Colts Post-Draft Analysis, Part One

Okay, you've read what some of the so-called "experts" who cover multiple sports and multiple teams think about the Colts draft. Now let our expert who reports solely on the Colts, Jerry Langton, tell you his thoughts on the Colts draft class of 2005.

The day after the draft is usually when I try to calm down irate Colts fans, incensed that their team once again drafted a bunch of guys the experts didn't like. The die-hards generally need to be reminded that Bill Polian has taken teams to the Super Bowl four times and to Conference Championships three times. They need to be told that his expertise — and that of his colleagues Don Anile, Tony Dungy and others — far exceeds that of the guys behind the desks at ESPN or those making websites. They need to be reminded that many of us hated picks like Edgerrin James, Marcus Washington, Reggie Wayne and Bob Sanders and that many of those same fans hailed picks like Rob Morris, Steve Sciullo, Paul Miranda, Joseph Jefferson and Matt Johnson. And, I'll admit, you can count me among them.

I don't have time to do that this year. This year the Colts drafted players that were so little known, so far from the guys the media were pimping, that I feel it's my duty to introduce them. Luckily I've seen all but one of them play and all were on my radar, so I think I can add a little insight.

A few observations must be brought to the front before we look at the new players. First, we can throw out the old belief that the Colts won't draft players with character issues. They picked two (most notably their first rounder) with serious arrest records, including a guy who was stabbed by his girlfriend after he allegedly beat her up. Charming.

We can also forget the idea that the Colts targeted middle linebacker, defensive tackle and big running back as their areas of need. The draft yielded no middle linebackers, no defensive tackles and one teeny tiny running back in the seventh round.

Since their first two picks were cornerbacks, it's virtually certain that Donald Strickland will be moved back to safety. Once they added two defensive ends (although Polian said one will probably be tried inside), we could safely assume the tenure of Raheem Brock at that position is over. Brock is taking a step inside to defensive tackle. And with only a late pick that projects to inside linebacker, it's clear that the Colts believe their 2005 starter at middle linebacker is either already on the roster — David Thornton, Gilbert Gardner or someone else — or is an easily signed free agent — dare I say Morris?

But fans shouldn't just take heart in the Colts' draft history. The players they selected may not impress the guys who make a lot of noise before the draft, but they all have genuine talent, intriguing potential and a definite place on the Colts roster. Here's my look at the top five picks. On Thursday, I'll run down the last five.

1/29: Marlin Jackson, CB/Michigan

2004 stats: 34 TK, 13 AT, 6-21 TFL, 1-8 SK, 1-34-0 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FF
Workout numbers: 6005/198, 23 reps, 4.64/4.62 forty, 36 VJ, 10'5 BJ, 3.96 shut, 6.95 cone at Combine (ran 4.45/4.47 at workout)

Who is he: Big, strong and aggressive, Jackson fits the mold of what a Cover-2 corner should be. He gives you everything you need in coverage — and he's better in zone than man — but really excels in run support. An instinctive corner who tackles like a linebacker, Jackson is tough at the line and does major damage to slot receivers on short and intermediate routes. Although many draft experts maintain he'd be better off at safety, he didn't do well when he was shifted there in college. He has some kick return experience, but doesn't seem like a natural.

Where he fits: It's unlikely a player of Jackson's caliber won't be given a shot at a starting job from Day 1 (assuming he comes to camp on time). Don't be surprised if he's the team's No. 1 corner by the end of the season.

2/60: Kevin Hayden, CB/Illinois

2004 stats: 41 TK, 30 AT, 4-84-1 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FF, 0-34-0 KR, 2-18-0 REC, 1-2-0 PR

Workout numbers: 5106/197, 17 reps, 4.56/4.48 forty, 34 VJ, 9'3 BJ, 3.90 shut, 6.67 cone

Who is he: If you looked at the tape of Hayden in 2004, you'd see an outstanding athlete who had some great skills but real rawness. And, if you're like most draft observers, you'd assume he's a big project. But the Colts were aware that he'd only recently converted to the position from wide receiver and is just a bit of polishing away from being a top corner. Despite his experience as a wideout, Hayden's best qualities as a corner are play diagnosis and tackling. He shows a thorough understanding of zones and covers inside routes particularly well. Yet he retains the ball and running skills of the wide receiver he once was. A very similar prospect to Panther's 2004 first-rounder and rookie starter Chris Gamble, Hayden could well surprise in his first year.

