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NFL Draft

3 Defensive Free Agents Colts Should Target

  • The Draft Network
  • March 1, 2021
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For the most part, the AFC South has served as a muffled division, headlined by mediocrity for the better part of the last two decades. In the last 15 seasons, only the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 and 2009 have raised an AFC title banner, and the division as a whole has appeared in only seven combined conference title games.

Following the Colts’ trade for Carson Wentz, general manager Chris Ballard has put his roster in prime position to win a wide-open division. With Deshaun Watson’s future currently up in the air in Houston, Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer in Jacksonville for only their debut NFL seasons, and Tennessee on the verge of losing almost all of their non-A.J. Brown pass-catchers, the move for Wentz could provide the final piece to Ballard’s puzzle in returning Indianapolis back to NFL glory.

As the new league year swiftly approaches, Ballard is now tasked with re-tooling one of the NFL’s top defensive units under Matt Eberflus.

Here is an early look at potential targets Ballard could look at when the signing period begins in mid-March.

Deatrich Wise Jr., EDGE, New England Patriots

Both Justin Houston and Denico Autry are set to enter the open market. The soon-to-be 27-year-old would offer the Colts a discounted, athletic edge-setter within Eberflus’ front four whose role would likely increase from a primary rotational piece in Foxboro.

Wise offers excellent mobility and punch in the run game, where he makes his money. His 6-foot-5, 275-pound frame allows him to consistently stack and shed opposing blockers—a perfect fit in Indianapolis with ball-hawking linebackers Darius Leonard and Bobby Okereke constantly filling gaps, punishing ball-carriers at the second level. A former Super Bowl champion with New England, Wise would add championship pedigree within the Colts’ front four.

Headlined by All-Pro DeForest Buckner, Wise’s addition would come via a welcomed discount with a chance to compete immediately for his second Lombardi Trophy.

Ronald Darby, CB, Washington Football Team

The Indianapolis secondary has shown flashes, but a true cover corner in Darby would offer Eberflus another veteran addition and increased scheme versatility as the Colts, at times, looked completely inept within the secondary during 2020. Kenny Moore is slated as Indianapolis’ top corner, but uncertainty lies elsewhere with Xavier Rhodes set to enter free agency and 2019 second-round selection Rock Ya-Sin failing to prove worthy of his selection thus far into his career.

Moore will need help, and as much as Patrick Peterson would offer the “splash,” I simply don’t see Ballard opening his wallet for Peterson. Darby would offer a cheap solution without compromising talent. 

Following his departure from Philadelphia, Darby enjoyed a successful campaign in Washington serving as the primary corner opposite Kendall Fuller within the burgundy and gold’s second-ranked defense in total yards allowed. Not only is Darby cheap, but he would slot nicely—again—into the CB2 role. 2020 opt-out Marvell Tell is expected back after a surprising rookie campaign in 2019, but he’s expected to work primarily on special teams and as a rotational piece within Eberflus’ unit.

Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This is where I see Ballard utilizing his cap space.

David would be the prize of the offseason. He’s everything you look for in the anchor of your defense and would immediately enter the Colts into the Super Bowl contender discussion on paper. It’s going to require a heck of a price to acquire the former All-Pro, but this isn’t the spot to be frugal. David, like Leonard, is one of the top linebackers in today's game who offers all-world talent within the nucleus of a defense.

With Wentz’s addition as the quarterback on offense, David would provide a similar role as the leader of Eberflus’ unit alongside Leonard. It would be a grand slam of a signing.

Honorable Mention

Avery Williamson, ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers

If Ballard is unable to sign David, Williamson would offer similar production for a discounted rate. But, I see Ballard doing everything possible to wrangle David from the clutches of Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht.

Okereke is better suited to play middle linebacker, and a sign of things to come when Anthony Walker played just 18 snaps in the playoff loss to the Bills. Walker wants to be a full-time starter, not a player who has to split snaps— and deservedly so.

Williamson, alongside Leonard and the aforementioned Okereke, would serve as one of the league’s top ‘backer units. The former Steeler is elite in the run game, touts ideal sideline-to-sideline athleticism, and is outstanding in the open field.

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