Yesterday we took a look at the offensive needs for the Colts in 2012, as we launch the draft coverage here at CA. The top needs for the Colts on offense are wide receiver, center, and offensive guard.
Despite all of the confusion and holes on offense, the defense is arguably in a worse position, not only coming off of a terrible year, but also facing massive changes with a new coaching staff. Because of the impending changes to the defense, the 2012 offseason will prove to be crucial in the team's transition from a Tampa-2, 4-3 defense to a 3-4, or even a 4-3/3-4 hybrid. In light of those potential changes, here are the Colts' needs for the 2012 offseason on the defense.
2011: Antonio Johnson, Eric Foster, Drake Nevis, Fili Moala, Ollie Ogbu, Ricardo Matthews
2012: Antonio Johnson, Drake Nevis, Fili Moala, Ollie Ogbu, Ricardo Matthews
While the Colts are only losing one tackle due to free agency, the need for a defensive tackle is still high due to the natures of the player they have. As has been the problem for years, the Colts lack a big NT to man the middle, with Antonio Johnson being the only player to last there (and him being mediocre at best). For a team transitioning to a 3-4 defense, this is a troubling problem, as the nose tackle for a 3-4 is the key cog for the 3-4 run defense. Johnson was a decent stop gap for a 4-3 NT, but the true NT of a 3-4 is a whole different beast.
Drake Nevis showed promise during his rookie year, but his lack of height may make him a square peg for the 3-4's round hole at defensive end. Ollie Ogbu, the practice squad player from Penn State, has the same problem. Fili Moala and Ricardo Matthews may fit there, but will certainly be too small for the nose tackle position. Matthews did reportedly bulk up prior to the 2011 season, but was still inadequate at the 1-tech.
There will almost certainly be at least one substantial addition to this group during the 2012 offseason. Even if the Colts stayed with a strict 4-3 for 2012 (won't happen), the lack of a NT is something that Chuck Pagano, who has stated multiple times that he would like to get bigger in the trenches, will address. Both free agency and the draft are possibilities for a nose tackle, but, as I stated yesterday, it's hard to predict what Grigson will do.
2011: Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Jerry Hughes, Jamaal Anderson, Tyler Brayton, Mario Addison
2012: Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, Justin Hickman
One key distinction here is understanding that most of these players won't play defensive end in the 3-4, but would under the 4-3. The Colts of 2012 will likely run a hybrid of the two, so you'll be seeing them in different settings.
Re-signing Robert Mathis on Monday afternoon was a big step in bolstering the defense for 2012, as the Colts get a cap-friendly deal (only $5.75 million against the cap in 2012, see updated article for details), and a premier pass rusher for four more years. Chuck Pagano knows the value of these elite pass rushers, and has gushed repeatedly over Mathis and Freeney both. Mathis showed his appreciation for Pagano's hiring both before and after the official hiring, and has also stated his willingness to be a 3-4 OLB in his scheme. Freeney may not be as good as a fit for the OLB spot, but that's where Pagano must work to get both of them on the field at the right times in some kind of 3-4/4-3 hybrid.
Jerry Hughes, on the other hand, seems to be a natural fit for the 3-4 OLB, and could possibly have a career turn around with the new defense. Mario Addison also would fit at OLB, if anything; he's too small to play DE in the 3-4. Justin Hickman signed a "reserves/future" contract with the Colts in early February, and the ex-CFL player may be able to play either position.
If the Colts have cap room, they would bolster that 3-4 DE position by re-signing Anderson and Brayton, especially Anderson. Both players would be great fits for the position, and Anderson in particular played very well for the Colts in 2011.
2011: Kavell Conner, Philip Wheeler, Ernie Sims, Adrian Moten, Keith Bentley, Zac Diles, AJ Edds
2012: Kavell Conner, AJ Edds, Scott Lutrus, Jerrell Freeman
Like the defensive ends, the outside linebackers in the 4-3 have options of where they would line up in a 3-4, either outside or inside in a 3-4.
I would expect Kavell Conner to playe inside in a 3-4 type defense, although with a hybrid, he could go outside as well. The Colts would likely have Freeney/Mathis/Hughes at OLB in the 3-4, as well as Philip Wheeler if he is re-signed (a good idea in my mind, at the right price). Edds and Lutrus are depth players at best.
Freeman signed a reserves/future contract in mid-January, and could be in the mix for a roster spot as an OLB in the 3-4 system.
