ballard mentioning he likes to have at least a certain number of picks. And I think at this point we have 9 (which includes the conditional for Moncrief). But I don't think it's enough. I like to have at least the 10....even though we had 11 in last years draft. Which we hit on alot of them! So I'm pretty excited about the upcoming draft because Ballard & his team of scouts are pretty amazing at finding talent! I just dont think 9 is enough. But I'm thinking if we had 10 and you hit on 50 to 60% of them, then that's at least 5 or 6 good picks outta 10....the more the merrier I say. What are your thoughts? Do you think Chris Ballard will try to get more than 9 for that reason? Or will he sit back & be satisfied with 9 picks?

Walker: Thomas, your support is fantastic. And I’d encourage you to send in more questions as you think of them. I would almost have to think Chris Ballard will try to get even more picks leading up to and/or in the midst of the 2019 NFL Draft. Having those nine picks, as you alluded to, is a great starting point as the team begins to build its board, but I just believe the Colts will make some sort of move(s) to add to that number. Now, these might not necessarily be moves made to get picks in the first few rounds, but think about what Ballard could do with an extra fourth- or fifth-round pick? That’s really where you start adding depth to your roster, and even once in a while one or two of those guys gets to the next level and really steps it up and becomes a star (see: Robert Mathis, 2003 NFL Draft). The more shots at the dart board, so to speak, the better chances you have of landing someone like that. So, yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Colts somehow had another 10, 11, 12 picks in this upcoming draft.

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» Matthew H. (Brookings, S.D.):Based on what you have said and what Chris Ballard has done in the past, it sounds like the colts won't target the high priced free agents. I agree with this starategy, but my question is what are we going to do with all of our money?

Walker: I think this is the topic that I’m most interested in seeing play out over the next couple years. Basically, by next year (2020), a four-year window will close in which the Colts and every other NFL team will be required to have spent at least 89 percent of their total cap room. The Colts, as has been widely reported, haven’t been big spenders at all under general manager Chris Ballard, leading to them having among the most (if not the most) available cap space in the league the last couple years. I’ll wait until next year, when the NFLPA/NFL typically releases the figures, to see just how much the Colts will need to spend to get to that 89 percent threshold, but as of right now, let’s just agree it’s likely a significant amount. So if you’re the Colts and you don’t typically spend a ton in free agency, how do you get there? Well, first off, you take care of your own players with new contracts. And, according to Spotrac.com, there are some big-name guys whose contracts are expiring in the next couple years that could be re-signed: left tackle Anthony Castonzo, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, tight ends Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron, kicker Adam Vinatieri and quarterback Jacoby Brissett are those who are reportedly heading into the last year of their deals in 2019, while wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, defensive tackle/end Denico Autry, center Ryan Kelly, cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston, running back Marlon Mack and linebacker Anthony Walker each reportedly have two years left on their deals. So while it’s not likely every single one of those guys will be brought back once their contracts expire, most of them will demand a good chunk of that cap number if and when the team decides to re-sign them. Then you have to utilize cap money to sign your draft picks and your undrafted free agents, as well as those other guys you pick up throughout the year, and we all know just how much Ballard prefers to have as many draft picks as possible. And then you add on top of that the free agents the team does sign — and Ballard isn’t ruling out bringing in a more “big-name” type of guy, as long as he’s a perfect fit for the team and its culture. Take all of that — not to mention the free agents-to-be that the team will pursue in the next few weeks — and that’s how you begin chipping away at your cap space requirements.

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» Trey B. (Fort Wayne, Ind.):You are the man. Thank you for including my question in this weeks mailbag. It seems to me, after watching the progress made by our young colts team in 2018, there is only one question left to answer. Why doesn’t my girlfriend like the colts?

Walker: Yikes.

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» Mark L. (Westfield, Ind.):What kind of growth would you expect to see from a coach going from his first year as a playcaller, player evaluater, and other areas? I assume coaches get better with experience as players do as well correct?

Walker: Actually, Mark, Frank Reich and his staff are working on that as we speak. Here’s what Reich himself said about this topic at his end-of-season press conference: “Yeah, it’s really fun. Every little aspect of it gets evaluated, right? Run game, pass game. How do we improve it? What little tweaks do we have? Then Nick (Sirianni) and I will give guys projects. Hey, you go – this team was really good at play action pass, this team was good at RPO’s, go study them. Write a report on this. Make a film. What connects to our offense? What doesn’t? What players did we get in? How do we accentuate what they do well? It’s ever evolving and it’s fun and exciting. It kind of keeps it fresh for us as well.”

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» Patsy T. (Garrett, Ind.):I would just like to say that I think you have an Excellent coach and i'm proud to be a Colts fan.

Walker: Thanks, Patsy. Samesies.

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