Nick Cross could be X-factor for beat-up Colts defense in Week 1

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - AUGUST 27: Nick Cross #20 of Indianapolis Colts makes the tackle on Tyler Johnson #18 of Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - AUGUST 27: Nick Cross #20 of Indianapolis Colts makes the tackle on Tyler Johnson #18 of Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /
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The Indianapolis Colts were handed some unfortunate injury news right before a Week 1 game against the Houston Texans, as star linebacker Shaquille Leonard was ruled out with a nagging injury. Nick Cross and the rest of what has quickly become a very inexperienced defense is going to be tested.

Cross, who is the youngest player in the league, was drafted in the third round out of Maryland with the goal of providing short-term depth before emerging into a starter later in his rookie contract. Before his rookie year even began, those plans have changed.

Cross is projected to be a starter next to Julian Blackmon against Houston. Even though Indy has a much stronger secondary this year thanks to the addition of Stephon Gilmore, starting a rookie against coaches with tons of battle scars in Lovie Smith and Pep Hamilton could spell disaster.

The Colts need to hope that Chris Ballard’s scouting eye once again proves to be quality, as Cross is getting thrown right into the fire as a rookie. Playing well will not only help them secure a win against the Texans, but it will also help this team set the tone for the rest of the season.

Nick Cross has impressed the Indianapolis Colts.

Cross, who flew up draft boards following a blazing 40-yard dash time and an impressive combine showing, was taken in the third round due to a solid combination of hard-nosed hitting ability and range in zone coverage. With Khari Willis retiring, Cross seemed like a solid replacement.

The issue with Cross, on top of the fact that the gap in talent between the Texans and Big Ten teams like Rutgers is the Grand Canyon, is that his performance in run support was a bit mixed. Against a Texans team fully committed to the Dameon Pierce experience, that could be problematic.

Cross did establish himself as a bit of a turnover machine in college, piling up five interceptions in the two seasons where his team was not impacted by COVID-19. The best way for a rookie to get himself in the good graces of a veteran team is by generating a timely turnover.

With a veteran in Rodney McLeod also on the roster, Frank Reich will likely not hesitate to get Cross out of the game if he is not performing well. Starting strong for Cross will not only be key for the Colts in Week 1, but it could help him personally get his career off on the right foot.