Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Starting Corners, Trading Up In The Draft, Ballard’s History Picking Wide Receivers

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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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» Robert H. (Franklin, Ind.):After watching Darius Leonard this past season and growing up with the highlights of Ray Lewis. Do you think that Darius will be the same role player that Ray was

Walker: If we’re focusing solely on their on-the-field presence and leadership, I definitely believe Darius Leonard can eventually take on the type of role that Ray Lewis played on those great Baltimore Ravens’ defenses. While they play slightly different positions in different schemes, Leonard certainly showed in 2018 that he can match (and, in some areas, exceed) the all-around production that Lewis had as a linebacker, but we all know what Lewis meant to those teams in terms of leadership, and that’s an area Leonard will continue to work at. Not that he’s not already a terrific leader, even with just one year of NFL experience, but getting to a Ray Lewis-type level of leadership takes lots and lots of time.

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» Mark S. (Dallas):no question mr. Walker just want to say thanks for the mail bag, as a transplanted Hoosier it helps me keep informed with my favorite team the INDIANAPOLIS COLTS!! Always intelligent and insightful questions by the fans. Proudly waving the Colts flag in the big D! Thanks: Mark

Walker: Thanks for your kind words, Mark.

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» Tyler K. (Anderson, Ind.):Hello, do you see a potential trade-up to something like the Lions 8th pick since they were very open to down trading or to the Seahawks 21st pick for better talent, or stay with that you have?

Walker: Personally, I just don’t see the Colts making that kind of huge jump to move into the Top 10 in this year’s NFL Draft. Think about what you’d have to give up to get there. To move up 18 spots, the Colts could very well have to give up the No. 26-overall pick, the No. 34-overall pick (the second pick of the second round) and probably another pick, perhaps a third- or fourth-round selection. That just doesn’t seem like something Chris Ballard, who loves having as many draft picks as he can, would do. Now, trading up to No. 21 overall seems a little more realistic; if a blue chip player Ballard and his staff absolutely loves but never thought they’d get has fallen all the way to that spot, then I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that they’d give up a little bit — perhaps the 26th-overall pick, one of your two second-round picks and maybe even another late-round pick — to get him. Still, that seems quite steep at this point. But it’s definitely fun to think about.

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» Stephen B. (Sunman, Ind.):Hello sir, in my eyes and a lot of “experts” eyes. We have a need at Reciever and Edge rusher. How do we decide on if we should bring people in or if we should give guys like Turay, Lewis and Cain room to grow into starting roles?

Walker: Sir? Sir?! Have I gotten that old? Anyway, not trying to skirt out of answering your question, Stephen, but I leave decisions like that up to those who are paid the big bucks to make them. Right now, each player currently has their own value to the Colts’ roster, as well as a plan laid out for them for the future, but the draft is a perfect opportunity for teams to not only evaluate the best talent in college football, but it allows them to re-evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their own position groups. So Chris Ballard, Frank Reich and their staffs are meeting constantly in the months, weeks and days leading up to the draft and figuring out, “OK, if we get select this guy, how does that affect this position and this current player specifically?” Same goes for free agency. That’s always the tough balance, though, is trying to measure what you’ve got currently — and the potential ceilings those players could reach — vs. constantly bringing in younger talent, and which side projects more wins for your team.

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» Austin B. (Anaheim, Calif.):Hey, Do you trust Quincy Wilson and Pierre Desir as our starting corners next year?

Walker: Hey to you, Austin. As it pertains to Pierre Desir, one would have to imagine the Colts very much trust him after signing him to a reported three-year, $22 million deal last month. That would make him roughly the 20th highest-paid corner in the league. So, yes, I would think the Colts trust Pierre Desir as a starting cornerback. And I think the team is bullish on Quincy Wilson, too, although the 2019 season is a huge opportunity for him. With Kenny Moore II’s emergence as a solid slot corner last year, that left the other corner spot open for the likes of Wilson and Nate Hairston, among others, and Wilson really started to somewhat separate himself as the season wore on. But now he’s entering the third year of his NFL career and the expectations are going to be even higher than he’ll bring it from the very start and just simply be more consistent the entire year. With Hairston back and with former second-round pick Jalen Collins in the mix, the battle for snaps at corner opposite Pierre Desir should not only be fun to watch, but it should make all players involved even better.

