A year ago, the Colts were ending the Peyton Manning era. There were tears and hugs, and a commemorative banner. And then quickly, there was the matter of moving on.
Such is the cycle of NFL life, with the time for mourning over those lost restricted to, oh, a few hours. With injuries, there’s the next man up mentality, but when a major asset like Manning is lost, there’s a far more pressing task: finding out who will be that next man.
Of course, the Colts didn’t need to start a search, as part of their motivation to move on from Manning was the opportunity to draft Andrew Luck with the first overall pick. Then the rest of their draft was primarily focused on replenishing what was at the time a depleted offense, and putting a rookie quarterback in the best possible position to succeed. This year, with the exception of a wide receiver likely selected early, sophomore general manager Ryan Grigson’s focus will move to the other side of the ball.
Dwight Freeney is gone. Sure, he was aging, struggling, and often injured, but his pass-rushing presence will still be missed. He still had a solid if far from spectacular 13.5 sacks over the past two years, and although there’s optimism around Jerry Hughes’ growth, the quarterback pressuring responsibilities now fall primarily to Robert Mathis. He’s also aging and struggling, yet Mathis and Freeney combined for 13 of the Colts’ 32 sacks in 2012.
A wide receiver will also be targeted after the departure of Donnie Avery, who was one of those weapons brought in to support Luck last year. So which hole will draw Grigson’s attention first? Brad Wells from Stampede Blue thinks there could be both intrigue and confusion at Colts’ 24th overall perch in the first round, with some of the high-end names at both of those positions possibly off the board.
1. With Dwight Freeney gone, getting a pass rusher is a major need. Who do you expect Ryan Grigson to target in the first round?
I honestly don’t know. The No. 24 pick is very odd when it comes to guessing who they will pick. I agree with you that pass rusher is THE biggest need, but I could honestly see Grigson going wide receiver in the first round, perhaps DeAndre Hopkins.
2. Robert Mathis is now the Colts’ only true pass rusher who can create pressure why any consistency. With the need so glaring at that spot, is an aggressive move and a trade up for one of the premier pass rushers in this draft a possibility? Maybe Barkevioius Mingo, or even Ziggy Ansah?
I don’t see trading up happening because…well, what do the Colts have to trade? They do not have a second-round pick in 2013 (part of the Vontae Davis trade last year with Miami). It’s possible they could trade down.
3. Creating pressure up the middle could be the early focus instead, with the likes of Sylvester Williams, Jesse Williams, and Tank Carradine likely available. Will Grigson turn to the interior, even after Ricky Jean Francois and Aubrayo Franklin were added through free agency?
It’s possible. I think getting an interior defensive end is more likely than a nose tackle. If Datone Jones is there at 24, I think he’d fit very well with Indy.
4. The focus early will likely be on the defensive side of the ball after Andrew Luck was the Colts’ first overall pick a year ago, and he was then surrounded by multiple young weapons (Coby Fleener, T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen). Where is depth needed offensively? A wide receiver will likely be targeted to replace Donnie Avery. Will the need there take priority over the defensive line needs in the first round? Or will it wait until the middle rounds?
Yes, the defense is a priority, but Grigson will look to take the infamous “best player available” at 24. Thus, if a guard or tackle is still there and he’s a player Grigson and his team have a high grade on, they will take him. I also think Grigson is less likely to take a WR in the first unless he is 100 percent sure the guy is a stud. He often cites later round guys like Wes Welker when talking about drafting wideouts. Quinton Patton is a likely third rounder they could target.
5. Lastly, some mock drafts (like this one from NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah) have floated the possibility of Manti Te’o landing with the Colts. With Pat Angerer and Jerrell Freeman already in place, is middle linebacker really a strong first-round need?
If the Colts draft Te’o, I might chuck my laptop out a window. (AKA: No, ILB is the last position Grigson and company should be thinking about.)