The first domino in a pivotal Colts offseason fell when the team hired Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen as its new head coach, the second youngest in franchise history. As Steichen fills his staff, the 37-year-old, along with general manager Chris Ballard and owner Jim Irsay, will also draw attention to April’s NFL draft.
Indianapolis owns the No. 4 pick and is poised to pick a quarterback in the first round for the first time since Andrew Luck became the No. 1 overall pick in 2012. Steichen has an impressive quarterback resume, having worked with Philip Rivers and Justin Herbert at the Chargers and Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia. All three quarterbacks shone with Steichen’s help, though they brought vastly different skillsets to the position, which should be an advantage as the Colts navigate a QB class with four predicted first-rounders — Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, Will Levi’s from Kentucky and Florida’s Anthony Richardson – but not a clear superstar.
New Colts coach Shane Steichen has an impressive QB resume. Can he complement it in Indy?
This quartet will command the most attention when the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off in Indianapolis on February 28, and they will certainly be on the Colts’ big board. However, Indianapolis still has a second, third, fourth, two fifth and two seventh round picks to address other areas of need. With the help of The Athletic’s NFL draft analyst Dane Brugler, ranked among the top 100 draft prospects, I looked at the Colts’ first three rounds and which players they could pick.
Possible number 4 (or number 1 if the Colts trade with the Bears)
Bryce Young | Position: Quarterback | School: Alabama | Brugler’s ranking: No. 3
The biggest downside for Young is that he’s short at 5ft 10, but that doesn’t seem to deter Irsay. During the Colts’ introductory press conference for Steichen, Ballard made a joke about trading the draft, before Irsay quickly chimed in, “Though the Alabama guy doesn’t look bad.” Irsay followed suit tweet an old photo of yourself Sitting on a bear at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo with the caption, “My relationship with the Chicago Bears dates back more than 60 years…” If the Colts were to focus on Young, they would almost certainly have to trade in the Bears and vote Young No . 1 total. The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner possesses the three qualities Steichen says are most important to a quarterback’s success: “accuracy, decision-making, and the ability to create,” and may also be high on Steichen’s list.
CJ Stroud | Position: Quarterback | School: State of Ohio | Brugler’s ranking: No. 7
Brugler says Stroud “played the game of his life against Georgia” in the college football playoffs and he couldn’t have picked a better time to do it. Stroud displayed his mobility and improvisation, which were the main holes in his game during his successful career with the Buckeyes. One performance can only mean so much, but combined with Stroud’s 6-foot-3, 207-pound frame and accuracy, he may be the most attractive QB candidate for Ballard, who has always focused heavily on physical traits.
Will Levi’s | Position: Quarterback | School: Kentucky | Brugler’s ranking: No. 10
Unlike Stroud and Young, Levis did not have a standout performance in his final collegiate season. The 23-year-old struggled with the Wildcats, throwing 19 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. But it’s hard to gauge just how much of that was on him compared to the dysfunction around him. Levis played under a new offensive coordinator and behind a porous offensive line in 2022. He still has to learn how to read defenses faster and deliver the ball more predictively and accurately, although there’s no denying his physical ability and innate toughness. Two common NFL comparisons for Levis: Josh Allen and Carson Wentz. Obviously the former is a superstar and the latter was dropped from Indianapolis.
Anthony Richardson | Position: Quarterback | School: Florida | Brugler’s ranking: No. 14
If you’re anything like me, you probably took another look at Richardson when the Colts announced Steichen as their next head coach. Steichen helped Hurts rise from a second-round pick in 2020 to MVP runner-up in 2022, and the quarterback that most reflects Hurts in this upcoming draft is Richardson. He’s got a cannon arm and elite mobility, but he’s also the biggest project. A year-long starter in Florida, Richardson completed just 53.8 percent of his passes in 2022. It won’t make it to the next level. However, with a coach like Steichen, a shot at Richardson might turn into a home run.
