The Colts came into the draft with needs across the board. Every position other than QB and WR could use some attention, but particularly those on the defensive side. With the 15th overall pick, and only 6 defensive players off the board, the Colts (absent Ryan Grigson) could do no wrong. By selecting FS Malik Hooker, they didn’t. But they didn’t make the smartest move.
In 2016, the Colts remained one of the worst defenses in the league. Indianapolis conceded 41.5% of opponent’s’ third-down conversions, ranking 25th in the league. Allowing opponents to continue drives not only gives them more chances to score, but also keeps the Colts potent offense off the field and the team in a deficit. Moreover, the Colts defense ranked 25th in rush yards allowed per game with 120.4 and 27th in passing yards allowed per game with 262.5. Clearly the Colts most pressing need was defense.
The Colts could have gone anywhere on defense. Colts CB Vontae Davis was limited by injury in 2016, but in 2015 he nabbed 4 interceptions to tie for 2nd in the league and opposing QBs threw for -31 yards against him. CB Darius Butler ranks 18th among DBs in 2016 according to Pro Football focus with a grade of 83.2, so we’ll assume the CB position is in good standing.
Outside of CB, the Colts defense is shot. Pro Football Focus ranks the Colts front 7 worst in the league, pressuring opposing QBs only 25.4% of the time on drop-backs despite above average blitzing. With the retirement of Robert Mathis, the defensive front is headed in an even worse direction.
Thus, the Colts highest needs were DL, LB, and S. The Colts went with S, and a great one at that. But was it the right move?
Malik Hooker’s main asset is his ability to create turnovers. He pulled 7 INT to tie for 3rd in the NCAA last year on the 6th ranked Ohio State defense. In 2016, the Colts tied for 2nd worst in the NFL with only 8 INT, and 2 of which came from S Mike Adams who departed this off-season for Carolina. Hooker’s main shortcoming is his missed tackles, a problem that already plagues the Colts. Pro Football Focus ranks them 18th with 0.106 missed tackles per snap. However, if Hooker’s ability to flip the field and allow Luck and the gang to take over should hopefully make up for any poor tackling.
Still, in selecting Hooker, the Colts passed on Alabama’s DL Jonathan Allen and ILB Reuben Foster. We’ve mentioned the Colts inability to generate pressure and both their hefty rushing and passing allowance. Furthermore, they ranked only 19th in the NFL with just 33 sacks and are now missing Robert Mathis who accounted for 5.
While Malik Hooker was a great pick and all signs point to him becoming a very capable S, the Colts should have gone with a player offering more essential defensive attributes. Turnovers are game changing, but tackling is fundamental. Jonathan Allen would have generated more pressure on opposing QBs to cut down on the Colts passing yards allowed and plugged holes up the middle for opposing RBs. Reuben Foster offers much of the same at LB and could have functioned as a captain of the Colts often discombobulated defense. At the end of the day, the Colts would have been wiser going with more reliable defensive skillsets then betting on turnovers bailing them out of trouble.
Where do the Colts go next? While not as good as Allen or Foster, the Colts may still have a shot at filling the void at DL and LB with DT Malik McDowell out of Michigan or Zack Cunningham out of Vanderbilt. The Colts addressed their OL with C Ryan Kelly in 2016, and in his rookie season, Kelly received a grade of 83.1 from Pro Football Focus, ranking him the 12th best C in the league. The Colts rushing yards per game also improved by 13.2% to 101.9 yards per game, and Andrew Luck didn’t get knocked out halfway through the season. Still, the Colts might consider taking OG Forrest Lamp out of Western Kentucky or OT Cam Robinson out of Alabama. As mentioned above, the Colts defense is abysmal, and the Colts OL has shown improvement, so I suggest the Colts take McDowell or Cunningham if they can.
Sports Analytics and Business, Indiana University
Stats courtesy of ESPN, Pro Football Focus, and Fansided