2017 NFL Draft: 5 First-Round Options for the Indianapolis Colts

Ryan Grigson is no longer running the Indianapolis Colts, so maybe now they’ll actually address one of their needs in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Free at last are the Indianapolis Colts. No, they haven’t escaped the eccentricities of team owner Jim Irsay, but Irsay did finally wise up and make a necessary move. The dismissal of former general manager Ryan Grigson was warranted well before 2017. However, the move to finally show him the door in favor of Chris Ballard should offer Colts fans hope moving forward.

In the immediate future, Colts fans should be eagerly anticipating the 2017 NFL Draft with a new general manager calling the shots. Grigson’s shortcomings in this regard have been widely noted from whiffing on reaches to taking players at positions they didn’t need to taking wide receivers incessantly too high when it wasn’t a pressing need.

However, the hope is that won’t be the case for the Colts in the 2017 draft, especially early on. With the AFC South starting to finally improve, they have to make a move now to address their biggest weaknesses on both sides of the ball. With that in mind, these should five first round options that the Indianapolis Colts are considering with the No. 14 or 15 pick, coin flip pending.

Sep 17, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets running back Dedrick Mills (26) scores a rushing touchdown against Vanderbilt Commodores linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) and cornerback Tre Herndon (31) in the third quarter of their game at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Yellow Jackets won 38-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 17, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets running back Dedrick Mills (26) scores a rushing touchdown against Vanderbilt Commodores linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) and cornerback Tre Herndon (31) in the third quarter of their game at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Yellow Jackets won 38-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

5. Zach Cunningham, LB – Vanderbilt

Suffice it to say that there are numerous areas of weakness on the Colts defense entering the 2017 offseason. It’s not a great thing when a player is retiring after an over-a-decade long career and that’s losing one of the biggest contributors on that unit—no disrespect to the great Robert Mathis, of course. Throughout the entire unit, the Colts would be wise to re-tool the defense and be sure to add the players necessary to start building something substantial and a unit that doesn’t force Andrew Luck to score 50 points per game to win.

Though there may be bigger needs, beefing up their linebacker corps with Vanderbilt Commodores star Zach Cunningham sits as an enticing option for the Colts. Cunningham is one of the biggest freak athletes in the draft, possessing a rare combination of length and speed at the position. All of the athletic tools for him to be a star are there, as are the flashes of him as a playmaker against both the run and pass on his film.

The issue with Cunningham, however, is the simple fact that his film is inconsistent. Part of that is likely due to the fact that Vanderbilt simply wasn’t a good football team and they relied almost solely on the linebacker to make stops. However, he also needs to put on weight as he enters the professional ranks and become a more consistent tackler. With that said, the groundwork for him to be an anchor in the middle of the defense is there and, if the chips fall certain ways, he’s a viable option for the Colts in the first round.

November 5, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) runs with the football against the Oregon State Beavers during the first quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

November 5, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) runs with the football against the Oregon State Beavers during the first quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

4. Christian McCaffrey, RB – Stanford

Frank Gore was the starting running back for the Colts this past season and submitted a campaign that, frankly, I’m not sure many fans expected. The veteran and potential future Hall-of-Famer hit the 1,000-yard mark on the season, this despite playing behind a relatively pitiful offensive line. Despite this, though, the Colts very much need to think about their future at the position. So if the chips fall a certain way, Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey might be a fantastic option for them.

To address this off the bat, my estimation is that both Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook will already be off of the board when Indianapolis is making their selection with the 14th or 15th pick. Thus, that leaves them looking at the third best running back in the 2017 draft class, McCaffrey.

Despite that wording making it seem like the 2015 Heisman Trophy finalist is a consolation prize, he’s far more than that. There aren’t many players in college football over the past two years that have been as productive or dynamic as McCaffrey. He’s proven to be an all-purpose monster with the ability to gash teams as a runner, pass-catcher and returner.

Though he’s not the game-breaker type talent that Fournette and Cook promise to be, there’s still a ton to love about McCaffrey’s play. His vision is absolutely exceptional and, though he’s not a freak athlete, he has the burst and the speed to still make plays whenever he gets the ball into his hands. Having McCaffrey as a weapon for Luck out of the backfield has to come across as a highly intriguing option for the Colts.

Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Washington Huskies quarterback Jake Browning (3) is tackled by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Tim Williams (56) and defensive back Tony Brown (2, bottom) during the third quarter in the 2016 CFP Semifinal at the Georgia Dome. Alabama defeated Washington 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Washington Huskies quarterback Jake Browning (3) is tackled by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Tim Williams (56) and defensive back Tony Brown (2, bottom) during the third quarter in the 2016 CFP Semifinal at the Georgia Dome. Alabama defeated Washington 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

3. Tim Williams, EDGE – Alabama

For the most part in the 2016 season, the Indianapolis Colts were heavily reliant upon whatever Robert Mathis—now retired—had left in the tank to generate a pass rush and cause opposing quarterbacks discomfort. While Mathis has been a staple in the league for a long time, that doesn’t speak well to what Indy offered in that regard on the defensive side of the ball. Therefore, using their first-round pick to address that wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Though there is a high variance of opinion on him, Tim Williams is arguably the best pure pass-rusher in the 2017 draft class. The Alabama Crimson Tide star was a key component for their lockdown defense that led them to the National Championship Game, though they lost. Williams comes off the edge with tremendous explosion and blazing speed. Opposing offensive tackles sometimes are still getting their heads all the way up when Williams already has the edge—that’s the type of burst and speed he possesses.

Of course, Williams also has his flaws. At Alabama, he was a complete non-factor against the run and his speed off the edge sometimes played to his disadvantage in that regard as he would simply blow by the play and be left hapless thereafter. With that said, much of that could’ve had to do with his role in a dominant defensive unit rather than his instincts. While that’s a concern to watch, no one can deny the jolt of life that adding a pass rusher like Williams would bring to the Colts defense.

Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Cam Robinson (74) in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against the Clemson Tigers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Cam Robinson (74) in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against the Clemson Tigers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

2. Cam Robinson, OT – Alabama

Early in the college football season, Alabama Crimson Tide offensive tackle Cam Robinson was viewed by many as the top prospect at his position in this draft. However, as the year progressed, many scouts started to poke holes in his game and rightfully so. With that said, he’s still the second best tackle in the 2017 NFL Draft and that’s an area that the Colts unequivocally must address this offseason.

Andrew Luck is by far the most important component of the Colts now and for the foreseeable future. The former No. 1 overall pick has the talent and has shown flashes of being able to live up to his superstar-in-the-making billing. However, wheat Indianapolis has failed miserably in doing is keeping him upright. If you need evidence of that, look no further than the 2015 season where he was sidelined for half of the year due to injury. The beating continued in 2016, though he remained relatively more healthy and on the field.

Subsequently, the Colts need to address their offensive line in a big way and Robinson has the potential to be a starting left tackle in the NFL for a long time. Far more accomplished as a run-blocker than pass-blocker as he enters the professional ranks, Robinson still has the size and natural athleticism to succeed in all facets of the game with proper development and NFL coaching. The Colts could certainly do much work in regards to trying to keep Luck safe.

Jan 2, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk (65) in action during the game against the Western Michigan Broncos in the 2017 Cotton Bowl game at AT&T Stadium. The Badgers defeat the Broncos 24-16. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 2, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk (65) in action during the game against the Western Michigan Broncos in the 2017 Cotton Bowl game at AT&T Stadium. The Badgers defeat the Broncos 24-16. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

1. Ryan Ramczyk, OT – Wisconsin

Again with protecting Andrew Luck in mind, the top target for the Colts in the 2017 NFL Draft should be the best offensive tackle on the board: Ryan Ramczyk out of Wisconsin. After taking a long path through junior college to get to Madison, Ramczyk shined as a junior and his progress throughout the season was quite staggering.

Ramczyk entered the season with the reputation of being a quality pass-blocker. That skill showed itself early and often in his game as he was able to defend the edge and the blind side incredibly well, showing solid lateral mobility, great footwork, and strong burst with his hands. What’s better is that those skills only got better. However, he’s risen to the top of the 2017 offensive tackle class because of his developed proficiency as a run blocker.

It’s no mistake that Wisconsin running back Corey Clement got better as the year went on. Ramczyk’s development as a road-grader on the edge was a major contributing factor in that regard. He not only progressed in terms of holding his blocks and maintaining balance throughout, but also showed an improved ability to get out to the second level and continue opening holes for the Badgers rushing attack.

One of the biggest failures of Grigson as a general manager was keeping his biggest asset, Luck, protected. While there’s a chance that Ramczyk goes off the board before the No. 14 or 15 pick, he should be at the top of the Colts’ realistic board entering April’s draft. He’s the best at the position, and it’s a position they desperately need to fill to keep Luck healthy and able to work his magic at quarterback.

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