Colts are a testament that elite players aren’t only found in early rounds of draft

Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Grover Stewart (90) stands in the huddle Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022,
Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Grover Stewart (90) stands in the huddle Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, / Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY

With the 2023 NFL Draft coming up, fans can look to the Indianapolis Colts as a reminder that elite players can be found all through the draft, and even after it.

At the end of April, the NFL will host the 2023 Draft. Although it’s a three-day event, the majority of the attention is reserved for night one, the first round. That’s where the top prospects are selected, and the round that everyone has done countless mock drafts for. However, history has shown us countless times that quality players are found all throughout the draft, and even after the draft in undrafted free agency.

The Indianapolis Colts are one of the teams in the league that really exemplify that. Although Indy had an extremely underwhelming 4-12-1 season in 2022, Indianapolis has a talented roster filled with quality players and Pro Bowlers. In 2021, the Colts had the most Pro Bowlers in the NFL with seven. Additionally, Indy’s general manager, Chris Ballard, has earned a reputation of being great in the draft, despite only having three first-round picks in his six-year tenure.

That's because Ballard and the Colts have been able to find the gems in all of the other rounds. It’s only one first round, where 32 of the most popular college players are selected, but the winners of the draft are the teams that finds the best players in rounds 2-7, like Indy has been able to do.

Most of the Colts best players weren’t first-round picks

Quenton Nelson was the highest-pick of the Chris Ballard era, selected at No. 6. He and DeForest Buckner (drafted at No. 7 by the San Francisco 49ers) are two of the the few top Colts players that were drafted in the first round. In 2018, the same draft that Nelson was selected sixth overall, Indy drafted Shaquille Leonard in the second round and Zaire Franklin in the seventh round.

Leonard and Franklin are Indy’s starting linebackers, and two top LBs in the NFL. When healthy, Shaq Leonard is the best linebacker in football and constantly makes everyone that called him a bad pick look foolish. Last season, when Leonard was hurt, Franklin showed that he can produce with the best linebackers in the league. Grover Stewart also had a breakout season in 2022, arguably Indy’s most consistent player, and he was drafted in the fourth round.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Colts didn’t have a first-round pick in 2020, but they still found their most productive offensive players, drafting Michael Pittman Jr. and Jonathan Taylor in the second round. Alec Pierce was also selected in the second round but in the 2022 Draft.

Indianapolis’ secondary consists almost entirely of late round picks. Julian Blackmon was selected in the third round and he’s the highest-drafted player in the secondary. Isaiah Rodgers Sr. was selected in the sixth round, and Kenny Moore II went undrafted. That didn’t stop Moore from becoming a Pro Bowler and the best slot cornerback in all of football.

So while the first-round picks will get all of the attention and dominate all of the headlines, it’s important to remember that the league’s next star can coming from any round, or no round at all.

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