*INDIANAPOLIS — *The grades are in.
… Well, it’s hard to get a really good read on what the various outside pundits are collectively thinking about this 11-man 2018 Indianapolis Colts draft class.
Understandably, the point of “instant draft class grades” is kind of moot. You can’t really grade a class on anything other than its potential and/or how it met the perceived “team needs,” and with hundreds of players coming from so many different backgrounds, at some point the practice becomes a crapshoot.
It’s probably much more fair to evaluate and assign grades to draft classes after, maybe, three or four years.
But in the spirit of instant gratification, we have collected 13 opinions from across the web on this Colts draft class:
*Chad Reuter, NFL.com: *Reuter gave the Colts an “A-minus” for their draft class. He writes:
“GM Chris Ballard hauled in three second-round picks from the Jets to move down just three slots. They still got Quenton Nelson, one of the top three players in the draft. He'll be a difference maker up front for an organization that needs to protect its franchise player. Ballard converted three second-round picks (two from their aforementioned pre-draft trade-down) into good players. I thought there were better players on the board when they picked Leonard and Smith early in the second round, however. Lewis didn't have great production last year, but he had a great junior season. The Colts finally found receivers in Rounds 5-6 (Fountain and Cain). Both are tremendous athletes. Fountain has to prove he can battle at the top level, and Cain has to become more consistent as a pass catcher to reach his potential. The team could have used cornerback help earlier in this draft, though.”
*Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN: *Kiper gave the Colts a “B-plus” for their draft class. He writes (ESPN Insider subscription required for the entire piece):
“*The Colts had a nice combination of additions in this draft: they got stronger up front on offense, added some upside and immediate depth on defense, and they got some potential playmakers in the run game. In two of those three, I would say the biggest beneficiary could be Andrew Luck, who is coming back from a shoulder injury and recovery that will have us all watching him closely in 2018.
One way to protect Luck is to let him hand the ball off more often with better results. If this offense can operate more out of second-and-5 and third-and-2 scenarios, you're allowing Luck to get the ball out faster. Quenton Nelson (pick 6) can help get you to second-and-5. He's a devastating blocker, and a plug-and-play guard. Maybe a Pro Bowl version. Braden Smith (pick 37) is also a tough guy up front and could factor in soon. Nyheim Hines (pick 104) and Jordan Wilkins (pick 169) are a good mix of explosiveness and production. That backfield got better. Turay has pass-rushing upside and a quick first step, and Tyquan Lewis (pick 65) is a dependable edge player, though he's not going to blow anyone away with quickness.
Deon Cain (pick 185) could provide some dividends at wide receiver. He comes from a system that has churned them out. Overall, it's a solid draft for GM Chris Ballard and Indy, which added picks via trade and provided some cover for Luck.*”
*Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: *Prisco gave the Colts a “B-plus” for their draft class. He writes:
“They took the cleanest player in the draft in the first round in guard Quenton Nelson, but that's high for a guard in my book. Even so, it was a need pick. They added another guard in the second round in Braden Smith, a player a lot of teams wanted in that round behind them. That gives them a real upgrade inside on their line. Second-round linebacker Darius Leonard is a thumper who will help the defense. They also added defensive linemen Kemoko Turay, a raw edge rusher, and Tyquan Lewis in the second. Fourth-round running back Nyheim Hines will be the change-of-pace back.”
*Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: *Iyer gave the Colts a “B-plus” for their draft class. He writes:
“Chris Ballard got busy stockpiling talent for Frank Reich after a quiet free-agency period. Nelson and Smith will start and improve both pass protection and run blocking. Hines and Wilkins give the Colts a nice committee with Marlon Mack that can do a little but of everything. Fountain and Cain can emerge as big-play guys outside for Andrew Luck. At the same time, the Colts loaded up their new-look base 4-3 for Matt Eberflus. It was the transitional draft Indy needed.”
*Dan Kadar, SB Nation: *Kadar gave the Colts a “B” for their draft class. He writes:
“*The single best pick of the entire draft may have been the Colts taking Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson with the sixth overall pick. This draft had to be about keeping Andrew Luck healthy, and Nelson is a player who can keep the pocket clean.
In the second round, the Colts found the perfect Tampa-2 linebacker in Darius Leonard of South Carolina State. He’s an athletic off-ball linebacker with has range. The 36th pick was a little early for Leonard, but he’s a perfect system fit. The Colts followed that up immediately with the 37th pick by taking another guard in Auburn’s Braden Smith. Having Smith and Nelson should tell you what the Colts want to do on offense this season.
