INDIANAPOLIS — Draft season has come and gone, so now, naturally, it's "Way-Too-Soon Draft Grades" season.
And after the Indianapolis Colts selected nine players in this past weekend's 2020 NFL Draft, it's time to see what the various league experts and pundits are saying about the team's haul.
Those picks, as a reminder, were:
- Round 2 • Pick 2 (34): WR Michael Pittman
- Round 2 • Pick 9 (41): RB Jonathan Taylor
- Round 3 • Pick 21 (85): S Julian Blackmon
- Round 4 • Pick 16 (122): QB Jacob Eason
- Round 5 • Pick 3 (149): G Danny Pinter
- Round 6 • Pick 14 (193): DT Rob Windsor
- Round 6 • Pick 32 (211): CB Isaiah Rodgers
- Round 6 • Pick 33 (212): WR Dezmon Patmon
- Round 6 • Pick 34 (213): LB Jordan Glasgow
Of course, here's the annual caveat on draft grades: one obviously can't grade a draft class with any level of certainty until two (and ideally three or more) years have passed. So many late-round and undrafted free agents end up making surprise jumps their first couple years in the league, while there are always a few early-round prospects that just never pan out.
But today's grades are mostly based off a few factors: how good the prospect was in college, how good they could be at the professional level and how they fit into their new team's schemes — well, at least according to these various experts.
So without further ado, here is a sampling of what those pundits are saying about the Indianapolis Colts' nine-man 2020 NFL Draft class:
Andy Benoit, Sports Illustrated: A-
This has a chance to be a lucrative draft, especially if you consider (albeit expensive) ex-Niners defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to be its de factor first-round pick.
After a mostly unsuccessful one-year stint with free agent Devin Funchess last season, the Colts took another stab at a long-bodied perimeter target. Michael Pittman Jr. gives them a nice stylistic complement to explosive movable chess piece T.Y. Hilton, who likely now will play full-time in the slot in three-receiver sets. (Hilton has seen plenty of action here in recent years already; third-year pro Zach Pascal is likely to continue getting opportunities as the other outside receiver.) Philip Rivers has thrown to big targets throughout his career: Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd, etc. Pittman is a good stylistic fit.
In the backfield, NFL Films's Greg Cosell has described Jonathan Taylor as an Ezekiel Elliott level of runner. Taylor weighs 225, runs a 4.39 in the 40 and is both efficient and explosive working downhill. He does not offer Elliott's receiving prowess, but the Colts already have Nyheim Hines to handle their third down duties. Taylor may have just been too much value for the Colts not to pursue early in the second round, but also consider this: Marlon Mack is scheduled for free agency after this season. Colts head coach Frank Reich comes from the Eagles, a franchise that has prioritized having running backs on cheap rookie deals. If Mack departs in 2021, the Colts now have a ready-made starter in Taylor at an affordable rate for the next three years—maybe four, if Taylor performs really well. (And that's not to say Taylor can't contribute immediately in 2020.) At that point, the Colts could repeat the cycle all over again, drafting Taylor's replacement and letting Taylor leave. Because the one blemish on the stud runner: He already has the tread of 926 carries from his time at Wisconsin.
Some might also cite the fourth-round selection of Jacob Eason as a possible starting quarterback for down the road. Perhaps one day, but for 2020 (if not a few years longer), he'll learn from the bench.
On defense, there was no edge rusher added, but that was not a glaring need. Indy's depth at safety is sound with George Odum operating behind strong safety Khari Willis and free safety Malik Hooker, but considering how much three-safety dime personnel coordinator Matt Eberflus employs, it's important to be four-deep at this position, thus the addition of Julian Blackmon.
Dane Brugler, The Athletic: No. 17 in NFL
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Favorite pick: Michael Pittman, WR, USC
In almost all of my second-round mock drafts, I connected the Colts and Pittman because of the natural fit. Complementing TY Hilton's speed, Pittman is a power forward who is physical to the ball and wins the catch point. And with his character and intangibles, he fits the Colts' culture.
