It’s not just NFL draft day. It’s finally time to forget about mock drafts and get down to business.
Mocks have become a media staple because, well, it’s kind of quiet after the season ends in February and fans are starved for anything NFL for several months. That’s why the NFL Scouting Combine seems like a big deal, the way it’s covered so thoroughly. That’s why headlines splash the breaking news of every free agency signing.
But unless your NFL team has made a huge trade or signed a big-named free agent — the Indianapolis Colts certainly haven’t — it’s this weekend that captures the offseason attention of fans like no other. The annual NFL Draft is an opportunity for optimism, presuming at least one or two or three of your team’s selections instill confidence for the future.
Many of us have participated in mock drafts, making the best educated guesses about who the Colts should select with the 18th overall pick. I decided upon Alabama center Ryan Kelly about a month or so ago. My opinion was based on team need as well as the hunch that the highest-rated center would be more invaluable than the most popular mock pick, Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker. That and the observation any pass rusher taken would be a bit of a reach.
What I’ve learned in 18 years of covering the NFL draft is to expect the unexpected. Some media types will make their mocks about them, to justify their existence and show they know something. That’s not me. It’s still about the big picture, as far as I’m concerned. And that’s will the Colts make enough smart picks in three days to help this franchise move forward?
Right now, to be bluntly honest, fans are quick to question Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, who struck gold as NFL Executive of the Year in 2012 but has had his share of missteps since. Everybody makes mistakes, but he’s made his share.
A 44-26 record during the Grigson-Chuck Pagano Era suggests fans and media are too quick to criticize. Owner Jim Irsay showed his faith in both with contract extensions after an 8-8 2015. The Colts’ Kool-Aid narrative is that the team has had a surprisingly strong run and quick turnaround since 2011’s 2-14 implosion. Injuries — particularly quarterback Andrew Luck being lost for nine games — derailed last season as much as anything.
But the other narrative, one that questions everything, suggests the Colts have relied mostly on Luck to achieve what they have since he was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012. It’s a take we’re familiar with from the Peyton Manning Era. Manning eventually had enough parts around him for the Colts to claim Super Bowl XLI. But for such a long time, it was Manning and a high-powered offense that ensured regular-season success while the defense typically struggled (a harsh reality learned continually in the playoffs).
In order for Luck to do his thing and ensure a certain level of success in 2016 and beyond, Grigson must address the offensive line. That’s been said for a couple of years now. At some point, if this isn’t fixed, Grigson and his scouting staff have to be held accountable for not fixing the obvious problem. At some point, Irsay will have to accept his guy isn’t solving the No. 1 problem.
That’s why this draft is so important. It probably seems like Grigson and Pagano are comfortable now, because they each have four more years on a contract. But the truth is, if the O-line isn’t fixed, this team won’t win and will regress. And that will get Irsay’s attention more quickly than anything else. Either that or Luck getting seriously injured again.
Some will be quick to remind the Colts are in need of defensive help, too. The pass rush is getting older and needs new blood in the worst way. Perhaps the Colts will find a player or two who can make an impact right away, but that doesn’t usually happen so quickly. Neither Dwight Freeney nor Robert Mathis started right away. It typically takes time for pass rushers to get acclimated in the NFL.
Fixing the defense will probably take more time than this draft. The gut instinct is we’re a year away from adding enough players in free agency and the draft to get the Colts’ defense to a respectable level. Only so much can be fixed overnight.
For now, the spotlight stays on the O-line. That’s the bottom line for this Colts draft. Address this now, finally, and ensure the Colts can return to their status as a perennial playoff team. Hit on a defensive pick or two and that wouldl help, sure, but it’s naive to think every selection will be an impact player.
That first one, though, at No. 18? Make that count. The Colts must select a keeper, hopefully a player who addresses the team’s most obvious need.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.