No team in recent years has been busier in the second round of the NFL Draft than the Indianapolis Colts.
The second round is where they got their All-Pro linebacker. It was also where they found their starting right tackle and record running back. The Colts’ No. 1 wide receiver? He is also a second-round selection.
The Colts seem to have a special affinity for second-round picks. That may be because they’ve made more second-round picks than any other team since general manager Chris Ballard took control of the front office in 2017. The Colts’ 11 second-round picks stand out during this period, no other team having more. more than seven second-round picks in the same span.
And the Colts got significant mileage from those picks. Case in point: Of the five first-team All-Pros drafted league-wide in the second round during that five-year streak, two of them were picked by the Colts (Darius Leonard and Jonathan Taylor).
This has particular resonance ahead of next week’s 2022 Draft, as the Colts do not have a first-round pick. Their first choice will be No. 42, right in the second round. It’s a good time to take some lessons from the plethora of second-rounders they’ve had and to consider what those takeaways portend for this year’s second-round pick.
More hits on the board
One of the driving forces behind the Colts’ high number of second-round picks is their willingness to part ways with first-round picks in trade scenarios. The Colts have done it twice in Ballard’s five drafts, with each deal earning them multiple second-round picks.
Obviously, the first round tends to contain a higher concentration of elite players. But it is also true that the success rate of picks, even those in the first round, is not good. The Colts front office takes a simple approach: the likelihood of finding picks increases with the number of opportunities. A new concept? Not at all. But racking up second-round picks has given the Colts plenty of shots on top-100 prospects, a specific area of focus for most teams.
The Colts scored five second-round picks through the two trades that turned first-round picks into multiple later picks. The very famous trade with the Jets in 2018 alone resulted in three second-round picks, among other picks. This trade sent the Colts’ third overall pick to New York in exchange for the Jets’ sixth overall pick. The Colts used that selection on All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson. But the second-round picks acquired in this trade were also critical. They produced right tackle Braden Smith, who last year signed a $72 million extension with Indianapolis, defensive end Kemoko Turay, who was moderately productive when uninjured, and running back corner Rock Ya-Sin, a three-year-old starter who last month was traded to the Raiders for Yannick Ngakoue.
A trade with Washington in 2019 sent the Colts’ first-round pick (26th overall) to COs in exchange for two seconds. One of those picks was later traded, leading to defensive end Ben Banogu being selected later in the second round. In 2020, the Colts used the second of those second rounds on starting receiver Michael Pittman.
Did all the choices acquired in the two professions take place? Barely. But the goal was to increase the Colts’ chances of hitting more players. When it comes to something as unscientific as the NFL Draft, the only way to do it is to secure more opportunities. The Colts certainly did, and history can ultimately decide if it turned out to be a good decision.
It’s not hard to determine which second-round pick has been the Colts’ standout during that streak. Leonard’s three All-Pro selections in his first four seasons make him a perfect pick.
But there’s more to Leonard’s choice beyond his incredible output. Interestingly, Leonard plays in the same position as Roquan Smith, the equally athletic Bears linebacker who was picked with the eighth overall pick, one round ahead of Leonard. The Colts got the best player, just 28 spots later.
It’s a reminder of the kind of talent that is regularly available in the second round. Once all the quarterbacks and passers are gobbled up, there are potentially elite players still available in Round 2.
And having multiple second-round picks that year allowed the Colts to come back and draft Smith a spot later, 37th overall. It’s perhaps the best example of the Colts’ draft philosophy paying off.
2017-21 Colts second-round pick
What you won’t find
The Colts’ 2017 second-round pick, cornerback Quincy Wilson has had a tough tenure in Indianapolis. Wilson started 10 games in three seasons before being traded to the Jets in 2020.
There is also take-out here. It’s worth noting that a handful of top cornerbacks were drafted in the first round in 2017 – Marshon Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey, Tre’Davious White and Adoree’ Jackson among them. It’s a necessary reminder that when it comes to top positions like cornerback, top talent tends to fly away early.
It’s one thing to find a weak side linebacker in the second round, even one as good as Leonard. But finding an elite cornerback, pass rusher or left tackle is a much more difficult task.
There’s potential evidence of that when you look at the Colts’ recent second-round record. Their hits came at positions as linebacker (Leonard), inside offensive line (Smith was originally slated to be a guard) and running back (Taylor). These are not considered high priority positions over other key positions.
Where the Colts have arguably fallen short is at positions like cornerback (Wilson) and rusher (Banogu). You can find talent at any position throughout the draft. But elite players in certain positions are always going to drop out of the draw sooner rather than later. Finding quality starters in these positions outside of the first round requires top-notch scouting and a lot of luck.
Just look at the pass rushers the Colts got in the second round for proof of that. Most had very clear shots coming out of college, which is the main reason they were still available in the second round. Turay had injury issues and low production in college. Banogu’s ultimate position was somewhat of a question due to the hybrid role he played at TCU. And Dayo Odeyingbo, a 2021 second-round pick, was hit by a torn Achilles he suffered while training for the Senior Bowl. In most cases, pass rushers with cleaner CVs would not be available in the second round.
Overall, the second round was pretty productive for the Colts. Five of their 11 selections under Ballard have become full-time starters (Leonard, Smith, Ya-Sin, Taylor, Pittman). Three others have been key players in the rotation and strong contributors (Tyquan Lewis, Turay, Odeyingbo).
Without a first-round pick, it’s essential the Colts add to that tally in 2022.
(Photo by Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman: Rich Barnes/USA Today)