Day three pick who could surprise: Jordan Glasgow, LB, Michigan
Whenever you watched Michigan's 2019 defense, it was the No. 29 jersey that kept flashing, even more than Josh Uche. He is undersized with average athletic traits, but he is a maniac on special teams with the "make it" attitude that could keep him in the NFL for the next decade.
Nate Davis, USA Today: A
"Feels" like they reeled in a pair of first-round talents in Round 2, WR Michael Pittman and RB Jonathan Taylor adding serious juice to new QB Philip Rivers' supporting cast, both capable of instantly assuming leading roles. And investing a fourth-rounder into physically gifted QB Jacob Eason to see how he develops behind Rivers goes into the low-risk, high-reward category. But GM Chris Ballard's best move was spending his 13th overall selection on 49ers DT DeForest Buckner, a man worthy of his vast cap resources. Aces.
Ryan Dunleavy, New York Post: A-
Traded their first-rounder for DeForest Buckner then added the catch-everything Pittman and workhorse Taylor. Will big-armed Eason stay focused enough to be the quarterback of the future?
Luke Easterling, DraftWire: B
Like their AFC South counterparts in Houston, the Colts didn't have a first-round pick, but at least they have an All-Pro in defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in its place. They did have an early pick in the second round, courtesy of last year's first-round trade with Washington, and they nailed their first choice.
USC wide receiver Michael Pittman, Jr. is a big, physical target who pairs perfectly with T.Y Hilton. Later in the second, the Colts made a bold but surprising move to trade up three spots for Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor, this year's top running back prospect. A backfield with Taylor and Marlon Mack will be terrifying for opposing defenses.
Utah safety Julian Blackmon was a reach in the third round, but Washington quarterback Jacob Eason is the perfect understudy for Philip Rivers, and he was a bargain in the fourth round. The late-round picks were hit or miss, but the Colts did all the damage they needed to do in the early rounds.
Eric Edholm, Yahoo Sports: B
Favorite pick: Pittman
One of our great 2020 draft regrets was stamping a grade on Pittman that left him our 51st overall player, so by that measure he would be considered a reach. Forget about it. The more we stepped back and thought about it in late March and early April, that's one we just messed up. Pittman has a great chance to end up one of the four or five best receivers in this whole class, and he was the seventh one taken. Combine his 50-50 skill as an intermediate receiver and his special-teams prowess, and Pittman is the perfect Colts pick.
Least-favorite pick: Blackmon
There wasn't a single pick that left us scratching our heads. If forced to choose one, the pick of Blackmon was the only higher one that we didn't get excited about. He made our top 100 (No. 90) but in retrospect likely should have graded slightly lower, given that he has no standout traits (other than character and perhaps versatility). A nice player, but one who might be eminently replaceable in a year or two.
Overall: Their first-rounder netted DeForest Buckner, and we might be having a Buckner-Javon Kinlaw debate in a few years. For now, the Colts came out with the immediate contributor they wanted, plus a draft class with some other game-changers on offense in Pittman and Taylor. Eason could take this from a strong class to a huge winner if he develops, and if not? Well, the investment was small enough where we can still justify them taking the shot where they did. The Colts had several Day 3 fliers, and 2-3 of them could help out. A typical Chris Ballard class that likely won't feature many true busts.
Doug Farrar, TouchdownWire: B
Giving their first-round pick to the 49ers for DeForest Buckner was a worthy move, and the Colts turned around in the second round and gave Philip Rivers an estimable target in Michael Pittman. The USC alum is a big, physical target, and one of the more overlooked deep receivers in this class. Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor adds to Indy's highly productive rushing attack as a high-rep guy. Over time, third-round pick Julian Blackmon, a cornerback conversion to safety, could be a top-tier defender. However, unless head coach Frank Reich is able to take his quarterback-developing skills to the next level, Washington's Jacob Eason seems like a wasted pick in the fourth round. Yes, Eason fits the NFL's preferred "Big Guy/Big Arm" paradigm, but from reading defenses to consistent accuracy, to questions about his work ethic, it's tough to view Eason as a draftable prospect.