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» Marcus M. (Reno, Nev.):First of all I can't begin to express how refreshing it was to watch our team this past season. Coach Reich's ability to scheme team to team makes for Manning like memories of exciting ball games. The question is with the addition of Funchess (former tight end) do you see him and Ebron maybe sharing some of the red zone targets and slot duties? Secondly is this a sign we are starting to search for bigger targets for Andrew in the second year of this offense? Thanks again and always...all together now... LET'S GO COLTS!!!

Walker: I definitely see Andrew Luck targeting Devin Funchess a lot down in the red zone, much like he did (and will continue to do) with Eric Ebron. The interesting thing about the Funchess acquisition is just how similar his skillset is to Ebron’s; in fact, I saw one way-too-early projection from ESPN’s Mike Clay that had Funchess with 52 receptions for 638 yards and six touchdowns in 2019, and Ebron with 49 receptions for 551 yards and seven touchdowns. Just imagine trying to be an opposing defense and you’ve got Funchess and Ebron to worry about inside the 20? Oh yeah, and then there’s T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle and a bunch of running backs who are solid pass catchers, too. I’m eagerly awaiting training camp, when it’s possible that the entire offense could collectively be fully healthy, to see just how these guys are going to be moved around and utilized.

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» Daniel S. (West Lafayette, Ind.):Hey, Andrew, I enjoy your writing. I loved the way our offensive line played all season, especially once we got into a groove with our current 5-man lineup. That said, I felt like poor offensive line performance was the biggest factor in our playoff loss to the Chiefs. I was pretty shocked after watching the line be so dang good all season, but from the first snap when Dee Ford took Mack down behind the line of scrimmage to Justin Houston sacking Luck twice, I just felt like they feel apart, and Luck never had time to wait for receivers to get open. You said in last week's mailbag that you think our new offensive line coaches will improve our run blocking. Do you also think the new coaches will improve our pass protection so that this kind of thing won't happen again? If so, how? Of course we don't have to worry about Justin Houston anymore. . .

Walker: Thanks for writing in, Daniel. And, actually, you’re not alone in your sentiments; in fact, Jim Irsay said almost the exact same thing to a small group of reporters when we caught up with him a couple weeks back at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. “I think the offensive line just really got to a point it was trending upward and we made this ... (Braden) Smith goes to right tackle and everything's settling in there. But then it seemed to plateau, and we didn't keep that upward spiral going in a positive way in K.C. Because I remember before heading out to the field, I yelled out, "Let's go O-line," because in that kind of weather conditions and stuff you expect the big guys up front, and that's a thing Chris and I have talked about.” But here’s what you can’t deny: the Colts’ improvement in its total offensive line play from 2017 to to 2018 was nothing short of incredible. But pass protection specifically, I’m not sure there’s been such a year-to-year turnaround in recent NFL history. So now the Colts are not only going into Year 2 with that same lineup, but they have a new offensive line coach, assistant offensive line coach and Howard Mudd back in the fold. So I’d say let’s see what effect all those factors have before coming to any conclusions.

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» Tom T. (Bullhead City, Ariz.):A long long time colt diehard since 1953 before the Johnny u days. I see a lot of mock drafts having us taking dexter lawerance in rd 1. This I really don’t understand the year before we just released Johnathan Hankins who was a run stuffer and wasn’t supposed to fit the 4 3 that we were switching to,, so why would we take another one in round 1, what is your feeling on this is lawerance a fit for our sceme. Although he is a terrific player do you feel like I do that thier might be a better fit for us.

Walker: So you go back to the year the Colts franchise was founded? That’s ultimate fandom, Tom — and thanks so much for it. As it pertains to your question, I think less focus needs to be spent on what a particular player tends to do well stats-wise (although this is also a factor), and more about the traits that he shows on film. If Chris Ballard throws on Dexter Lawrence’s game film and sees an interior defensive lineman that has a quick get-off on the snap, who hustles to the ball, who is extremely competitive and physical, then he knows he can work much better in his 4-3 defensive system than more of a space-eater who isn’t as quick off the snap but is good at shedding blocks and stopping the run, which is critical for an interior lineman in a 3-4 system. To be honest, I haven’t spent a ton of time evaluating Lawrence particularly, but NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein has, and his draft profile of Lawrence has a couple key phrases in his strengths — “Has potential to eat double teams and let his linebackers roam free” — and his weaknesses — “Basic rush counters relatively ineffective” — that make me believe he would be better suited in a 3-4, and not in the Colts’ 4-3. So we’ll see.

