Five to Watch: Draft Positions

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The end of April will be here before we know it. Brad Keller identifies five positions to watch leading up to the draft.

Offensive Line:  Trying to single out one position on the offensive line that needs assistance more than another would be too difficult.  Jeff Saturday will eventually hang up his cleats and wait for Canton to call.  Mike Pollak, Kyle DeVan, and Jaime Richard aren't suitable long term answers at guard and may not even be in the short term.  Charlie Johnson has done his best the past few seasons, but is not the cornerstone franchise left tackle the Colts were hoping Tony Ugoh would become.

Ryan Diem is on solid footing, but he can't play forever.  Indianapolis recently signed guard Casey Bender and that will help, but there won't be a wealth of talent — or really much talent at all – along the offensive line when free agency starts and better replacement options are not on the roster.  The Colts aren't players in the free agent market anyway, so they will need to rebuild their offensive line from the ground up, starting with this year's draft.  All their issues will not be solved in seven rounds plus undrafted free agents, but they can take an important first step by getting some quality — and quantity — in this year's lottery.

Defensive Tackle: Indianapolis needs help at end as well, since Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis aren't getting any younger, but they need more help at tackle.  Eric Foster will have to chip in for now, playing some snaps at end and, hopefully, Jerry Hughes will emerge as a quality player at some point.  Fili Moala has not developed into the player the Colts thought he would be when they drafted him.

Antonio Johnson and Daniel Muir are fine players, but they are really just run stuffing tackles and Indianapolis needs someone on the inside that can rush the passer.  This year's defensive tackle class is strong and deep.  As the Colts discovered, you can find tremendous players like Antonio Garay and Jay Ratliff in the later rounds.

They should come out of this year's draft with at least one tackle they drafted — it doesn't necessarily need to be a high pick, just a good player that needs some time and attention — and one free agent.  They need quality and quantity here, too, but they can settle for quantity at the moment.  Johnson and Muir are not so irreplaceable or valuable that they can't share practice time, which should give an incoming rookie a shot to establish himself.

Wide Receiver:  That may seem like a silly statement, given how stocked the Colts were at the outset of the 2010 season, but it's a very valid statement given how bare the cupboards were when they closed the 2010 season.  Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie will be back next season, but there is no guarantee that either of them will stay healthy.

Gonzalez has spent most of the last two seasons on injured reserve and Collie could be one more concussion away from IR or possibly retirement.  Bill Polian does seem to have a knack for identifying receivers that don't have great workout numbers or measureables but were productive at the college level.  Collie and Pierre Garcon both put up fantastic numbers in school, but didn't particularly look the part of a solid receiver.

With Peyton Manning working with them and throwing to them, they were able to raise the level of their games, but the fact that Manning struggled with replacement players shows that the Colts need a certain type of guy.  Polian appears to know that type of guy when he sees him and has been able to grab that guy in the later rounds.

Cornerback:  For the most part, Indianapolis has been able to withstand injuries at the cornerback position and plug in guys off the street without their pass defense suffering too greatly.  The reason for that is the Cover 2 defense they run.  The cornerbacks are asked to jam, react, and tackle, but not much more, which makes me question why Kelvin Hayden — or any Colts cornerback, not singling out Hayden — would get the kind of contract extension he got during the 2009 offseason.

Having said that, Indianapolis needs to draft a certain type of cornerback in this year's draft.  They need someone with speed and athletic ability that has extensive experience covering — and especially returning — kicks.  Experiments with receivers and running backs as returners haven't worked out because those players are simply too valuable in their primary roles to risk injury.

If the Colts can grab someone that's fast and has a lot of special teams experience at the cornerback position, they can throw him to the wolves and not have to worry about him getting hurt or how he will perform when pressed into service at his regular position.  They will be able to plug him into the system and watch him jam, react, and tackle.

Running Back:  History has shown that Joseph Addai is a very productive and effective player in this offense, when healthy.  The issue is that Indianapolis doesn't have a replacement on the roster that comes close to being as productive and effective when Addai goes on the injury report.  History has also shown that Addai spends at least some portion of every season on that report.

Mike Hart has been productive in spurts, but only when healthy, which has also been an issue.  Even though the team appears to have squandered a first round pick on Donald Brown in 2009, they need to go back to the well.  That player doesn't need to be a first rounder, but he does need to have something close to the mix of running, receiving, and blocking skills that Addai possesses.  Pass blocking can be coached, but the desire to step up and do it cannot, as Brown has proven.  Without someone to carry the load when Addai gets hurt or when he needs a breather, the Colts rushing attack will continue to struggle as it has the past two seasons.


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