2011: Pat Angerer, Gary Brackett
2012: Pat Angerer, Gary Brackett, Mario Harvey
One of the more stable positions on the defense, the Colts' Pat Angere had a breakout season in 2012, effectively replacing IR'd Gary Brackett, and being one of the few bright spots on a putrid defense. Brackett could possibly be cut to save money (Only save 200,000 in 2012, but would save $9 million in 2013 and 2014), but Angerer looks to be a Colt for years to come. Brackett is coming off an injured season, and will turn 32 in May.
Having Brackett and Angerer in the middle in 2012 would be a very good pairing, especially with Kavell Conner thrown into the mix. Mario Harvey could compete for a roster spot, and could be brought in in case of injury (like Adrian Moten in 2011).
2011: Jerraud Powers, Jacob Lacey, Chris Rucker, Kevin Thomas, Brandon King, Terrence Johnson
2012: Jerraud Powers, Chris Rucker, Kevin Thomas, Terrence Johnson
The cornerback is one that will need a definite influx of talent for the future, especially if more man-to-man coverage is expected. Jerraud Powers has shown ability to be a solid starting corner, but is riddled with injury. Rucker, Thomas, and Johnson have all shown potential at times, but have overall been a below average group.
Jacob Lacy could be resigned to a cheap contract, but he should in no way be starting.
The Colts need to bolster the secondary with another starting cornerback, whether that be free agency or the draft. Many have speculated that a corner like Chase Minnifield would be an obvious selection if he's available when they pick at #34, and there are also some available corners in free agency (Brandon Carr, Carlos Rogers).
2011: Antoine Bethea, Melvin Bullitt, David Caldwell, Joe Lefeged, Jermale Hines, Stevie Brown
2010: Antoine Bethea, Melvin Bullitt, David Caldwell, Joe Lefeged, Jermale Hines, Mike Newton
Although it's been one of the Colts strongest units in past years (at least, on paper), the safety group is severely lacking heading into the 2012 season.
Antoine Bethea has been a rock in the Colts defensive backfield, and hasn't missed a game (or had less than 95 tackles) since 2007. The rest, however, have not shown enough ability to start. The Colts signed a familiar face in Mike Newton in February, and have exclusive rights to Brown, but neither have given the Colts a reason as to why they should keep them past minicamp. Bullitt has been the best of the group, but is still a below average starter.
A solid safety to pair with Bethea would dramatically improve the defense, just look at when Bob Sanders was healthy!
Yeah, the offense was a mess, but I'd say the defense has even farther to go before it gets to an acceptable leve. I'd rank the position needs as following:
Think of the holes we could fill if we trade the #1 pick. If we did the Cleveland deal, it would give us the #4, the #22 and the #37 to go with our #34 (not to mention future picks). Who would you take at #4? Nothing pops out at me. We would never consider a CB that high in the past, but we have a new D. Blackmon? Richardson? Trade down again? Wow. With a healthy Peyton we've got incredible options.
Once again, really good review. I'd probably move CB over NT in terms of what the Colt's need, but I'm just splitting hairs at this point. Thanks for the write up
Good writeup, but one huge problem that you didn't address is that Cover-2 Mike linebackers cannot play in a base 3-4. Successful 3-4 teams (Jets, Ravens, Steelers, 49ers), all employ ILB's from 240-255 pounds. Angerer and Brackett are both 230-235. 3-4 LB's are required to directly take on OL; Angerer and Brackett simply couldn't survive a season of that.
Brackett would simply be a situational down player, (a la Brendan Ayanbadejo of the Ravens) and with his $5 million salary, will cost more than he is worth. Expect him to be cut/traded.
Ravens ILB Jameel McClain (6'1, 245) would be a good 2-down run defender, available via free agency.
@trentdowney1 I def would love to see McClain signed. Also Miami's NT Soliai. I have hunch that Brackett a possible post June 1st cut to spread out cap hit over 2 seasons.
@LiquoredUpIdiotKicker Agreed, I think having a few players with experience running Pagano's system will really smooth the transition (ala Bart Scott joining Rex Ryan at the Jets). Although, seeing as this team is far from being good, I'd prefer 21-year Dontari Poe over the 28-year old (and very, very expensive) Soliai.
@trentdowney1 the Steelers starting ILBs are not appreciably bigger than what we have to work with. Lawrence Timmons is listed at 234. Larry Foote is 239.
