By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts head into the 2013 National Football League draft with some definite plans.
One thing seems to be certain. If the Colts don’t see a player they like at the No. 24 spot in the first round, second-year general manager Ryan Grigson said that he isn’t adverse to trading down a round.
The NFL Draft begins with the first round Thursday night, followed by the second and third rounds on Friday evening. Rounds four through seven will be completed Saturday afternoon.
Indianapolis traded away its second-round pick last fall to Miami in exchange for veteran cornerback Vontae Davis.
“You have to be fluid to a point,” Grigson voiced last Thursday during his pre-draft press conference. “You can’t be so stringent that you can’t bend a little bit. It’s obvious that I’m in a way different place than where I was last year with this whole process. [Coach] Chuck [Pagano] and I have looked at the whole landscape as compared to last year after free agency. And it looks a lot different.”
Indianapolis added 10 veteran players over the last month through free agency — quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (Tennessee), outside linebacker Erik Walden (Green Bay), safety LaRon Landry (NY Jets), defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois (San Francisco), defensive end Lawrence Sidbury (Atlanta), nose tackle Aubrey Franklin (San Diego), offensive tackle Gosder Cherilis (Detroit), offensive guard Donald Thomas (New England), cornerback Greg Toler (Arizona), and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (Oakland).
“We’ve solidified some areas. And we’ve also created competition in the position groups, which is what we always really wanted to do when Chuck and I started this thing. And we’re getting close to that goal,” Grigson said. “I’d say we still have the same philosophy [about the draft] but it’s a little bit different than last year where we just had some gaping holes in a lot of spots that needed to be addressed with a new defense and so forth. We feel like we’re in a better position.”
In terms of drafting for need or just taking the best player available, the Colts general manager is taking a different tact this year as opposed to the 2012 draft.
“If there’s a stud [player] that staring at you and staring holes through you, from your [draft] board, and he’s at spot where you felt strongly going forward from the draft process and that guy can substantially made you better, you have to at least have that discussion,” Grigson said. “And we’re willing to have those discussions because at the end of the day, we want the best football players to get us where we want to go. And that’s to win Super Bowls.”
As for moving out of the No. 24 spot in the first round, he admits that it’s a possibility.
“It’s really going to be a case by case basis. We’ll see how that board starts falling. Of course, if there’s not a player sitting there at [No.] 24 that the [draft] room is not excited and we’re not high-fiving and things like that and we’re not even doing a little fist-pumping, we probably shouldn’t take that guy,” Grigson said.
“We’ll probably look to be trading out if there’s a player that we feel is just okay. We want players at that spot, especially in the first round, [who are] going to substantially help us get to our goal.”
The 24th overall pick in the draft has netted NFL teams some good players over the years, including safety Ed Reed (Baltimore), running back Chris Johnson (Tennessee), quarterback Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay), running back Steven Jackson (St. Louis) and tight end Dallas Clark (Indianapolis).
“Well, if you look back at the last 10 years, when you guys leave here and google it, there’s usually a pretty good player there. I’m optimistic. But, again I always talk to [the media] about doomsday scenarios and we’ll be prepared,” Grigson explained.
“If there’s a player there, you hope it’s a blue but if there’s a sure-fire starter or at least an eventual starter that’s going to strengthen this team and fit the vision of winning championships than we’ll pluck him, we’ll take him. But if there’s just a guy there and we feel like if we had a two than we can get this guy. That’s bad business. We aren’t going to do that. We are going to trade back.”
Mr. Irrelevant, again — For the second straight draft, the Colts will have the final overall pick. Indianapolis took quarterback Chandler Harnish with the selection and he wound up making the team out of training camp. Grigson is looking for another player who can help his team this year with the “Mr. Irrelevant” pick.
“I feel like it’s still a spot in the draft. And it’s very relevant to us at that pick. And we hope to get a player that has starter traits, just like we would at any other spot,” he said.
Outside linebacker/pass rusher — With former Colts DE/OLB Dwight Freeney gone, the Colts will probably look to the draft in order to find his long-term replacement. Indy added former Green Bay OLB Erik Walden as a free agency signee and OLB Jerry Hughes returns. But the draft may yield the team’s next long-term starter.
Grigson said he’s not sure if Freeney’s replacement will be Walden, Hughes or a potential draft pick.
“We’re still finding that out. Dwight was a great, great player here. I think he was also a great pass rusher. Having Robert [Mathis] and Dwight, from them here together so long, maybe we’re a little spoiled. Having two elite pass rushers and how many teams have two? Sometime they’re looking for one, to have one elite guy,” he said. “We do feel like we have some younger guys that are developing in the shadows as pass rushers.”
Wide receiver — The Colts drafted WRs T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill last year and added WR Griff Whalen as an undrafted free agent. But all three figure to be more slot receivers than No. 2 outside receivers. Also, Indy is expected to be looking for a long-term replacement for veteran WR Reggie Wayne as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver.
Interior offensive line — Adding potential starters at center and offensive guard should be on the Colts’ radar in this year’s draft. Indy has starters returning in Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn and Joe Reitz but they aren’t considered to be the future of the team’s offensive line. Improving the overall depth up front on offense is key.
“In our little cocoon, I feel like through this process the defensive line, offensive line and the secondary, that’s including safeties and corners, I feel like it’s better than last year,” Grigson said.
Importance of the draft — The Colts general manager got high marks for the job he did in last year’s draft, picking up quarterback Andrew Luck, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, Hilton and Brazill, running back Vick Ballard, nose tackle Josh Chapman and Harnish.
“As it was told to me once when I was first starting out [as an NFL scout], [the draft is] the lifeblood to an organization. And I feel it is. They’re the players that you have under contract for four or five years. They grow together. I think it’s such a great thing that those guys who played for us last year did such a great job and they’re like brothers,” Grigson recalled. “They came in together, they had great success together and they create a bond. You want a family here. You can’t do it if it’s all transient. You want your core to be from the draft and successful teams in the league have done that. But I also feel like you still have to make moves if they’re there to make if you can get better in the offseason. But those players all have to be cut from a collective cloth. I feel like that’s what we did. Guys that love to play the game, guys that are physical and guys that aren’t just looking for that next paycheck. Guys that want to win championships. That’s why I feel like free agency should be used as a tool but your foundation is the draft.”
All-time Indianapolis Colts era draft: After polling a panel of media who cover the Colts on a regular basis, here is a look at the franchise’s all-time Indianapolis era draft (1984-2012) —
First round: QB Peyton Manning (1998)
Second round: S Bob Sanders (2004)
Third round: CB Ray Buchanan (1993)
Fourth round: WR Bill Brooks (1986)
Fifth round: DE/OLB Robert Mathis (2003)
Sixth round: S Antoine Bethea (2006)
Seventh round: P Pat McAfee (2009)