The 52nd pick was used on high-upside pass rusher Kemoko Turay of Rutgers. In Indianapolis, he’ll often play with his hand down, and then they took another edge player in Ohio State’s Tyquan Lewis. The Colts needed to get 4-3 ends, and now they have them in Turay and Lewis. The Colts obviously did work in the second round, but did they get good value?
On the third day of the draft the Colts got good skill position players in running back Nyheim Hines of North Carolina State and Clemson wide receiver Deon Cain. Both should make the roster and get the ball.*”
Frank Schwab, Yahoo! Sports: Schwab gave the Colts a “B” for their draft class. He writes:
“The safest player in the draft was probably guard Quenton Nelson. And he helps a Colts line that has had major holes for years. The Colts had four second-round picks, and they loaded up in the defensive front seven: linebacker Darius Leonard, a very productive player at South Carolina State, and pass rushers Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis. The other second-round pick, Braden Smith, was another guard and probably a reach with many good running backs on the board. N.C. State running back Nyheim Hines is a fun player but not the every-down back the Colts need, though Indianapolis also took a shot on running back Jordan Wilkins in the fifth. Maybe it would have been better to invest in one good back early instead of a second guard. The Colts also took two receivers in the fifth and sixth rounds including Deon Cain, who unexpectedly slipped.”
*Ian Wharton, Bleacher Report: *Wharton gave the Colts a “B” for their draft class. He writes:
“*After moving back from the third overall pick to the sixth overall pick, the Indianapolis Colts were still able to land arguably the best player in the draft in guard Quenton Nelson. Nelson is a mauler, and pairing him with second-rounder Braden Smith creates a fantastic interior line with former first-round pick Ryan Kelly at center. Prioritizing the line will benefit whichever quarterback plays in 2018 and the running back combination of Marlon Mack and fourth-round pick Nyheim Hines.
Since the Colts had essentially two free second-round picks from their trade down, taking a flier on athletic marvels Darius Leonard and Kemoko Turay could alter the direction of the defense if they pan out. Neither is refined or ready to be impactful rookies, but both have uncommon traits that could blossom over the next few years. Former Ohio State defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis is more of a sure thing, as he was a quality starter on a loaded defense for several years.
Adding wide receiver Deon Cain and Hines should give the offensive unit two immediate role players. Cain may start due to the lack of competition on the roster, as he's a devastating deep threat. Hines is in the mold of recent undersized but shifty playmakers like Tarik Cohen and Tyreek Hill.*”
*Mark Maske, Washington Post: *Maske gave the Colts a “B-minus” for their draft class. He writes:
“The Colts ended up with five picks in the first two rounds, a sound approach by GM Chris Ballard as he attempts to restock a talent-deficient roster. He also was wise to spend early-round resources on fortifying the offensive line for the return of QB Andrew Luck. Taking G Quenton Nelson sixth overall was the right move. There is reason to wonder, however, if the Colts made the most of their four second-rounders.”
*Walter Cherepinsky, WalterFootball.com: *Cherepinsky gave the Colts a “C-plus” for their draft class. He writes:
“*The Colts were able to obtain one of those non-quarterback blue-chippers, selecting Quenton Nelson sixth overall. While many thought they'd go after Roquan Smith, taking Nelson was the right choice, as protecting Andrew Luck is paramount, whenever he comes back from his injury.
Indianapolis' next four selections were used on an offensive lineman and front-seven players. Braden Smith was a questionable choice at No. 37, as the Colts already had three quality guards on their roster. Kemoko Turay wasn't very logical either, as he doesn't seem like a great fit in a 4-3 defense. Conversely, Darius Leonard was a fine pick atop Round 2, as he addresses a huge need at linebacker.
The Colts made some decent picks in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds - Daurice Fountain at No. 159 was the best one - but there was a fatal flaw in their draft, and that was not addressing the secondary at all. The Colts have a poor group of cornerbacks, so failing to to fix that position seems like an egregious error.
That said, I don't want to drag down Indianapolis' grade too much because of this. The Colts had a mixed draft overall, but should be better as a result of it.*”
*Luke Easterling, DraftWire: *Easterling gave the Colts a “C” for their draft class. He writes:
“This might be the strangest class of them all. Quenton Nelson may be the best player in the whole draft, which made him a steal at No. 6 overall. After that, things got weird in a hurry. A small-school linebacker and another guard at the top of the second round, then a pair of trade-ups for edge defenders that went much earlier than expected. The highlights of Day 3 were explosive offensive weapons in Nyheim Hines and Deon Cain (what a steal in the sixth), but other than those two, it was projects galore. Daurice Fountain is intriguing, though. Overall, considering how many premium picks they had to work with, the Colts could have done so much more for a roster than needs so many impact players on both sides of the ball.”