Agree with Brackett, will be extremely situational, not worth it.
Dont agree with Angerer, he can play the weak side ILB in the 3-4 front. Plus, if you are playing the traditional 2-gap 3-4, if you have that good NT, Angerer has a good nose for the ball, so does Conner. That is why I feel Conner, due to deficiencies in coverage, will be more suited for the strongside ILB while Angerer will be weak side ILB that covers TEs.
For those who worry about Freeney in coverage, let me tell you Bill Parcells had the same dilemma with Lawrence Taylor. He then said, "instead of worrying about putting LT in coverage, I just said heck with it, let him rush the QB every instance. If I am down one coverage guy, I can at least make their life miserable while trying to complete the pass :)". So, Pagano will just let Freeney rush and Mathis will be the one dropping in coverage in a zone blitz or sniffing out screen passes etc.
@chad72 Fair points. I worry a little about Conner having to switch from weakside 4-3 OLB to strongside ILB, but he's clearly talented and still very young. A good NT will do wonders for the health and effectiveness of our ILB's.
As far as the OLB's go, I expect Freeney to be used much as Terrell Suggs has been in the past few years, dropping into coverage on less than 10% of plays. Mathis will continue to excel, especially on 3rd and long.
I also have a huge amount of faith in Jerry Hughes (really). He was never meant to be a 4-3 left or right DE, and I'm expecting a huge leap from him this year. Consider how effective a scheme change was for Aaron Maybin, the former 1st round pick of the Bills.
2 seasons with Bills: 27 GP, 0 sacks, 1 FF, 24 tackles.
1 season with Jets: 13 GP, 6 sacks, 4 FF, 11 tackles.
Not out of this world numbers, but a huge jump in production nonetheless.
If Hughes doesn't pan out, I can see Phillip Wheeler playing comparably to the Packers Erik Walden (he would need to gain some weight and body fat http://goo.gl/Sd96O). Both are above average in coverage and can provide some semblance of a pass rush.
The needs on offense and defense is vast. Just sickens you when you realize this team is absolute trash without Manning.
I gotta admit, I'm kind of excited to see how well Jerry Hughes could do in this new system. Granted, his effort wasn't exactly stellar, but you gotta with a defensive minded head coach and almost entirely new staff, and obviously the (probable) switch to a 3-4 defense, he'd be pretty excited about the opportunity. There's a reason he was taken in the first round and I'm confident Pagano/Manusky can get the best from him.
I would be fine with giving Lacey another shot. He played much better towards the end of the season than at the beginning. I think that his extreme suck was more due to the infamous Coyer cushion than to a lack of talent on Lacey's part. Also, Pagano seems like he is a master with the secondary. I would bet that he has our current DBs playing at the highest possible level.
My post combine mock draft hence goes like this (our D-line needs the most help for the hybrid):
Assumes no trades:
No. 1 - Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (6'4", 234)
No. 2 - Alfonso Dennard, CB, Nebraska (5'10", 204)
No. 3 - Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Washington (6'3", 348)
No. 4 - Marvin Jones, WR, California (6'2", 199)
No. 5 - Akiem Nicks, DT, Regina (6'5", 324)
No. 6 - Ryan Miller, OG, Colorado (6'7", 321)
No. 6 (compensatory pick 1 for Session) - Asa Jackson, CB, Cal Poly (5'10", 191)
No.6 (compensatory pick 2 for CJ) - Donte Paige Moss, DE/OLB, North Carolina (6'3", 268)
No. 7 - James Hanna, TE, Oklahoma (6'4", 252)
@chad72 If Stephen Hill is there in the second, he should be the pick. If not, then either a CB or some O-Line help.
This draft is much deeper on the WR front but there will be a dropoff starting round 3 on CBs. Plus, the last time we had good tackling CBs in Jackson and Hayden, our defensive numbers were stellar. Dennard is that physical specimen. He is better than Stephen Gilmore who is closely ranked but Stephen Gilmore might get the edge in pass defense. In a division with Arian Foster, MJD and CJ2K, if we invest in a high pick for a CB, is it better to go with a good pass defender with outstanding run support skills and physical jamming skills, or an excellent pass defender with average run support skills? I am leaning towards the former and hence Dennard.