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Potential choice #35
Kele Ringo | cornerback | School: Georgia | Brugler’s ranking: No. 32
Steichen was noncommittal when asked if he would keep defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, but if he does, one player who could be traded would be cornerback Kenny Moore II. The 27-year-old was a Pro Bowler in 2021 but was put in last season in Bradley’s freshman year and his new plan at Indianapolis an afterthought. Fellow cornerback Brandon Facyson is an unrestricted free agent and after a poor campaign, is unlikely to be re-signed. That paves the way for the Colts to seek another cornerback in the draft, and Ringo could be their man. Ringo is 6’2 and a top athlete with a knack for making plays on the ball. He’s not as polished as other cornerbacks in his class, but he fits the physical profile of players Ballard likes and would strengthen the Colts’ secondary level.
Kelee Ringo runs for a touchdown after an interception in the 2022 National Championship Game. (Trevor Ruszkowski / USA today)
Keion White | edge | School: Georgia Tech | Brugler’s ranking: No. 40
Tyquan Lewis and Yannick Ngakoue are unrestricted free agents. Ngakoue had 9.5 sacks in 2022 and could be brought back at the right price, but Lewis’ time at Indianapolis is most likely up. The 28-year-old picked up consecutive knee injuries at the end of the season, tearing his left patellar tendon in 2022 after tearing the right in 2021. Given that the Colts are unlikely to retain both edge rushers, that opens the door for them to pursue another in the draft. A former tight end, White is still honing his skills as a defensive player, but he’s a freak athlete who owns a 6-foot-5, 280-pound frame. His advantage at this size will be enticing for many NFL teams, especially if he tests well at the combine.
Johannes-Michael Schmitz Position: center | School: Minnesota | Brugler’s ranking: No. 50
I watched Schmitz closely during the Senior Bowl, and he definitely increased his draft inventory in individual and team practices by “ending games,” the 23-year-old said. Brugler mentioned in his analysis that Schmitz’s film last year was “more up and down than you care to see,” but he displayed a meanness at the Senior Bowl that could make him a first-round pick and potential Day 1 starter . The Colts have signed veteran center Ryan Kelly to two more years for a total of $20.5 million. However, since he’s fallen significantly behind in 2022, Indianapolis might consider trading him and reloading with a player like Schmitz, who they could then tie to whatever young quarterback they pick for years to come.
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Potential choice #79
Kyu Blu Kelly | Position: Cornerback | School: Stanford | Brugler’s ranking: No. 60
It may be challenging for Kelly to drop that far in the draft, but I want to remind you that Brugler’s rankings are based solely on individual ratings and not on each team’s needs. With that in mind, it’s not impossible for Kelly to still be on the board at this point. If that’s the case, the 6-foot corner could suit the Colts well given the aforementioned lack of depth on the position. What excites me most about him is his footwork and physicality, which he uses to mirror and subdue receivers before playing the ball. I witnessed his troublemakers firsthand at the Senior Bowl.
Jayden Reed | Position: wide receiver | School: Michigan State | Brugler’s ranking: No. 72
I also noticed Reed at the Senior Bowl and have stuck with him ever since. The 5ft 11 wideout looked like the best player on the field during many parts of the practice I watched, repeatedly beating the defense with his superb route running and elite speed. Reed would be an ideal replacement for Parris Campbell if the Colts can’t keep him as an unrestricted free agent. It’s also easy to understand that the more playmakers you give a quarterback, especially a young one, the more likely they are to succeed. Reed could make an instant impression as receiver No. 3, and it would be interesting to see an offensive guru like Steichen capitalize on his versatility.
Andre Carter II | Position: Edge | School: Army | Brugler’s ranking: No. 88
Watching Carter at the Senior Bowl, his size and speed made him look elite in some games, while his lack of power made him look inferior in others. He’s 6ft 6 tall but weighs only 255 pounds, making him easier to throw away, especially if he loses his balance. One thing worth noting about Carter, however, is that an NFL training program will be far more conducive to weight gain than his military training. “(The Army) doesn’t limit you to a specific weight, but it’s hard to maintain sometimes in the summer when you’re sleeping out in the field for weeks,” Carter said. “I see myself going up to 270 or 275 at some point.” It will take time for Carter to put on the pounds, but he has the potential to develop into a strong pass rusher while third-year boys, Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo continue to play to their strengths.
(Top Photo by Bryce Young: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)