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» Trey B. (Fort Wayne, Ind.):Can you tell us how Andrew Luck determines when it is time to unleash the neckbeard. I plan to mirror his grooming habits this season and I will probably need a few weeks head start to keep up with him.

Walker: Trey’s always keeping it light in the Colts Mailbag. The answer to your question is that neckbeard season is a 12-month-a-year endeavor. Some one-off events or occasions might lead to shaving and trimming, but you’ve got to be ready to roll with the neckbeard from January through December. This is serious business.

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» Gilbert M. (Salt Lake City, Utah):I am a Vietnam Veteran (1966/67). ---What is the best selection for the Colts No. 1 Pick (26 Overall in First Round)? TRADE DOWN. COLTS GET A SECOND AND A THIRD ROUND PICK FOR NO. 26. Now the Colts will have three No. 2 Picks and two No. 3 Picks. NET RESULT: Colts now have 5 picks to select from the Best 100 College players for 2019. Colt fans, this gives the team a lot of Depth at various positions, and 5 new players that can develop into Future Starters.

Walker: Gilbert isn’t only deserving of our utmost respect as as a veteran, but he makes a ton of sense here. Because the Colts have the second pick of the second round (thank you again, New York Jets), I’m a huge fan of the team at least considering the option of trading down out of the No. 26-overall pick in the first round — \if\ the team you’re trading with seems desperate enough. Either way, I think Indianapolis is in pretty darn good shape.

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» Nick H. (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada):Canadian here! In Chris Ballard’s short tenure with the Colts, he hasn’t invested a high round pick on a receiver. Does Ballard believe that because receivers are so scheme specific and rely on their relationship with the QB so much that it’s too much of a gamble to draft them early?

Walker: Nick, the Colts Mailbag knows no borders or boundaries. Welcome aboard. A quick look at Chris Ballard’s history as a scout and personnel executive with the Chicago Bears, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Colts shows that his teams simply haven’t put too much high stock into the wide receiver position in the draft. According to 1070 The Fan’s Kevin Bowen, Ballard has been a part of 13 NFL drafts during his career, and just once did his team select a wide receiver within the first two rounds: that was when the Bears selected Alshon Jeffery with the 45th-overall pick back in 2012. That doesn’t automatically mean Ballard has ruled out taking a wideout this year with one of the team’s first three picks in Rounds 1 and 2, but he’s also very confident in his coaching staff that it can get the most of its players at the position, and he also knows how the tight ends in Frank Reich’s offense are valued just like a receiver. To me, even if you don’t go wide receiver in the first two rounds, there’s still some good depth at the position in this class if you want a No. 2 or 3 option down the road.

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» Jeff L. (Indianapolis):When we started the off season I think we all knew we needed a new weapon on the outside. And in my wildest dreams I never thought we'd be able to steal Devin like we did! Then we transitioned into "what's our next biggest need?" And behold, we get a great pass rusher on the D-line that is a Amazing compliment to Hunt, Autry, and Sheard in Houston. Not to include now you have another vet to show the young ones the way. My question is, what is the feeling in the organization on "what else can throw us into a contender for the AFC title" this year? Specifically with development of our current talent, not so much new talent. My thoughts are, I look at our OL as a potential place to "sure up", and its always great to have more talent in the DB's, but the real area of growth I see is at LB.”

Walker: As it pertains to immediate needs, even looking beyond the Devin Funchess and Justin Houston signings, I think the Colts want to just be more consistent in the following areas: rushing the passer, effectively running the football and staying healthy at safety. Along the edge, that means you’re seeing continued growth and progress from a guy like Kemoko Turay. As it pertains to running the ball, that means your offensive line and your running backs are on the same page. And at safety, that means Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers are able to continue working together, and then the players behind them are capable replacements when called upon. I think if the Colts are able to accomplish their goals in those three areas specifically, then watch out.

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» Mike H. (Greenfield, Ind.):Thank you for the weekly info and insight you give. Mr. Irsay has stated he would like 3 Super Bowl wins in a row. The coach wants to be one of the top running teams in the league. With that being said, what was the problem with Bell not being part of the team?

Walker: Le’Veon Bell’s best years with the Pittsburgh Steelers were 2014, 2016 and 2017. In those years, the Steelers ranked 16th, 14th and 20th, respectively, in the league in rushing yards. Bell is currently making, on average, just north of $13 million per year. Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins COMBINED are reportedly making just more than $2 million per year. Any more questions?

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