@chad72 I think Dennard would be a spectacular value in the 2nd. Everyone was dissing his Bowl game and combine, but no one seemed to want to take into account that he was injured. I don't get that; I'm not real brilliant, but at least I recognize that hurt people don't tend to move all that well. But anyway, yeah, I can live with that, easily. I personally was mocking Minnefield there, but Dennard's no letdown. Not by a long shot.
As far as Ta'amu: Yeah, Indy will probably need a NT. Thing is, from what video I've watched on him (admittedly, not a lot; just what's available on the internet), he doesn't always do well just one on one, nevermind being double teamed. I fear he gets pushed around too much to be a real anchor. Part of me wonders if it's not better to pass on him and go after one of those bowling-bowl like prospects later on, like Fangupo or Jean-Baptiste. The drawback to doing that is that you wouldn't get a starter, you'd have a developmental prospect, and therefore you wouldn't have your NT ready by the start of the season. But I compare that to grabbing a guy who'll get pushed around, and I wonder what the lesser of the two evils would be. I admit, I go back and forth on this. And I also wonder if I just haven't seen enough video, or worse yet saw only the wrong stuff. Smarter draftniks than me seem to be okay with him.
Really, though, I'm wondering about any of the nose tackles in this draft. Everyone's high on Dontari Poe, but honestly - and I've read one other person on MtD who agrees with this - he seems to be more a big, oversized 3-tech than a true nose tackle. But it doesn't really matter, since Poe'll be gone long before Indy even gets a crack at him. Plus, so what if he's an oversized 3-tech; he'd be pretty good on the interior no matter what job you assigned him. If he just happened to fall... well, I'd be torn. If he's there in the second (pipe dream, I know, but bear with me), I'd much rather have him be picked than pretty much any cornerback who'd be left on the board.
Marvin Jones in the 4th? I'd rather have McNutt if he falls that far, or Toon. But it's not a terrible choice, not by a long shot.
My other two choices are A.J.Jenkins and Jarius Wright, if they are there. This WR draft class is deep, you can find talent well into round 4 that can be a #2 WR at least. A lot of wideouts like Tommy Streeter with all the size attributes that people fall in love with, their game tape does not match their 40 speed. A.J.Jenkins does. I do see Marvin Harrison similarities there, like a poster pointed out in this article:
@AJ_ @chad72 I'm one of the most vocal members on MtD and StampedeBlue against Dontari Poe. I just look at a guy who was held in check by lines in Conference USA and who was dominated by Mississippi State. That doesn't bode well for an NFL career. Looking great in shorts is one thing, but last time I check football is still played in pads.
@chad72 The Only things I'd change would be Chapman for Ta'amu and Broyles for Jones. I think Ta'amu's skillset is actually more suited for a 4-3 1 tech than a 3-4 nose. Plus, Chapman is just a straight up football player. Broyles is being severely underrated because of his size and ACL tear, but will be a beast in the NFL and a steal in the fourth.
Chapman is not a true 3-4 nose with his size, he will make a great 4-3 nose. Ta'amu will be a project. When his desire and skillset meet with his physical attributes with coaching, that is when we will see his true potential, IMO.
I look at it like this for the 3-4 portion of the hybrid. We don't have a Ngata sitting out there anywhere. So I am being realistic here.
3-4 NT: TBD based on 1-gap 3-4 or 2-gap 3-4. If 2-gap 3-4, free agency or draft will get that guy, not on roster. If it is a 1-gap 3-4 like the Texans, Drake Nevis would fit like a glove for the 1-gap 3-4 NT, whose responsibility is to purely disrupt in 1 gap, which Nevis excels at.
3-4 DE: Nevis would be washed out if we ask him to play 3-4 DE. Look what happened to Warren Sapp with the Raiders when they took a stud 1-gap UT to a 2-gap 3-4 DE assignment, terrible results. Anderson has the size and athleticism to play 3-4 DE. Brayton does not. Moala has played 3-4 DE to enable his fellow USC LBs to make plays at USC his last 2 years, but recently, he has struggled to beat one-on-ones, so not sure if he can be tried out there. It is worth a shot, however.
ILB: Two ILBs in the 3-4 front - strong side and weak side. Angerer's size and coverage skills fit weakside ILB in the 3-4 front. Conner's size and lack of coverage skills fit strongside ILB in the 3-4 front.
OLBs: Freeney, Mathis, Hughes, Wheeler
To me, the LB front has the talent to transition to the 3-4 front. The D-line needs revamped BIG TIME.
