The 2010 NFL Draft is a crucial one for the Indianapolis Colts. They have a number players on both sides of the ball that are on the wrong side of 30 and are not as strong as they could be in several key positions.
They are still a solid team with quality depth that made it all the way to the Super Bowl last year, though, so they are far from being in a rebuilding phase and will always have a chance in any game, so long as 18 is taking the snaps.
What they need to do is focus on a few key areas — defensive end, defensive tackle, offensive tackle, guard, center, cornerback, linebacker, and return specialist — while prioritizing what they need most, how well a particular player fills that need, and whether or not a sufficient player could be taken later on in order to fill a more pressing need at the time of the selection. With only eight picks, they need to make every one of them count.
Even though the Colts will be drafting at the tail end of the first round, there will still be a number of quality players available. After the top ten prospects, there is not a precipitous drop in talent level for prospects ranked 11-40, so Indianapolis could conceivably get a player with top-20 talent at 31st overall.
They don't have a huge stockpile of tradeable picks — they're missing their sixth round selection this season and can't trade either of their two compensatory selections in the seventh round — so trading up in the first round seems unlikely, though they could always pull picks from future drafts if they feel strongly enough about a player in this year's talent pool.
Could Maurkice Pouncey fall to the Colts at No. 31?
This is a draft that is fairly top-heavy at the defensive tackle position, so the Colts will need to move on one in the first two rounds if they want to get a good one. The other side of that coin is that they can always wait until the later rounds and still get a prospect that's about the same quality as a third or fourth round guy.
As Scout.com Senior NFL Analyst Ed Thompson recently stated, he feel that Penn State tackle Jared Odrick is the most NFL-ready prospect at the position. Conveniently enough, he is the 31st-rated player on the Scout.com board and should be available when Indianapolis is on the clock.
There should be an early run on offensive tackles, so the Colts should avoid that position in the first round, since they will be reaching for a player with a second- or third-round grade if they decide to pull the trigger on a prospect. It's possible that two highly-skilled interior linemen in Florida's Maurkice Pouncey and Idaho's Mike Iupati could be available.
Pouncey is ranked 20th on Scout's big board and Iupati is 26th, so it's also possible that they could be gone by the time Indianapolis picks. If either is available, they would be a smart pick for Bill Polian, as the interior of the offensive line has been unstable the past two seasons. Jeff Saturday has been the rock that has kept it all together, but he can't play forever.
Cornerback is a strange situation for a first-round selection because any one of the four top-rated players — Joe Haden, Devin McCourty, Kyle Wilson, and Patrick Robinson — could be taken anywhere from 10-40. Robinson is the lowest-rated player of the four and checks in at 36th overall. It's possible that as many as two of these gentlemen could be available, or that none of them could be available.
Out of Wilson and Robinson, Robinson is the more NFL-ready prospect and is a better fit in the Cover 2 defense because he is more physical. If Robinson is available and the Colts are ready to spend a first round pick on a cornerback, they should take him. If both are available, Robinson still wins. If only Wilson is available, they should look at another position.
With the 31st Pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts select: Jerry Hughes, Defensive End, TCU.
Hughes is the 32nd-rated player on Scout's big board and the third-ranked outside linebacker, though he will almost definitely be playing defensive end — the position he played in college — at the NFL level.
Hughes could fill a short- and long-term need for the Colts at DE
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
At 6-foot-2 inches and 255 pounds, he fits the profile of the end position in the Colts defense. He has the attributes needed to succeed at that position — explosive first step, nose for the quarterback, quick feet and hands, and a big-time motor.
Indianapolis may get more of an immediate impact out of a cornerback or guard, but Hughes fills both a short-term and long-term need for the Colts. In known passing situations, he can slide inside to play tackle and provide a boost to the pass rush. He will be there to take snaps for Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis if they need a breather.
If there is an injury to either of their Pro Bowl ends — and one or both players have missed some time in each of the last three seasons — Hughes would be a much more effective substitute than anyone currently on the roster.
In the long term, Freeney and Mathis can't play forever, either. A defensive end's production begins to drop pretty rapidly once they turn 30. Freeney has already turned 30 and Mathis will reach that magic number next February.
While picking a cornerback or offensive lineman might make more sense in the short term, taking Hughes will cement a critical position for Indianapolis for the long term.