ESPN: Colts Had One Of NFL's Most Productive Rookie Draft Classes In 2019

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts have been on a roll when it comes to the NFL Draft in recent years.

Their 2018 class was historic, producing two rookie First-Team All-Pros for the first time in the NFL since 1965. While the Colts' 2019 draft class didn't quite have that same firepower, it was still among the most productive in the NFL, according to ESPN and Pro Football Focus.

Here's how they broke it down:

"If Player X and Player Y have similar seasons, the production from Player Y, taken in the sixth round, is much more valuable than the production a team gets from first-round-pick Player X," ESPN said. "Pro Football Focus has unveiled its wins above replacement metric in recent weeks (PFF WAR), and we used it to rank all 32 teams on the value of their rookie class over expectation given where each player was selected in the 2019 draft."

The Colts came in as the ninth most productive rookie class in the NFL in 2019:

9. Indianapolis Colts

Why they're ranked here: The Colts' rookie class wasn't without its struggles, but it did add some interesting pieces in coverage that showed promise. Both linebacker Bobby Okereke and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin made PFF's All-Rookie team despite early-season growing pains. If those two continue to progress, along with Marvell Tell III and Khari Willis, this class could yield several regular contributors on the defensive side.

How their top pick fared: Ya-Sin (No. 34 overall) improved greatly over the second half of the season. His PFF overall grade increased from 48.4 from Weeks 1 to 8 to 77.9 from Weeks 9 to 17.

Best value pick: Okereke (No. 89 overall) was strong in coverage, keeping pass catchers in front of him in their zone when on the field. He allowed just over 6 yards per target this season.

  • 2:34 | Rock Ya-Sin | Cornerback | Temple
  • 2:49 | Ben Banogu | Defensive End | TCU
  • 2:59 | Parris Campbell | Wide Receiver | Ohio State
  • 3:89 | Bobby Okereke | Linebacker | Stanford
  • 4:109 | Khari Willis | Safety | Michigan State
  • 5:144 | Marvell Tell III | Cornerback | USC
  • 5:164 | E.J. Speed | Linebacker | Tarleton State
  • 6:199 | Gerri Green | Defensive End | Mississippi State
  • 7:240 | Jackson Barton | Offensive Tackle | Utah
  • 7:246 | Javon Patterson | Center | Ole Miss

There were some growing pains early on, but Ya-Sin's second half of the season earned him a spot on PFF's All Rookie-Team. Over the Colts' second half of the season (Weeks 10-17), Ya-Sin was PFF's No. 12 overall cornerback in the NFL with a grade of 78.1, and his grade in run defense was eighth (79.7) during that time.

The rookie quickly earned trust, essentially becoming a full-time starter early on and playing more defensive snaps than any other Colts player (853).

"Rock — I'll say this about Rock: man, the one thing I really like about him, even when he had a rough game, he was in the office on Monday working," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said recently. "I mean, like, he works. He's got the right mindset to be a really good corner in this league."

In 15 games, Ya-Sin had 61 tackles (two for loss), one fumble recovered, one interception and five pass breakups. PFF charted him as allowing 36-of-56 pass targets (64.3 percent) for 555 yards (15.4 avg.) and just 3.7 yards after catch per reception. Among all full-time NFL cornerbacks, he was tied for the seventh-most "stops," which PFF considers to be failed plays by the offense. PFF's No. 46 rookie played the third-most snaps in the NFL among rookie cornerbacks, earning the sixth-best grade, and totaling the most stops, second-most tackles, ninth-best catch rate and opponent passer rating (101.4).

Appearing in all 16 games, Banogu was credited with 11 tackles (three for loss), 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one pass breakup and five quarterback hits. In total, PFF charted him with 17 quarterback pressures. He earned the ninth-best pass-rushing productivity grade among rookie edge defenders, according to PFF.

"We do think Ben Banogu's got a lot of talent. We saw flashes of it; we need to see more," Ballard said. "And I think we will, 'cause he's another really good worker."

When it comes to Campbell's rookie year, all you can do is turn the page and look ahead to the bright things in store for his 2020 season.

The rookie speedster was only able to appear in seven games due to various injuries. Unfortunately for him, just as soon as he'd return from one injury, he would suffer another, until a broken foot officially ended his season. He showed plenty of promise, however, with his 142-yard outing against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9 being an example of what can happen when he's on the field.

