INDIANAPOLIS — "You don't select a guard with the No. 6-overall pick!"
"You're taking an FCS linebacker this early in the second round?"
"Another guard? In the second round? You already took one!"
"This guy is a project pass rusher at best."
"His off-the-field issues really concern me."
With all the hype and attention that comes with the NFL Draft, fans and media "experts" alike are going to dissect each and every move a team makes.
And they had plenty of opportunities to do just that for the Indianapolis Colts in 2018; by the time all was said and done, the team made 11 picks, a franchise record in the NFL Draft's modern (seven-round) era, which began in 1994.
Many lauded the selections made by then-second-year general manager Chris Ballard and his crew, but the echo chamber of those who disagreed with — or simply didn't understand — the strategy certainly was loud nearly every step of the way.
Fast forward 9 1/2 months. You know how they say you usually need about three years to completely judge a draft class? That remains true, but if the start the 2018 Colts' draft class has gotten off to is any indication, after its third year is wrapped up, it might already be considered one of the best — if not the best — groups in franchise history.
Nine of the 11 picks from the 2018 NFL Draft played considerable roles at one time or another for a young 10-6 Colts team that earned a playoff berth for the first time in four seasons, and would end up advancing to the Divisional Round. Of the two remaining picks, one would've certainly played a major role if not for a season-ending knee injury suffered during the first preseason game, while the other battled most of the season on the practice squad before earning a late-season promotion to the active roster.
The team's top two picks — guard Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard — were sensational, and became the first rookie teammates to earn Associated Press First-Team All-Pro honors since Pro Football Hall of Famers Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers with the Chicago Bears in 1965. Leonard was named the league's Defensive Rookie of the Year, while Nelson became the first Colts rookie offensive linemen selected to a Pro Bowl since 1983, and was only the third in franchise history.
These are all accolades we've heard before, but around here, it's notable when the Colts' efforts are recognized more on a national scale. That's what happened this week, when NFL.com's Nick Shook and Jeremy Bergman, who recently assigned grades to all 32 2018 NFL rookie classes, concluded that the Indianapolis Colts' haul of first-year players in 2018 was the best in the league.
You can read the entire piece by clicking here, but here's what Shook wrote about the Colts' 2018 haul — the only class to earn an "A" in the entire NFL:
Indianapolis Colts: A
Round 1: (No. 6 overall) Quenton Nelson, OG, 16 games/16 starts.
Round 2: (36) Darius Leonard, LB, 15 games/15 starts; (37) Braden Smith, OT, 15 games/13 starts; (52) Kemoko Turay, DE, 14 games/3 starts; (64) Tyquan Lewis, DE, 8 games/6 starts.
Round 4: (104) Nyheim Hines, RB, 16 games/4 starts.
Round 5: (159) Daurice Fountain, WR, 1 game/0 starts; (169) Jordan Wilkins, RB, 16 games/3 starts.
Round 6: (185) Deon Cain, WR, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (221) Matthew Adams, LB, 16 games/5 starts; (235) Zaire Franklin, LB, 16 games/2 starts.
What a class. GM Chris Ballard eschewed sexier picks in the early rounds, instead selecting the best lineman in the draft in Nelson, who immediately paid dividends while earning All-Pro honors. Smith is a competent tackle who could improve into a very good player with proper coaching. Leonard was a revelation at linebacker, taking home Defensive Rookie of the Year while also earning All-Pro honors. Turay's future is bright on the edge after he recorded four sacks in 14 games. Hines was a nice change-of-pace back who found success in the passing game. Cain could develop into a good receiver if he can return to full strength after tearing his ACL in August. Lewis needs more reps to develop, but recorded two sacks in eight games. Wilkins was a nice find in the fifth round. Adams played in all 16 games, recording 33 tackles as a depth defender. Franklin was another depth defender with a less productive rookie campaign. In all, an excellent draft for Ballard, who landed two All-Pros, solidified what was a porous line and helped turn around the Colts.
You can read more on the performances by each Colts rookie in 2018 — including the two undrafted rookies who made the team — by clicking here.