*Andy Benoit, Sports Illustrated: *Benoit gave the Colts a “C-minus” for their draft class. He writes:
“*It’s hard to fault a team for drafting offensive linemen when its superstar quarterback is trying to get healthy. And yes, some will argue that guard Quenton Nelson is a generational type talent worth taking regardless of need. But instead of tapping Nelson at No. 6 and Braden Smith in the second round, the Colts could have aided their existing O-line (which is not great, but not the dumpster fire people think) by installing a quicker-strike passing game—something Andrew Luck will ultimately need to stay healthy. Luck’s ability to extend plays within the pocket is special, but that can no longer be his foundation.
We only say this because the defense entered the draft three or four players away from even being in dire straits. Its only true three-down players were safety Malik Hooker and corner Quincy Wilson—and both have played just half a rookie season in the NFL. Every other player, save for maybe edge men Jabaal Sheard and John Simon if we’re being generous, was a situational piece. And with most of the lineup built for Chuck Pagano’s scheme, not new coordinator Matt Eberflus’s, it’s hard to envision many situations where those guys would work.
Ultimately, Colts GM Chris Ballard found three defenders in the first two rounds, but let’s be honest—it needed to be four, at the very least. As it stands, the Colts must score over 30 points each week to even have a chance. But maybe this is all part of what would have been an ugly rebuilding process anyway. Ballard’s argument is this: nothing we do matters if we can’t protect Luck. By drafting new guards, we also move Jack Mewhort, which potentially upgrades three positions up front.*”
*Nate Davis, USA TODAY Sports: *Davis gave the Colts a “C-minus” for their draft class. He writes:
“GM Chris Ballard snagged three second rounders from the Jets (two in this draft) to move down three spots. He still got the player, Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson, who might have been pick had Indy stayed put. Perfect choice. However, those Round 2 picks ... OLB Darius Leonard, G Braden Smith, pass rusher Kemoko Turay and DE Tyquan Lewis — all felt like possible reaches for a roster that can't afford more misses.”
*Sam Monson & Steve Palazzolo, Pro Football Focus: *Using a scale of Elite/Good/Above Average/Average/Below Average, Monson and Palazzolo believed the Colts’ draft class was “Average.” They write:
“*Day 1: There’s not much to pick apart with Quenton Nelson’s game as he was the top guard on our board after posting three exceptional years of grading. He can make any block in any run scheme, whether being asked to play with power at the point of attack, tracking linebackers at the second level, or making blocks on the move as a puller. Nelson was the nation’s top-graded run-blocker last season at 96.4, and he’s continued to improve in pass protection in each of his three years at Notre Dame, finishing with only five pressures allowed in 2017.*
*Day 2: The Colts kicked off a busy Day 2 with Darius Leonard, a small-school linebacker who had his ups and downs at the Senior Bowl before putting forth an outstanding effort in the game with 11 tackles and six stops. They add another guard to the mix with Braden Smith who is strong in the run game while continuing to improve as a pass protector, ranking ninth in the draft class with a pass-blocking efficiency of 98.8 last season. The Colts then went to the edge to grab Kemoko Turay who had an odd career at Rutgers, but when he was on the field, was incredibly productive. On only 548 career rushes in four years (a season’s worth for some), Turay notched an incredible 16 sacks, 24 QB hits and 70 hurries. Tyquan Lewis can move around the defensive front and he had a solid career at Ohio State, averaging 47 pressures and 20 stops over the last two years.*
*Day 3: Nyheim Hines shows good patience as a runner, then hits the hole with impressive burst and lateral agility. He has the skills to become a receiving weapon at the next level after ranking 13th in the draft class with an elusive rating of 76.2. Jordan Wilkins will contend for snaps with Hines after showing well as a receiver (78.8 grade) and as a pass-blocker (85.2 grade) last season while ranking eighth in the class with an elusive rating of 78.5. Deon Cain is a potential downfield threat as he runs well and knows how to create late separation at the catch point. He caught 43.8 percent of his deep targets in 2016 while playing with Deshaun Watson, though that dropped to only 23.5 percent last season.*”