"You know, we really like Parris Campbell. And every time we'd get him right, something would happen: groin, broken hand, foot," Ballard said. "You know, the Tennessee game he has the over route where he has the touchdown where he runs away from Logan Ryan (who) can't cover him in man coverage; against Pittsburgh we were able to get him the ball (and) he had over 100 yards of offense just on fly sweeps and screens. But his body's gotta get right, and he's gotta get healthy where he can stay healthy for a 16-game season."

Okereke was perhaps the Colts' top overall rookie, at least according to PFF. He was the No. 8-rated rookie in all of the NFL with a grade of 77.3. The PFF All-Rookie Team member was the highest-graded rookie linebacker by a mile, ranking almost 11 points higher than the next player. He was also PFF's No. 8 overall NFL linebacker among those that had played at least 450 snaps.

He started 8-of-16 games, totaling 58 tackles (two for loss), 1.0 sack, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovered, two pass breakups, one quarterback hit, and he intercepted and returned a two-point conversion attempt for points. Okereke only missed five tackles throughout the season, which ranked fourth fewest among qualifying linebackers. Among rookie linebackers, Okereke allowed the second-fewest yards per reception (7.4), the third-fewest yards after catch (120) and the fourth-best opponent passer rating (102.0).

Outside of Ya-Sin, Ballard & Co. picked a couple of good ones in defensive backs Willis — whom they traded up 20 picks in the fourth round to pick — and safety-turned-cornerback Tell III.

Willis became the Colts' starting strong safety by season's end, starting nine of his final 11 games. Earning PFF's No. 4 grade among rookie safeties and the No. 26 rookie overall, he compiled 71 tackles (two for loss), one pass breakup and one quarterback hit.

"He's legitimate," Ballard said of Willis. "And he's made of all the right stuff: works, tough, plays through injury. And he's going to be a legitimate safety in this league, and for us."

"Indianapolis took a versatile player 109th overall in Khari Willis," PFF wrote. "He played 620 snaps in total this season and played more than 75 snaps on the defensive line, in the box, in the slot and at free safety. Willis was especially effective against the run, where he accumulated the second-most run stops (14) among first-year safeties while finishing third among the same group in run-stop percentage."

Tell III also earned high marks, coming in as PFF's No. 3 rookie cornerback and No. 31 rookie overall. He had 22 tackles, one forced fumble and five pass breakups, and he earned the highest tackling grade among rookie cornerbacks (89.2).

"It was a learning experience for Marvell going to corner and asking him to do what we ask him to do," Ballard said of Tell III's transition from college safety to NFL corner. "I thought he had some really good moments. And then he had some moments that were not so good. We have to even those out going forward. But encouraged by what we saw and we think he has a good future."

The Colts' rookies weren't done contributing there, as Speed from Division II Tarleton State also saw plenty of action. He only played 34 snaps on defense, but he earned PFF's third-best grade among rookie linebackers in that time with a 69.4. In 12 games, he totaled six tackles (one for loss), and he only allowed one reception for a total of negative-one yard. Speed did most of his work on special teams, picking up 151 snaps there — 61 on kickoff coverage, 57 on kickoff returns, 32 on punt returns and one on field goal defense.

"E.J. Speed ... we didn't see a bunch of him just because he's young and raw," Ballard said. "It'll be fun to watch him develop and see if he can become what we think he can become."

"Speed — Speed's an interesting case, 'cause he's probably as talented as anybody we have at inside linebacker," Ballard said on another occasion about the rookie. "But you're talking about a former wide out that we kicked to linebacker and he's learning how to play."

The Colts weren't able to get Green, Barton and Patterson on the field in 2019, but they weren't flat-out missed picks.

Green was waived during preseason roster cuts and then picked up by the New England Patriots two days later. He was let go after a few weeks and the Colts then brought him back to their practice squad, leading to them re-signing him to a reserve/future contract when the season ended.

Barton was also let go by the Colts during preseason roster cuts, but was re-signed to the practice squad the following day. The Kansas City Chiefs came calling, signing Barton to their 53-man roster off of the Colts' practice squad, where he remains. Patterson suffered an unfortunate season-ending knee injury in June before he could even compete in training camp, and spent the season on Injured Reserve.

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