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: B+
The Colts did well to address needs with Chris Ballard as Pittman will work out nicely at wide receiver. Trading up for Taylor was just OK, given Dobbins was on the board. There's not too much immediate impact elsewhere as they try to rebound with Philip Rivers. Eason was the best pick after Pittman as a big-armed passer to groom behind Rivers, given his surprise fall.
Dan Kadar, SBNation: B
Trading for DeForest Buckner meant the Colts didn't have a first-round pick, but they made up for it on the second and third days of the draft. Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. is the type of big pass catcher the Colts need. T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell are good speed receivers with shiftiness and Pittman gives Indianapolis a physical possession player.
If running back Jonathan Taylor can protect the ball a little better, the Colts have a player who can take carries from Marlon Mack. Safety Julian Blackmon, drafted in the third round, would have been more highly considered if he weren't coming off an ACL injury.
The Colts made the first big splash of Day 3 by taking Washington quarterback Jacob Eason. He's all tools at this point. But if he can learn behind Philip Rivers, the Colts could have their quarterback of the future.
Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN: A-
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Top needs: QB, WR, Edge, CB
It's easy to forget that the Colts have made the playoffs only once in the past five seasons. Heading into last season, there was some buzz around this team. But then Andrew Luck shockingly retired, Jacoby Brissett took over at quarterback and Indianapolis' holes were exposed in a 7-9 year. Still, general manager Chris Ballard has done a good job of stocking the roster with talent since he took over in 2017. The Colts have some young stars, highlighted by a tremendous 2018 draft class, and Ballard dealt the No. 13 overall pick in this draft for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who has emerged as one of the best interior defenders in the league. Ballard also has a new starting quarterback, with veteran Philip Rivers taking the reins for at least the next year, and he also has an extra second-round pick from Washington, which traded up into Round 1 in last year's draft.
So, how did Ballard fare this year? I'm a huge fan of 6-foot-4 wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who has legitimate No. 1 potential. He reminds me of former USC wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, and they ran similar 40 times at the combine. For a wide receiver corps that struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness last season, Pittman will provide a spark. The Colts traded up three spots to snag Jonathan Taylor (41), one of the most prolific running backs in college football history. I thought he might sneak into the first round.
Then there's quarterback Jacob Eason (122), whom Indianapolis was able to snag in the fourth round. I thought he was a fit for the Colts with one of their second-rounders, so that's another good value, and I'm surprised no other team took a chance on him on Day 2. He has some consistency problems, but you won't find many quarterbacks ever with his physical tools and 6-foot-6 frame. He's raw, but there's no reason he has to play anytime soon. This is a good spot for him. Local kid Danny Pinter (149) is an intriguing developmental tackle for Day 3, and wide receiver Dezmon Patmon (212) is another big, 6-foot-4 pass-catcher with some tools. Isaiah Rodgers (211) has some juice in the return game.
Will this class get Indy back to the playoffs? It's certainly possible. It should challenge for the AFC South title with Tennessee and Houston.
Mark Maske, Washington Post: B+
The Colts' first-rounder went to the 49ers in the Buckner trade. If that's factored in, this is a very good draft haul. The second-rounders, WR Michael Pittman Jr. and RB Jonathan Taylor, will be assets for incoming QB Philip Rivers. The fourth-round choice of Jacob Eason gives the Colts a developmental quarterback behind Rivers and Jacoby Brissett.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: B-
Best Pick: Fourth-round quarterback Jacob Eason came in the right spot. He has the big arm and he can learn to be a pro from Philip Rivers. It was worth the shot.
Worst Pick: I didn't like the idea of trading up in the second round to take running back Jonathan Taylor. He's a good player, but they have Marlon Mack and other needs.
The Skinny: They traded their first-round pick – 13th overall – to the 49ers for DeForest Buckner, so they didn't pick until No. 34 when they took receiver Michael Pittman. They did need a receiver, but taking Taylor was a luxury pick with Marlon Mack on the roster. This draft was just OK for me.
