A day after the Indianapolis Colts’ 2010 season came to an end with a first-round playoff loss to the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium, I said the one bright side would be that the team would have its highest first-round draft pick since 2002 when it took Dwight Freeney 12th overall.
Turns out that unusual draft position worked out in the Colts’ favor.
Selecting 22nd, Indianapolis made Boston College offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo its top selection in the 2011 NFL Draft last Thursday. Castonzo, who figures to step in right away at the left tackle position, was the ideal pick for the Colts in that he was the best player on the board when the team went on the clock — Bill and Chris Polian actually couldn’t envision a scenario before the draft in which Castonzo would fall — and also filled arguably Indy’s biggest need.
By Drew Allen
The Colts didn’t stop upgrading their patchwork offensive line there; the next day, they traded up in the second round to select Villanova lineman Ben Ijalana, who could challenge for a spot at guard. Indy went to the other side of the line of scrimmage in the third round, adding LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis, and then took two players on the final day of the draft, Syracuse running back Delone Carter in round four and Michigan State cornerback Chris L. Rucker in the sixth round.
A few things stick out about this draft that are a bit uncharacteristic of your typical Colts draft:
- Big guys early. Colts fans have clamored for this philosophical change for years while the Polians usually have opted for skill-position players and pass-defenders in the early rounds of the draft. This time around, Indy instead went big in the first three rounds with all linemen. Honestly, though, I think it’s a myth the Colts tend to stay away from these positions early on for the sake of team philosophy. I really think it’s just that Indy has been drafting so late in each round that all the best linemen tend to be gone by the time the team drafts, and thus there’s no value at the positions on top of the board. I certainly feel the Colts found value with Castonzo, who had been projected in the early- to mid-teens in most mock drafts. I tend to believe the same about the other two, though the fact three linemen were selected consecutively does raise the “need-picking” question at times.
- Risk-reward moves on players with character issues. This holds true of the Colts’ last two selections. Carter and Rucker both have histories of personal conduct problems, namely aggressive behavior. Carter punched in the face someone whom he thought hit his car with a snowball. Rucker got in a fight with his teammates while at Michigan State. The Colts have had this (somewhat erroneous) reputation of drafting and signing only high-character players to fit the “win the right way” mantra. While understand the thought process behind that philosophy and believe it’s great when pulled off, kids mess up. Who knows? These past issues could be either a true indicator of these players’ character or just lapses in judgment. Plus, both were late-round selections, so it’s low-risk for Indy.
- Heir apparent. This was the first draft Chris Polian, team vice president and general manager, has overseen as the Colts’ primary decision-maker. While Bill Polian remained a prominent figure in the draft process as vice chairman, it’s evident the time of his retirement and the full succession to his son is drawing near. That’s significant because in this his first draft in charge, Chris might have found a cornerstone player at a franchise position in Castonzo. He eventually will have to find his Peyton Manning and Dwight Freeney when both players finish their respective careers, so if Castonzo proves able to protect the Colts’ quarterback’s blind side fo years to come (no pressure), Chris will have made a good first impression to a fan base that has begun to question the personnel decisions made by this franchise in recent years.
A capsule look at each of the Colts’ five selections in the 2011 NFL Draft:
- Round 1, pick 22: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College: A 6-foot-7, 305-pound tackle described as a “pure left tackle.” A four-year starter and two-time First Team All-ACC selection. Expected to start at left tackle immediately.
- Round 2, pick 49: Ben Ijalana, OT/OG, Villanova. A 6-foot-4, 317-pound lineman who played tackle in college. Football Championship Subdivision All-American in 2009. Highest-drafted Villanova product since Howie Long in 1981. Could challenge for a starting job or rotation time at guard his rookie season.
- Round 3, pick 87: Drake Nevis, DT, LSU. A 6-foot-1, 294-pound defensive tackle. Finished collegiate career with 139 tackles (75 solo, 31.5 for loss), 10 sacks, eight quarterback pressures, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Second Team All-America as senior. Could compete for rotation time as rookie.
- Round 4, pick 119: Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse. A 5-foot-9, 225-pound running back. Finished collegiate career third on all-time rushing list. Finished senior season with 1,233 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Billed as tough runner who could see work in short-yardage situations.
- Round 6, pick 188: Chris L. Rucker, CB, Michigan State. A 6-foot-1, 195-pound defensive back. Finished collegiate career with 191 tackles (122 solo, 10.5 for loss), six interceptions, 19 passes defensed and five forced fumbles. Will add to depth in team’s secondary.