The 2015 season is officially over and the Indianapolis Colts are looking ahead to the 2016 NFL Draft in April.
The mock drafts are flooding the internet in the wake of the Super Bowl. With the season officially over we know the draft order and have a good idea of every team’s needs. We also have a model defense that the rest of the NFL is going to try to replicate after watching the Broncos dismantle three of the best offenses in the league.
In fact there’s quite a bit the Colts can learn from the Super Bowl champs about defense. Coach Chuck Pagano has talked for years about stopping the run when he should have been worried about developing a pass rush. The Broncos were successful in part because they could generate pressure without blitzing and were overwhelming when they did blitz.
Two new mock drafts have the Colts addressing the defensive side of the ball this week.
Nate Davis at USA Today has the Colts taking Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland with the 18th pick. Here’s what he said about it:
"18. Indianapolis Colts – Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama: Since he came to Indy, coach Chuck Pagano has been searching for solutions for a ragged run defense, particularly up the middle. Ragland could be the answer for a team that could lose Jerrell Freeman to free agency and probably needs an upgrade over vet D’Qwell Jackson."
Ragland sounds like he would be the perfect replacement for Jackson (assuming the Colts manage to re-sign Freeman). He is exceptional against the run and comes from a 3-4 defensive scheme, making him a ready fit for the Colts. There are questions about Ragland’s abilities in coverage and whether or not he has enough speed to play in the NFL. That said, there is no questioning his awareness of instincts.
The problem is that the Colts seem married to Jackson (who admittedly played better this season) and don’t seem to recognize the flaws the team has at linebacker. The weakest part of their defense (aside from wherever Greg Toler was) was the middle of the field where the linebackers should be covering tight ends or running backs. That soft middle needs to be addressed either through personnel moves or scheme changes.
Over at Bleacher/Report, draft expert Matt Miller has released his impressive seven round mock draft. In the first round, he has the Colts taking Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson. Here’s what he said about the pick:
"The Pick: Defensive End Shaq Lawson, ClemsonWith the 18th overall pick, the Colts could look to improve their offensive line, but their front seven on defense needs the most help after missed draft picks and free-agent signings. Improving a pass rush that was invisible at times in 2015 must be a priority, and the instant-impact ability of Shaq Lawson should excite the Colts front office.Lawson can play standing up or with his hand in the dirt, and his combination of quickness at the snap and power in his counter moves should make him a no-brainer in the middle of the first round."
Miller nails his analysis of the Colts, something that many other draft experts have failed to do. The Colts have to address the pass rush problems of this team, and watching a team they’ve beaten the past two years win the Super Bowl off their pass rush only strengthens this point.
There are a few issues with Lawson. First is that he might not fall this far in the draft as he’s generally seen as a 10-15 pick, but it wouldn’t be much of a drop for him to fall into the Colts lap. Second is that he’s an ideal fit as a left defensive end in a 4-3 scheme and might have issues transitioning to a 3-4 outside linebacker (he’s undersized to play on the line in a 3-4). However many scouts seem to think that playing outside linebacker is a natural fit for him.
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Lawson is an incredible talent, finishing with 25.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks last season. Lawson is a beast against the run and has the raw tools to be a talented pass rusher. Some of his sacks were off of sheer effort and willpower, but he likely won’t face QBs holding the ball long enough for that to happen as much in the NFL.
Lawson could easily add some firepower to the defense the moment he steps on the field. While the Colts are deep at outside linebacker, the talent is lacking. Lawson would instantly become a rotation player and could learn a lot about rushing quarterbacks from Robert Mathis. This is the kind of player that the Colts need to be targeting with their first round pick.