Where he fits: At this point at least, Hayden is all about upside. If you plugged him in at corner, you'd probably be disappointed and he'll have to get by Nick Harper, Jefferson, Jason David and Von Hutchins before he gets any playing time, but he has more potential than any of them. He'll start out on coverage units, then graduate to dime and nickel packages and, in all likelihood, develop into a starter.

3/92: Vincent Burns, DE/Kentucky

2004 stats: 24 TK, 7 AT, 4.5-7 TFL, 1-3-0 INT, 1 PBU, 1-0-0 FR, 2 FF

Workout numbers: 6003/267, 25 reps, 4.91/4.97 forty, 35 VJ, 10'2 BJ, 4.47 shut, 7.24 cone (ran 4.83/4.79 at workout)

Who is he: Burns suffered through an injury-plagued 2004 season and his stats don't accurately reflect his ability. A super-quick pass-rusher with excellent moves and a solid knowledge of technique, Burns' best quality is his ability as a tackler. He explodes through the ball-carrier and has an uncanny ability to get the ball loose. He's not the most solid guy in the world at the line of scrimmage, but gives a solid effort from snap to whistle and regularly makes plays on second effort. Very few defensive linemen are as aware of where the ball is as Burns is and that's important. He has the frame to get bigger and could eventually evolve into a solid all-around end who moves inside on obvious passing downs.

Where he fits: With Mathis likely a starter at linebacker, Burns figures with a number of holdovers (Nick Rogers, Nathaniel Adibi and others) as a third-down rush specialist. Although he is the kind of guy who can usually be handled by one blocker, he must be accounted for on every play or he'll cause havoc.

4/129: Dylan Gandy, G/Texas Tech

Workout numbers: 6030/304, 5.22/5.18 forty, 29.5 VJ, 8'4 BJ, 4.51 shut, 7.62 cone (31 VJ, 8-11 BJ at workout)

Who is he:
He's the quintessential Colts lineman — he's played a number of different positions, he's very intelligent, he's an excellent athlete and he's raw and needs coaching. He's got the first step of a Pro Bowler and recognizes stunts and blitzes, but needs a few more pounds to plant against the pros and has to stop overextending and leading with his arms.

Where he fits: He'll show up at mini-camp and be installed as the fourth guard (behind Jake Scott, Tupe Peko and Ryan Lilja) and he'll get the occasional snap at center. Depending on how well he responds to the philosophy of line coach Howard Mudd, he could end up anywhere from a Day 1 starter to a training camp cut.

4/135: Matt Giordano, S/California

2004 stats: 41 TK, 20 AT, 1.5-4 TFL, 1-2 SK, 1-0-0 INT, 6 PBU, 2 FF

Workout numbers: Did not attend Combine, numbers are from workout 5110/199, 4.56 forty, 33 VJ, 10-0 BJ

Who is he: It's guys like Giordano who set the Colts' scouting department apart from the others. A hellacious tackler who can recognize and dissect run and pass plays in an instant, Giordano has all the tools to be a very good safety, but he hasn't put them together yet. Although he doesn't have great straight-line speed, he closes with force and can do more in deep zones than many corners. The big complaint against Giordano is that the fine points of the game elude him, but he seems like a smart guy who could respond well to coaching,

Where he fits: With Sanders, Mike Doss and Strickland in front of him, Giordano will get a chance to prove himself on special teams before he gets any serious responsibility on defense.

Check back on Thursday for Jerry's analysis of the final five choices.

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