The Indianapolis Colts have a lot of tough decisions to make this offseason. One of those decisions revolves around finding a pass rusher. They could address that need in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Colts need to fully overhaul and reshape their defense. Indianapolis had one of the oldest units in the league, and it ranked in the bottom-fourth of the league in most defensive categories. They need help at every level, and pass rusher should be a top priority for them.
Remember, longtime pass rusher Robert Mathis is retiring. Meanwhile, veterans Erik Walden and Trent Cole could become free agents this offseason. If the Colts do not re-sign either guy, Akeem Ayers would pretty much be their only experienced pass rusher left.
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They have nearly $58 million in cap space to use to fix their defense, and they could find an outside linebacker with that money. However, pass rushers will cost a lot of money in free agency. With the Colts needing to fill other defensive spots, they may look to the draft for a pass rusher.
This year, the pass rushing draft class is very interesting because there are more talented 4-3 defensive ends than 3-4 outside linebackers. Ideally, the Colts should want an outside linebacker, but they are known to take defensive ends and try to make them outside linebackers.
Right now, mock drafts are linking the Colts to both types of players. Alabama’s Tim Williams is the most popular 3-4 outside linebacker experts think Indianapolis would take. He terrorize quarterbacks in college and had 18.5 sacks in his final two years as a starter.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper suggested UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley as an alternative draft option. Although he played defensive end in college, McKinley is projected to be an outside linebacker. He had 10 sacks this past season and is primarily known for speed rushing.
Meanwhile, others believe Tennessee’s 4-3 defensive end Derek Barnett will be the Colts’ selection. He had 32 sacks in three years for the Volunteers; including 13 this past season. Barnett would likely have to transition to outside linebacker, but his pass rushing skills are tremendous.
Clearly, the pass rushing options will be there for the Colts regardless if they own the 14th or 15th pick overall. The key for them is picking the right guy, or even just selecting a pass rusher in general.
Unfortunately, this is a position Colts’ general manager Ryan Grigson struggles with. Grigson has never actually drafted a true 3-4 outside linebacker or pass rusher. He has drafted three defensive ends that they hoped would transition to outside linebacker.
All three guys Tim Fugger, Jonathan Newsome and Bjoern Werner turned out to be busts. Fugger did not play a down in Indy. Newsome had a decent rookie season, but was cut by the team for repeated marijuana use. Also, Werner just retired from football altogether this year.
Also, one cannot rule out the notion that Grigson will ignore drafting an outside linebacker in the first round. He may feel a guy at a different position has more value than a pass rusher at 14th/15th overall.
Remember, Grigson used a first round pick on wide receiver Phillip Dorsett instead of an offensive lineman, which they desperately need, in 2015.
The Colts have a handful of defensive needs, and they cannot address them all; even with $58 million of cap space. They will have to prioritize and push some needs to the draft. Pass rusher should be one of those needs, and it should be their top priority in the first round.
Ideally, the Colts should focus on getting a 3-4 outside linebacker like Williams. However, McKinley or Barnett are intriguing alternatives. Overall, the Colts just need to find a young pass rusher because they currently do not have one.