INDIANAPOLIS — At this week's annual NFL League Meetings in Phoenix, Indianapolis Colts Owner Jim Irsay listed pass rusher and running back among the two primary spots for his "wish list" going into the 2017 NFL Draft.
If Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks were running the show in Indy, then they seem to be on that same wavelength.
The two NFL Media analysts this week took a look at the Colts' first two picks in April's NFL Draft — at 15th and 46th overall, respectively — and revealed which two players would be the team's "perfect draft picks" at those spots.
And, for Jeremiah and Brooks, it appears the University of Tennessee should be the primary focus for new Colts general manager Chris Ballard, as they believe pass rusher Derek Barnett (at No. 15) and running back Alvin Kamara (at No. 46), both former Volunteers, would be the types of players that could make huge impacts for the Horseshoe.
On Barnett, Jeremiah said he is "one of the more natural pass rushers we have in this draft class."
"I tell you what — he's not explosive in the testing, but you see him win with speed, and he can really bend around the edge for somebody, when you first watch him, I thought, 'Man, maybe more of a power player.," Jeremiah continued. "Then you really start to study him; he can bend and wrap the edge and do some special things out there."
Brooks compared Barnett to Mr. Miyagi of "The Karate Kid" fame by saying the Tennessee pass rusher's hand skills "are the best at that position in this draft class."
"You talk about 10-plus sacks every season at Tennessee. He is a guy that, really, dominated," Brooks said. "And when you think about the guys on that all-time list at Tennessee that he surpassed, Reggie White — he surpassed him as the sack leader — ranks only behind Leonard Little in terms of tackle for loss. Dominant player; I think he's going to show up and be a terrific pro."
When it comes to Kamara, Brooks said he believes the speedster has the ability to "come in and (be) an electric playmaker out of the backfield for Andrew Luck."
"You're talking about someone who is terrific in space — has the speed to take it the distance in the running game, but is also a crafty route runner with strong hands," Brooks said of Kamara. "He is someone, to me, that I think is a matchup nightmare. As Andrew Luck is really becoming comfortable in this offense, he needs more weapons. The thing that he hasn't had is a weapon out of the backfield. That's a game changer for the Colts' offense."
On Kamara, Jeremiah added: "Tell you what — pretty darn good kickoff returner as well. They could rotate him in there in that mix, as well."
First off, as noted previously here, Jeremiah and Brooks certainly aren't the first league experts/pundits who believe Barnett could be an ideal fit for the Colts and defensive coordinator Ted Monachino. The team has already lost the great Robert Mathis to retirement, while 2016 sacks leader Erik Walden and veteran Trent Cole are currently free agents, and Chris Carter already signed a free-agency deal with the Washington Redskins.
Ballard appears to have made up for those losses by going out and signing three new outside linebackers/pass rushers of his own in free agency: John Simon, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo, the first two of which appear set to be starters at the position for the Colts in 2017.
But the Colts know a team can never get enough quality pass rushers, and adding a guy like Barnett in the first round would likely be pretty enticing if he were available.
A first-team All-American in 2016, Barnett finished his junior season with a career-best 13 sacks, which ranks right behind the aforementioned White (15.0 sacks in 1983) and Jonathan Brown (13.5 sacks in 1997) as the third-highest single-season mark in school history.
Kamara, meanwhile, is a "spirited runner with NFL size and speed," according to Lance Zierlein in his NFL.com Draft Profile.
At 5 foot 10 and 214 pounds, Kamara — who drew a comparison to Thomas Jones — ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he really impressed by showing off a 39.5-inch vertical (which was better than any other running back by two inches) and a broad jump of 10 feet, 11 inches, which was also tops among all running backs at the Combine.
"Ascending, competitive runner who has flashed explosive NFL talent at various times over the last two seasons," Zierlein writes. "A committed runner with excellent balance who finds yardage that isn't blocked for him. While he has never logged 20 carries in a single game, he has the talent to play on all three downs if he can prove his durability."
The Colts, of course, already have Frank Gore and Robert Turbin established as their No. 1 and 2 running backs, respectively. But Gore, who turns 34 this year, is entering the final year of a three-year contract in Indianapolis in 2017, and Ballard and head coach Chuck Pagano are keeping a close eye on what Turbin can do with possibly more opportunities on first and second down this upcoming season.
For those reasons, one might believe a running back would likely be a high priority for the Colts in this year's draft.
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