INDIANAPOLIS — When looking at potential pass rushers each year in the NFL Draft, one of the most important questions a general manager asks himself is, "Is this guy a flash in the pan, or has he shown consistent improvement that can continue at the next level?"
And while there are countless examples of teams across the league falling in love with players who might've exploded their final year in college, only to see them become completely overmatched and rendered useless in the NFL, it appears Tarell Basham's story could be much different.
Basham, whom the Indianapolis Colts selected with their third-round (80th overall) pick on Friday night, displayed steady improvement from start to finish at Ohio University, being named a Freshman All-American in 2013 and then developing into the Mid-American Conference's Defensive Player of the Year by his senior season.
Basham, who played with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end for the Bobcats, appears set to begin making the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker with the Colts, a position that has already gotten a lot of attention this offseason from first-year general manager Chris Ballard.
The first domino fell after the conclusion of the 2016 season, when Robert Mathis, the franchise's greatest pass rusher, retired. Then, the team decided not to bring back fellow starter Erik Walden and backup Trent Cole, and has elected to go much younger at the position, signing free agents John Simon (26), Barkevious Mingo (26) and Jabaal Sheard (27).
At 23, Basham becomes the youngest piece of the puzzle. And while his role on the team is certainly just starting to be formulated, the Colts know that effort and physicality — two extremely vital traits in a pass rusher — will be no problem when it comes to Basham.
"That's a good football player," NFL draft guru Mike Mayock said of Basham. "Plays his tail off. Base end, but could be a 3-4 outside linebacker. He sets a physical edge. I think he plays really hard."
And then there's Basham's consistent improvement throughout his college career. He announced his presence from the start, collecting 7.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss his first year at Ohio, and being named a Freshman All-American. The next two years, he stayed pretty consistent as opposing offenses shifted more and more attention his way — averaging about eight tackles for loss and five sacks each year — but it all came together for Basham his senior year, when he registered 16 tackles for loss, and tied for 11th in college football with 11.5 sacks.
For his efforts, he was named the MAC's Defensive Player of the Year — an award won by Khalil Mack just three years prior.
Now it's time for Basham to put in the work to come in his rookie season ready for anything. He could be expected to play a lot of snaps right away, or he could be used in more of a special teams-type role, playing in a rotation on defense, at first before really digging in in a year or two.
It's something Ballard is excited to see develop.
"We think he can play on three downs," Ballard said. "He's got good size, good length, good strength, good initial quickness, good effort. He's got the things you look for in a pass rusher. Now he's got to develop."
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