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Key takeaways from the Colts’ 2021 NFL draft

Lucas Oil Stadium (WISH Photo, File)

The 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, and the Colts just wrapped up a pivotal weekend. We won’t know the full story of this class for a while, but there are still several clear takeaways. Here’s where things stand after the draft as the Colts get ready for the first season of the Carson Wentz era:

Edge rushing gets a dramatic overhaul

GM Chris Ballard clearly had one thing on his mind entering this draft – outside pass-rushing help. It was the team’s main weakness last season, and the Colts were bold in addressing it. Justin Houston is still unsigned, Kemoko Turay just had another ankle surgery, and the depth chart at defensive end was alarmingly thin.

Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was often a one-man wrecking crew last season, but he can’t do it all by himself up the middle. With their first-pick, the Colts hit a home run by drafting Kwity Paye from Michigan. It was somewhat shocking that Paye was still on the board at 21, and Indy got who many analysts believe is the top pass-rushing talent in this draft.

His athletic testing was off the charts, and his potential is sky-high. He landed in the perfect spot, as Frank Reich’s strong coaching staff will be able to maximize his natural talent. In the second-round they doubled down on edge help, drafting Dayo Odeyingbo from Vanderbilt.

Odeyingbo is coming off an Achilles tear, and won’t be ready to roll until September or October. But he’s got all the talent in the world, and likely would’ve been a first-round pick if not for the injury. It was a high-risk, high-reward decision by Ballard, and it was the kind of bold move teams need to make if they want to compete for Super Bowls, and the Colts could make up into a solid NFL pick throughout the season. Go big or go home, as they say.

Offensive line will have to wait

The Colts surprised everybody by not drafting a tackle early. In fact they didn’t draft one at all, with guard Will Fries in the seventh-round being the only offensive lineman they picked. After Anthony Castonzo’s retirement, they were widely expected to search for a replacement in this draft.

Instead, Ballard made the smart calculation that the team could wait with only Sam Tevi penciled in for now. Owner Jim Irsay hinted they’d be looking at free agent options, and it appears that’s what they’ll do. There are much more appealing veteran tackle options than there are veteran pass-rushing options at this stage of free agency, so Ballard made the right call about what to address in the draft.

Whether it’s Charles Leno who was just released by the Bears, or someone like Eric Fisher who got cut by the Chiefs earlier this offseason, there are options. Defensive end was the more pressing need, and punting on tackle makes a lot of sense in hindsight.

The bottom line

It’s a little early to judge but if you had to make an NFL prediction, you would say that Ballard knocked it out of the park. He massively upgraded his team’s biggest weakness, and this Colts defense now looks pretty scary on paper. Wentz isn’t guaranteed to be the long-term answer under center, so taking a flyer on a developmental quarterback in Texas’ Sam Ehlinger in the sixth-round is a decent dart throw.

Reich loves to use multiple tight end sets, and they got another one with some upside by nabbing SMU’s Kylen Granson in the fourth-round. Some people might quibble with passing on a tackle, but it’s hard to argue with this draft class too much. Everything will hinge on Wentz, but after this weekend the Colts have every reason to believe they’ll have a top 10 defense in 2021, which makes their NFL odds look particularly favorable.

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