Safety, both Lefeged and Newton bring unique skills, we need to give them another year before saying our safety depth is weak, which I do not think it will be when the year is done.
@chad72 RE Nevis: Are you thinking he could play the role Jay Ratliff does with the Cowboys? Ie not take on blockers but rather split gaps and cause disruption?
Also on Nevis, I could see him becoming somewhat of a Glenn Dorsey: in the wrong scheme, but with enough talent to make due as a 5-tech.
I see Fili (and hopefully Anderson) making a strong transition to the 5-tech.
@chad72 I wouldn't mind reaching out to Kelly Gregg to see if he wants to sign up with the Colts for year. I know he's a UFA leaning toward retirement, but he would help us transition.
An NT in Pagano's system does probably need to be quite a bit larger than Mookie, but that doesn't mean it's the only type. Wade Phillips used Jay Ratliff and Shaun Cody as hit NTs in Dallas and Houston, and both those gentleman are much smaller than AJ. Then again, those guys were only responsible for one gap. I think the Colts can survive without getting a monstrous NT if they tweak their 3-4 look (if Pagano is so inclined). Our new DC did come from SD, which inherited the system from Phillips.I might move ILB up a bit farther just because I don't think Brackett is going to stick around without renegotiating his contract. Safety and CB and definitely in the right spot though.
I would love it if we would implement the 1-gap 3-4 that you are talking about that Wade Philips runs. Manusky, like you said, inherited it. Manusky ran the 2-gap 3-4 in San Francisco, and ran a 1-gap 3-4 in San Diego. So, I feel that Pagano's experience with the 2-gap 3-4 puts the coaching advantage over ease of fitting current personnel, IMO. Our current personnel, obviously will adapt quicker to the 1-gap 3-4 from the 1-gap 4-3 that they were taught before, no doubt about it. But the 3-4 DE position is severely lacking and that is where I feel Pagano might try to get Cory Redding from the Ravens, who is a free agent.
@chad72 How would you feel about Desmond Bryant from the Raiders as a 3-4 DE? He plays DT for them, but he's got the size and length to play DE. He's a good run stopper and, a nice bonus, can get pressure up the middle too. Reminds me a lot of Anderson only younger and faster
Not sure. He does have the measurables and seems to be extremely athletic. Might be had for cheap too. We will see what Pagano and Grigson think about free agent 3-4 DEs
@Payton Even if the Colts kept a 4-3 look, I think DT would still be a top 3 need. Mookie just doesn't cut it. And I really don't want to see him try to anchor the 3-4.
@Kyle Rodriguez Agreed. The DTs for the Colts have all had the same issue: They've been awesome people and willing players who've overachieved given their size, but have still come up too damn short to be acceptable. You hate to think about that for really good guys, especially in the light of the headaches that play around the league, but the NFL is not about being a cool personality. It's about being an effective player. Mookie's just not good enough. Even if Caldwell and Coyer had stayed, I'd still say that a 1-tech was still needed; Polian kept on calling Nevis the NT, but he's more suited to be a 4-3 undertackle. But with all those guys gone, Mookie went from just not enough to not even close.
@Payton Gotcha. I'd agree with that. Although I think it may be one of the most influential moves they could make.
I hope whoever of Rucker, Thomas, Johnson, KIng, or even Lacey makes the team might develop with some top-flight DB/ defensive coaching. I think there is value in those players that wasn't realized due to injuries, and poor coaching.
It is hard to argue with any of your assessments.
However, I will also admit that with the signings of Anderson, Brayton and Sims I thought that the 2011 defense had a chance to be the Colts best in years. Of course, that thinking was based on #18 being the QB. The Colts QBs for 2011 were so incredibly bad, that often the offense couldn't get a first down, much less sustain drives.
The 2011 Colts D was contantly on the field, playing from behind, getting injured and seeing O looks they were not designed to stop.
That being said, i think the Colts #1 need is a safety. The Colts at least have the D-line parts to play a 4-3 if they have to... but they have no one I would really trust to play with Bethea.
Colts have AJ Edds under contract for '12, also Scott Lutrus, but not Kevin Bentley.
While Ricardo Mathews is no NT, it's not because of his size. He is 6'3 - 320+. His problem is still, that he is stood up on contact.
@Atti46 Ah yes. I remember he bulked up prior to last year. But everything still has him listed at under 300. I'm still a little skeptical about 320. As for the LBs, thanks for clarification, I was seeing conflicting things.