Pro Football Focus: B
Day 1: Indianapolis traded away its 13th overall pick to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for interior defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. The Colts then extended him to a four-year, $84 million deal to make him the second-highest-paid interior player behind only Aaron Donald. Buckner has been a good — but not elite — player over the course of his four-year career with the 49ers. He owns PFF grade ranks of 31st, 17th, 25th and ninth and has been an above-average player against the run and getting after the quarterback in the pass-rush.
Day 2: Indianapolis had one of the best picks of Day 2 by taking Michael Pittman Jr. 34th overall. Pittman stands at 6-foot-4 and owns near-flawless ball skills. He dropped just 2.8% of his catchable targets in his career, possesses an insane catch radius and can adjust to any off-target throw to snag what would typically be an incomplete pass. Pittman's underneath and intermediate route-running makes him a phenomenal possession receiver prospect who will fit nicely in Indy.
We all know by now that taking a running back in the middle of Round 2 isn't ideal in our eyes, but trading up for one isn't a great move. Indy traded the 44th and 160th overall picks to the Cleveland Browns to move up to No. 41 and grab Jonathan Taylor. But Cleveland wins that trade 55% of the time, according to PFF's Research and Development team. Taylor's lack of receiving ability is something to be concerned about, but the Colts are going to run the damn ball with him. His size, speed and explosiveness are what you want in a ball-carrier. He got plenty of opportunities to carry the ball at Wisconsin and posted an 85.0-plus rushing grade in each of his three seasons with the Badgers.
"There wasn't a better landing spot for Jonathan Taylor in my mind than Indy. He'll actually move the needle over Marlon Mack in that offense." – PFF Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner
Blackmon was 180th on the PFF Big Board, so him getting picked at No. 85 was a bit early in our eyes, but this can end up as a solid pick in the long run. When Blackmon played cornerback, he played incredibly poorly — he gave a whopping 786 yards on 508 coverage snaps in 2018 and lacked any physicality. He then moved to safety in 2019 and had a career year, posting an 88.7 coverage grade while displaying great range and sharp instincts at deep safety.
Day 3: The Colts started looking at their future post-Philip Rivers by taking Jacob Eason 122nd overall. Eason has a cannon and great zip on the ball, but there is a lot of concern with how he'll handle NFL pass-rushers. When under pressure this past year, Eason posted the second-worst negatively graded play rate in college football. He also has a tendency to stay locked in on his first read a bit too long and will force his throw late. In other words, Eason is a rhythm passer. This is right around where we had him on the PFF Big Board, but there were other quarterbacks ahead of him still available.
Chad Reuter, NFL.com: A-
Day 1 grade: B
Day 2 grade: A
Day 3 grade: A
Overall grade: A-
Draft analysis: GM Chris Ballard picked up a big-bodied receiver (Pittman) for new quarterback Philip Rivers and traded up for a stud running back (Taylor) on Day 2 of the draft. Was the trade for DeForest Buckner worth the hefty price tag, especially considering Javon Kinlaw was available at No. 13? Will Pittman be better than Denzel Mims or Chase Claypool? Time will tell.
Eason eventually taking over for Philip Rivers makes so much sense. Rivers is a true leader under whom the talented Eason can learn and continue developing. Keeping the athletic Pinter in the state of Indiana as a backup guard/tackle makes a lot of sense for the Colts. Windsor is a pest up front who, along with Blackmon, Rodgers and Glasgow (a future special teams Pro Bowler) should add plenty of depth on defense. Indy traded 2017 second-rounder Quincy Wilson to the Jets for the sixth-round pick they used on Rodgers -- not a great return, but I guess something is better than nothing.
Evan Silva, Establish The Run: B-
DeForest Buckner is the biggest piece in this haul after the Colts acquired him from San Francisco in exchange for this year's 13th overall pick. Pittman is next biggest, addressing a glaring need with first-round talent near the top of round two. Pittman plays a quarterback-friendly game that should mesh quickly with Philip Rivers. Trading up for Taylor was perhaps an overly aggressive move by GM Chris Ballard with Marlon Mack already entrenched as a quality starter, however, and Blackmon may not contribute in year one after tearing his ACL in the Pac 12 championship game. Pre-draft round-two projections for Eason were way off, but he was a fine investment in round four. I like the idea of strong-armed Eason spending a season learning behind fellow pocket passer Rivers, who is on a one-year deal. While this was by no means my favorite draft of Ballard's still-promising tenure, I do believe in his ability to identify value and properly evaluate his own roster, an often unspoken but crucial component of team management that gives the Colts a competitive advantage when it comes to the draft.
