Analysis: Draft needs based on positions

The Colts have nine selections in this weekend's draft. Here's a breakdown by position of what areas could be addressed.

Fortunately for the Indianapolis Colts, they obviously don’t need to take a quarterback in this weekend’s NFL draft.

Beyond that, here’s a look by position at what areas the Colts could address with nine picks in the three-day selection process. Each position concludes with a summation of the Colts’ likelihood of addressing a need: definitely, likely, possible, unlikely, not happening.

Quarterback — The re-signing of Matt Hasselbeck to back up Andrew Luck means the Colts are set. Not happening.

Running back — Frank Gore joined the mix via free agency and restricted free agent Dan Herron was retained for one more year. Vick Ballard is coming off back-to-back seasons on injured reserve with only one game played since 2012. Gore has a three-year contract but turns 32 in May and the Colts will want to keep him fresh with a reliable backup. Herron proved he can contribute after taking the starting job away from the departed Trent Richardson last season, but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after 2015. The likable Ballard is an obvious injury risk after two serious injuries (ACL, Achilles tendon). The Colts will want to have three backs on the roster entering the season, but what about beyond 2015? What if Gore shows his age? This draft is deep in promising running backs. Several will still be there in the middle rounds. Likely.

Wide receiver — Andre Johnson, Duron Carter and Vincent Brown were signed in free agency to join T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Griff Whalen, among others. Five or six receivers will be kept, so the team should have what it needs. Unlikely.

Tight end — Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle return to give the team three reliable players. But all are entering contract years and it’s uncertain if the Colts can keep all three after re-signing Luck next offseason if not sooner. NFL teams often draft with an eye toward one or two years down the road. Possible.

Offensive tackle — Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is about to get paid after 2015, presuming the Colts will want to keep their best blocker. Reserve tackle-guard Joe Reitz was re-signed for three years to provide solid depth. But right tackle Gosder Cherilus had a rough 2014 due to injuries and is entering the third year of a five-year contract. If “Gos” doesn’t bounce back, the team could save $11.6 million by releasing him next offseason, not that they would want $8.7 million in dead money on the books. While a healthy Cherilus provides the best financial result, a new offensive tackle could start at guard for a year or two then shift to tackle. The smart move, as suggested by many mock drafts, is to add a tackle. Likely.

Offensive guard — Jack Mewhort, a second-round choice last year, was thrust into the lineup from the outset and showed he’s a keeper. Todd Herremans was signed after a decade in Philadelphia although it was for only one season. Donald Thomas has played two games in two years due to quadriceps tears. Former third-round pick Hugh Thornton has struggled in two seasons and then got hurt at the end of last season. Ben Heenan joins the mix from the Canadian Football League. There’s enough uncertainty long term at the position to justify adding another guard, although they typically aren’t taken too high. Mewhort was converted after playing offensive tackle. The Colts should have enough players to fill these two spots, especially with Reitz back in the fold, but don’t be surprised if they pick another. Possible.

Center — Jonotthan Harrison, Khaled Holmes and A.Q. Shipley each took turns in the revolving door a year ago. Shipley departed as a free agent while Harrison and Holmes return. It’s possible general manager Ryan Grigson is confident the guys he have can get it done. He’ll expect Harrison to improve after hitting the rookie wall last year and Holmes showed progress at season’s end. But if neither truly impressed enough, choosing another center is proof the team believes it must be better. Possible.

Defensive tackle/end — Defensive end Kendall Langford was signed in free agency to join defensive tackles Arthur Jones and Montori Hughes. Zach Kerr can also shift from nose tackle. Defensive end Cory Redding wasn’t re-signed and defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois was released, so the Colts still need a player. It’s possible outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, a former first-round draft choice, gets moved to end because he plays the run better than rushing the passer, but he doesn’t seem like a long-term answer. Definitely.

Nose tackle — Josh Chapman, Kerr and Hughes give the team three big bodies in the middle. That the Colts didn’t address the position in free agency suggests Grigson is confident in who he has, or he intends to draft one. Possible.

Outside linebacker — Trent Cole joins Robert Mathis to form a Pro Bowl-caliber pass rush tandem. But Mathis missed all of last season and is coming off an Achilles tendon tear. How long he needs to return to form, presuming the 34-year-old star can, is an undeniable question. And Cole’s two-year deal is front-weighted, which means cap relief should the team decide to release him after 2015. Jonathan Newsome led the team with 6.5 sacks as a rookie last season. He’s more of a pass rusher than a run stopper. Erik Walden had a career-high six sacks, but is valued more as a run defender. Even if everyone fits according to plan, a 3-4 defense can never have enough capable pass rushers. Likely.

Inside linebacker — Nate Irving was signed in free agency to a three-year contract but is coming off a season-ending knee injury so it might take some time for him to return to form. Jerrell Freeman wants a long-term deal and will play one more season as a restricted free agent. D’Qwell Jackson has three years remaining on his contract. Henoc Muamba played mostly special teams after making the jump from the CFL. Irving was added because the Colts want to improve their run defense. Another inside linebacker would be a backup, but could play more if Freeman doesn’t stay after 2015. Possible.

Cornerback — The re-signing of nickel cornerback Darius Butler keeps a core with Vontae Davis and Greg Toler intact. Davis got paid a year ago and backed it up with his best season. But the Colts are thin at the position if someone gets hurt. Likely.

Safety — Mike Adams was re-signed for two years and free-agent Dwight Lowery was signed for one year. An argument could be made that this is the team’s most pressing need, especially when considering Adams turns 34. The release of underwhelming LaRon Landry leaves a long-term hole at the position. Definitely.

Specialists — Kicker Adam Vinatieri, punter Pat McAfee and recently re-signed long snapper Matt Overton return as the “Fourth Down Army.” Not happening.

Returner — Josh Cribbs is back to return kickoffs and punts. Whalen and Hilton have also been used in the past. But sometimes teams will take a late-round flyer on a returner. Unlikely.

Here’s a Scout video with ColtsBlitz.com Publisher Phillip B. Wilson’s first-round choice.

The Colts have nine picks: 29th (first round), 61st (second round), 93rd (third round), 128th (fourth round), 165th (fifth round), 205th (sixth round), 207th (sixth round), 244th (seventh round) and 256th (seventh round).

The clock starts shortly after 8 p.m. in Chicago. If teams take half of the allotted 10 minutes on average to turn in their cards, the Colts won’t be on the clock until about 10:20 p.m. If teams average taking three-fourths of their allotted time, the Colts’ first player will be known at about 11:30 p.m. Let’s hope every team doesn’t take every minute because the Colts wouldn’t be picking until 12:40 p.m.

The draft continues with rounds two and three at 7 p.m. Thursday before the process for rounds four through seven begins at noon Saturday.

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


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