Analysis: What Colts need most in draft

Based on run defense breakdowns in the past two playoff losses, defensive line is the most logical position to address.

The NFL draft being only one day away provides a final opportunity to assess the Indianapolis Colts’ most important need in the selection process.

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has always taken the approach that he wants to select the best player available, regardless of position, a promising talent who is NFL ready to make an immediate impact.

But ideally, NFL teams succeed on draft day when they select players who fit that criteria but also address a need. The Colts have nine picks beginning with the 29th overall selection Thursday.

When looking at the Colts’ roster, nobody questions there’s plenty of offense with quarterback Andrew Luck and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton being joined by free-agent additions in running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Andre Johnson.

Some mock drafts have suggested the Colts could look to bolster the offensive line with their first selection, but the strongest argument could be made that this team needs more defensive depth, specifically up front.

The Colts signed defensive end Kendall Langford in free agency to go with defensive tackle Arthur Jones, nose tackles Josh Chapman and Montori Hughes and defensive tackle Zach Kerr. But this team opted not to re-sign a vocal leader in defensive end Cory Redding and cut defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois in a salary cap move.

When running a 3-4 defense, it’s ideal to have six players sharing playing time on the line. That keeps them fresh. The Colts would appear to have at least one spot to fill in this area, presuming they intend to keep the aforementioned five players.

The Colts ranked 18th in run defense at 113.4 yards allowed per game, but their inability to neutralize the New England Patriots’ rushing game resulted in disastrous playoff dismissals in each of the past two postseasons.

The Patriots ran for 177 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-7 rout of the Colts in January’s AFC Championship Game at Foxborough, Mass. The year before that, it was even worse. The Patriots obliterated the Colts’ run defense for 234 rushing yards and six touchdowns in a 43-22 rout at Gillette Stadium.

That’s not to discount these schemes are built to get after opposing passers with edge rushers. The Colts could take a chance on a pass-rushing outside linebacker, although six-time Pro Bowl star Robert Mathis and two-time Pro Bowl defender Trent Cole are expected to get most of the snaps on that edge.

Still, it would make sense to want backups who can do the job as well. Second-year pro Jonathan Newsome led the team with 6.5 sacks last season, so he’s not going anywhere. Outside linebacker Erik Walden had a career-high six sacks, but is considered a stronger run defender.

So if the Colts go D-line, the short list of suggested players will consist of defensive ends, tackles, nose tackles and outside linebackers.

Several highly rated players aren’t going to fall to the Colts at 29. But because some mock drafts have them dropping a bit, they’re worth mentioning.

Those unlikely talents begin with Missouri defensive end Shane Ray and Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, both of whom are expected to drop because of failed drug tests. After them, it’s doubtful Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton, Oregon defensive end Arik Armstead, Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown and Kentucky defensive end Alvin Dupree will stay on the board for the Colts.

The next group of players who could be there are Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson (who could end up playing safety), UCLA defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and Virginia outside linebacker Eli Harold.

The draft begins at 8 p.m. in Chicago with the first round, then continues for rounds two and three at 7 p.m. Thursday before rounds four through seven start at noon Saturday.

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

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