Mike Tagliere, FantasyPros: C+
For not having a first-round pick, the Colts snagged a couple guys who can help their offense immediately. Pittman complements T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell quite well, giving Philip Rivers a big-bodied wide receiver to throw the ball up to. Taylor was a surprise pick considering they have Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines on the roster, but he's going to crush behind that offensive line and getting him in the second round was a value. I had a fourth-round grade on Blackmon, so it was somewhat of a reach at the top of the third round. I also felt that taking Eason over Jake Fromm will come back to haunt them, as Fromm can run Frank Reich's offense. There wasn't any pick they made on Day 3 that felt like a great value. I expected them to snag a tight end in this draft, but it seems they may be happy with their Trey Burton signing.
The Colts were without a Day 1 pick after their offseason trade for DeForest Buckner, but they managed to find a few potential impact players and borderline first-round talents in Pittman and Taylor. Overall, it's a pretty good class that could become great if they can make the most of Eason. The Washington quarterback fell in the draft, perhaps due to poor combine interviews, but there's no denying his physical talent. He's an interesting option to have develop behind Philip Rivers.
Goals Entering the 2020 NFL Draft: The Colts traded the 13th-overall pick for DeForest Buckner, which was a great deal for them. Because they've addressed the defensive line, they can now look to helping Philip Rivers by giving him a new weapon or two. The secondary must be upgraded as well.
2020 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I don't know whether or not to make this grade with the DeForest Buckner deal in mind because this haul looks much different with Buckner. Because I've already graded the Buckner trade elsewhere, I'll leave him out of consideration. Things would get too tricky like having to grade the Bears with taking Khalil Mack halfway into account because he counted for two first-round picks.
Even without Buckner, the Colts did a fine job of assembling some talent. Michael Pittman went a bit too early for my taste at No. 34, but he's a solid prospect and should be able to take over as the No. 2 receiver at some point. Jonathan Taylor, conversely, was a steal later in the second round. The Colts made a smart move by leaping Jacksonville to get him. The rival Jaguars may have been interested because they need to replace Leonard Fournette, of course.
Besides Taylor, only one Indianapolis pick earned more than a B+, and that would be guard Danny Pinter in the fifth round. Otherwise, the Colts scored mostly in the "B" range. That's the grade I'll give them, as they were able to accomplish their goal of surrounding Rivers with more weapons.
Hayden Winks, Rotoworld: C
Pittman should immediately slide into a starting role alongside T.Y. Hilton, especially if the Colts run more 11-personnel with Philip Rivers. The USC product has sure hands, 4.52 speed at 6'4/223, and is coming off a 101-catch season. If not for his age (23), Pittman would have been discussed as a potential first round talent. Picture Pittman in the Mike Williams role… Taylor is an elite running back prospect (4.39 speed and one billion yards at Wisconsin), but are we really trading up for a running back early in the second round in the year 2020? What makes it worse is that Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines are a good enough tandem to hold down the fort. With that said, Taylor is the rookie RB1 or RB2. He's going to be good… Blackmon is a quality third-round flier. He was PFF's No. 5 safety last season after playing corner at Utah in seasons prior, but he is coming off a knee sprain. If healthy, he can make starts as a rookie. Just expect some rookie mistakes as he continues learning the position… Eason's poor accuracy and mobility are bad enough to bet against him becoming an NFL starter, but maybe Rivers can teach him a thing or two this season. Drafting a quarterback this late rarely will get a bad grade from me… Pinter has 94th percentile Adjusted SPARQ athleticism (4.94 forty) but will be 24 years old as a rookie. That's pretty old for a project. At least he can move well.