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Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: NFL Draft preview, positions of need, Nick Cross

The Colts Mailbag is back! Ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft, we took questions on, well, mostly the 2023 NFL Draft. 

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The Colts Mailbag is back! readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for the next Colts Mailbag by clicking here. You can also send your questions to @JJStankevitz on Twitter.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Kody Findley, Indianapolis: Is there a thought that we may trade down to acquire a player that will help this year and wait until next year for a QB?

JJ Stankevitz: This may be a stock answer, but it's true – the only guarantee in this year's draft is the Carolina Panthers will take a quarterback with the first overall pick. Yes, the Colts have a need for a young quarterback, but you can't stack your draft board based on needs. That's where general managers and franchises get in trouble – reaching for a need instead of taking the best player on their board.

So all general managers in Chris Ballard's position have to find the line between having urgency to draft a young quarterback and sticking to your board.

"I think anytime, if you don't feel like you have (a quarterback) that can absolutely change the franchise in terms of leading you every year, I think you're always going to feel some pressure to get that player and I don't think it's any different for any team in the league," Ballard said. "And now whether we need to take one at four, if the right one's there for us that we feel good about, then we'll do it."

Having said that: While it's plausible the Colts don't take a quarterback in the first round, I don't think they'd do it with an eye on next year's quarterback class. Projecting a year out is dangerous – there's so much uncertainty with what could happen over the next 365 days. You don't know how good the 2024 class of quarterbacks will be, and you might have to endure quite a few losses to get one of the guys who emerges near the top of that group.

If the Colts pass on a quarterback in the first round, they always could still take one later this year – either on Day 2 or Day 3 – and potentially find a starter there.

"There are good players in this draft at every level," Ballard said. "Everybody talks about the top 4, but there's some more guys out there — pretty good players. And I think history has shown here, especially in the last few years with Jalen (Hurts) being one, Brock Purdy coming in and playing really well. They come in every level. We'll do our work on every one of them and at the end of the day we'll try to get one that we like and fits us and we think we can win with."

Elijah Purciful, New Palestine, Ind.: Are we going to move up in the draft?

JJ Stankevitz: The Colts will consider every scenario as the draft unfolds Thursday night. A major pivot point will be what the Houston Texans do with the No. 2 overall pick – do they take a quarterback or a defensive player? Which quarterback do they take if they go that route? The answers to those questions could influence the Colts' decision to trade up to No. 3 or stand pat at No. 4. It'll be fascinating to watch.

And despite what you might see in various mock drafts, we don't know how the first four picks will play out Thursday night.

"No idea, and I don't think anybody does," Ballard said. "Everybody thinks they do. I mean of course, everybody thinks they do and everybody has an inside source who is giving them information of what's going to be done. I think as you all know, just look at the mock drafts and tell me how accurate they are after the draft. Nobody knows. Nobody is giving out information."

Paul Madorno, Plains, Pa.: It doesn't matter who the QB is if they don't shore up to O-line. LT was starting to come around, Q didn't play up to his contract, neither did Kelly or Smith. RG was a mess. Are the Colts going to do to the new QB like they did to Luck? Do you think they learned their lesson?

JJ Stankevitz: The big addition to the Colts' offensive line this offseason was Tony Sparano Jr., who Shane Steichen hired to coach that group earlier this spring. The Colts believe in those returning vets – Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith – and believe Sparano is the right coach to get the most out of those guys, as well as ascending young players like Bernhard Raimann and Will Fries. And there still could be a key addition or two to Sparano's room during or after this year's NFL Draft.

"I see a lot of good players that we've got to get back together playing as one group," Sparano said. "I think that's the biggest challenge is we got guys that have been good players here that have been good players in this league before and played at a high level, and then we've got some exciting young players as well that I know I have high expectations for and am eager to help develop and get their careers off the ground in a really positive way."

Jonathan Hawkins, Noblesville, Ind.: What is Jim Bob Cooter's scheme like and how much does that determine who the Colts select at quarterback?

JJ Stankevitz: Cooter has been working closely with head coach Shane Steichen to build a framework for the Colts' 2023 offense. There's not a specific scheme Steichen and Cooter will deploy this year – it'll be designed with the talents and skillset of its quarterback in mind, whether that's Gardner Minshew II, Sam Ehlinger, Nick Foles or a draft pick. But it was notable Ballard last week singled out Cooter as someone he's enjoyed working with through the pre-draft process.

"Jim Bob is really talented," Ballard said. "It's been fun to be around him and to spend time with him. How his mind works, what he sees, how he thinks. The same thing with Shane. It's been an interesting process and I enjoy that."

Thomas Morgan, Scott City, Mo.: What's going on with Nick Cross, he played pretty good in the preseason and we traded up to get him...just seems he's not getting the playing time to show his abilities...

JJ Stankevitz: The Colts traded a 2022 fourth-round pick and a 2023 third-round pick (which wound up No. 67 overall) to the Denver Broncos to draft Cross with the No. 96 overall pick last year. He started Weeks 1 and 2 but didn't play much after, as the Colts opted to ride with veteran Rodney McLeod Jr. at safety.

Cross was the youngest player in the NFL when he debuted last September one day after his 21st birthday. He's a remarkable athlete, and the Colts haven't lost faith in what his ceiling in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley scheme could be.

"In conversations with him too, that second year, that jump that he can make here – he is extremely talented, he is fast, he's got the ability," Bradley said. "Now it's just playing fast on the field. That part we didn't see in the beginning of the year. We felt like he was thinking a lot. The conversation was more about doing things right rather than just reacting and it slowed him down some.

"I think as the season went on, conversations towards the end, it was more like 'I felt it. I know what that feels like now.' Where you're thinking too much and not playing as fast as maybe I did in college. So, if he can recognize that, own that and say now in the next year, let's get back to playing fast. That's the conversations we had. So yes, it would be great for him to take the next step for us."

Right now, Cross looks in line to compete for playing time at safety along with Rodney Thomas II and Julian Blackmon.

Douglas Podgorny, Lowell, Ind.: Why trade Gilmore? He had a solid year.

JJ Stankevitz: Gilmore was solid in 2022, certainly – he made game-clinching plays in three of the Colts' four victories. But any time you have a season with just four wins, you're going to make some difficult decisions the following offseason. Trading Gilmore was one of those.

As Ballard explained, the Colts made the trade: "To clear the cap space, we found a good situation for him, we felt like we got fair compensation in return, so we ended up making the move."

Kevin Cowperthwait, Dillon, Mont.: Why can't you just tell me which quarterback you're going to target, so I can quit stressing. I promise to keep it top secret! 🙂

JJ Stankevitz: Two. More. Days.

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