Combine: Defensive options on possible radar

Back-to-back blowout playoff losses suggest Colts should be sizing up defensive talent at NFL Scouting Combine in Indy.

It wouldn’t be a surprise the Indianapolis Colts were looking to go defense in the upcoming NFL Draft.

To that end, this is the second in a three-story installment on players the Colts should be watching during this week’s NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

NFL teams typically don’t share inside information on the players they favor, but scout.com has an extensive player breakdown at each position which makes it easier for fans to analyze who could be wearing blue and white on draft day.

Scout NFL draft rankings

The first installment focused on offense, but the Colts have shown in the past two playoff beatdowns at New England that this team must improve on defense. The Super Bowl champions ran through the Colts both times, 45-7 in January and 43-22 the year before in Foxborough, Mass.

ESPN’s report that outside linebacker Robert Mathis has suffered a setback in his recovery from a ruptured Achilles suggests the Colts could be thinking an outside linebacker/pass rusher. But there are other considerations as well. Last week’s release of safety LaRon Landry as well as uncertainty about other positions, including defensive end Cory Redding possibly retiring, give observers plenty to guess about what the Colts will do next.

As mentioned before, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson looks to draft the best NFL-ready player regardless of position. It’s ideal if the best player available fills a need.

The Colts’ priorities include outside linebacker, defensive end, safety and defensive or nose tackle, not necessarily in that order. So here are some of the combine prospects who the Colts should be considering this week.

If Mathis did indeed suffer a “slight” setback in his recovery, perhaps a pass-rushing outside linebacker isn’t at the top of the list. But they’re hard to find and if one catch’s Grigson’s eye, it makes sense to go that direction. Former first-round pick Bjoern Werner has yet to live up to his selection in two seasons; he was inactive for the final playoff game. Erik Walden had a career-high six sacks last season, but he never had more than three before so it might be a bit much to expect that kind of production on an annual basis.

Because of the need at defensive end, and often times those guys get converted to outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme to better utilize their pass-rush skills, let’s merge the defensive ends and outside linebackers who will be on display at the combine.

As usual, the Colts won’t land one of the most-publicized prospects if they stand pat and pick 29th. So Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory (third in Scout’s rankings), Missouri defensive end Shane Ray (sixth), Washington outside linebacker Shaq Thompson (ninth), Florida defensive end Dante Fowler (10th) and Kentucky defensive end Alvin Dupree (18th) and Utah defensive end Nate Orchard (22nd) will probably be gone when the Colts select.

The next player is Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley (26th), Scout’s last five-star prospect at the position. He’s a tremendous edge rusher, the type of player who might not fall to the Colts, but should get a decent look anyway.

After him, there’s UCLA defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa (39th), Oregon defensive end Arik Amstead (47th), Virginia outside linebacker Eli Harold (48th), LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter (49th), TCU outside linebacker Paul Dawson (50th), Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers (69th), Washington outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha (78th), Missouri defensive end Markus Golden (81st), Florida State defensive end Mario Edwards (85th), Kentucky defensive end Za’Darius Smith (93rd) and Louisville outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (94th).

When checking out these guys, look at their sizes. Mathis was an undersized unknown when selected in the fifth round out of Alabama A&M. Most pass rushers have more size than him; he’s an exception. So if the outside linebacker or defensive end doesn’t fit the size expectation, he’s going to need an incredible motor to impress Grigson enough to use a high pick.

Scout NFL free agency rankings

Turning to safeties, Alabama’s Landon Collins is the top prospect, ranked 11th on Scout’s overall player list. He won’t fall to 29. What’s interesting is the next safety on the list isn’t until 53 in Mississippi’s Cody Prewitt.

After him, there’s Fresno State’s Derron Smith (64th), Virginia’s Anthony Harris (65th), Samford’s Jacquiski Tartt (89th) and Louisville’s Gerod Holliman (100th).

Switching to the nose, although it could be a defensive tackle, USC’s Leonard Williams is ranked No. 1 on Scout’s list, so cross him off. He’ll go too high. Washington’s Danny Shelton impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., but he’s ranked fourth. Florida State’s Eddie Goldman checks in at 20. He could fall, but perhaps not.

After that, it’s Oklahoma’s Jordan Phillips (25th), Scout’s last five-star prospect at the position. Then there’s Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown (28th), Ohio State’s Michael Bennett (56th), Iowa’s Carl Davis (57th), Washington State’s Xavier Cooper (60th) and Auburn’s Gabe Wright (83rd).

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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