The Indianapolis Colts concluded the 2021 NFL Draft by picking six players, starting with Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye in the first round and ending with Penn State guard Will Fries in the seventh round. Here are five main takeaways from a big weekend.
1. The Colts boosted their defensive front in a big way.
The 6-foot-4, 270 pound Paye is an athletic testing freak who popped off the tape, general manager Chris Ballard said. And the Colts saw the 6-foot-6, 276 pound Odeyingbo as a first round talent who fell to the second round due to a torn Achilles’ suffered in January.
But what pulled the Colts to Paye and Odeyingbo went beyond their pure talent and impressive tape. These are players who fit the Colts’ culture, too, which made them slam-dunk picks inside the draft room on 56th Street.
“(Paye and Odeyingbo) play the way we want to play, and that is with high effort and intensity,” Ballard said. “They are going to be tremendous fits to the room and to the football team.”
The Colts needed to replace Denico Autry and Justin Houston, who combined for 15 1/2 sacks in 2020, and felt like they did so with Paye and Odeyingbo.
“You have to be able to get after the quarterback, and you can only blitz so much — you can blitz sometimes — but you have to be able to beat guys in man-to-man situations at the line of scrimmage,” Colts Owner/CEO Jim Irsay said. “These guys are special guys coming in.”
2. There’s no timetable for Odeyinbgo yet.
A natural question arose after the Colts picked Odeyingbo in the second round on Friday: When is he going to be healthy?
Odeyingbo tore his Achilles’ tendon training before the Senior Bowl in January. Ballard said the Colts thought Odeyingbo would’ve been a first round pick had he not suffered that injury, but also felt he was “worth the risk.”
But right now, Ballard said “there’s no timeline on when he’s going to be ready.”
Odeyingbo said he suffered the injury when he “took a bad step” and planted wrong in a “freak accident.” He added he didn’t have a timeline, either.
But Odeyingbo, who had 12 sacks and 31 tackles for a loss in 44 games (29 starts) for Vanderbilt from 2017-2020, said he’s approaching his injury and subsequent recovery with the mentality that everything happens for a reason.
“I really didn’t give myself any time to feel sorry for myself. I tried to attack it full force ahead,” Odeyingbo said. “Do I feel like it dropped me? I mean, it’s a possibility. I personally feel like I’m a very talented athlete. I’m blessed to be in this position. Do I feel like I could have ended up going higher had I had a Senior Bowl and a Pro Day? That’s very much a possibility. I know injuries do drop people.
“There is no telling, but I’m happy exactly where I am and I know that I’m going to the right situation. I’m really just excited.”
3. The Colts stayed true to their draft board.
Ballard emphasized over the last few days the risk of filling a need just to fill it. As in: The Colts might not have filled their need at left tackle even if they drafted someone at that position.
“Anytime you have a player like Anthony Castonzo retire, it’s a need and we signed some guys who we think are pretty good football players,” Ballard said, referring to Sam Tevi and Julie’n Davenport. “But saying that, it just didn’t match up at that point in the draft. I’d be honest, how many true left tackles were in the draft – I don’t have the number exactly but prototypically, some of these guys, maybe they end up playing left tackle. We’ll see if they end up staying there their whole careers. But if you’re going to draft a guy that high and you’re drafting him to play left tackle, you’d like to know that he’s going to be able to do it for his whole career.”
So what the Colts did was stick to their process and draft the guys they believe will be the best NFL players. Drafting a tackle early might’ve been immediately well-received outside the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, but what matters is how that player performs over the next few years.
“I always laugh at this time of year because they’ll come out with draft grades and everybody will make all these assumptions of how it’s going to end up, but none of us know the story of how it’s going to go,” Ballard said. “Do we believe we’ve got good players? Absolutely, we do. I’d be stupid to (say) up here, ‘You know what? We screwed this up. That sucked.’ No, we think we did well and if we’re right they’ll come in and they’ll play, and I think we’ve been pretty good at doing this.
“I think that’s where the character really matters. Players that have the right makeup that we’re looking for, we know they are going to hit their ceilings at some point because they are going to work. They are going to fail at some point and they are going to be able to dig themselves out of the hole just because of their makeup. That’s what we look for. Those are the type of men that we look to bring into this organization.”
4. The plan, for now, is for continuity on the O-line.
Ballard said on Friday the Colts expect to keep Quenton Nelson at left guard, Ryan Kelly at center, Mark Glowinski at right guard and Braden Smith at right tackle. Coach Frank Reich echoed those comments on Saturday.
“We’re excited about the guys that we have,” Reich said. “We’ll continue to work and develop, figure out how we put our five best guys out there to start the season. Like Chris has mentioned, the thought going in is try to leave guys where they are at, but we’re always open and working it day by day. Sam (Tevi) has played a lot of football, so we’re confident that we’re going to have five – a winning combination up there.”
5. Dayo Odeyingbo can bring versatility and physicality to the Colts’ D-line.
Jumping back to Friday for a bit, a lot of the focus on the Colts’ pick of Odeyingbo will be on when he’ll be available. But let’s spin ahead to when Odeyingbo is ready to hit the field again.
First up: Odeyingbo said he’s both willing and able to play any technique across the defensive line.
“I kind of just call myself a defensive lineman,” Odeyingbo said. “I play on the defensive line, all across it. Nine to zero, it doesn’t matter where I need to be and I think that’s kind of what adds to my game, is being able to line up in most positions. I really wouldn’t classify myself in one box.”
There is one box Odeyingbo will classify himself in, though. And that’s the physicality he brings to a defense.
“That’s a big part of my game – is kind of my physical attributes and trying to impose my will on other players,” Odeyingbo said. “I definitely feel like I bring that physicality to my game and I think that kind of physicality and motor shows up on my tape and that kind of relentlessness. So yeah, I definitely think I fit that build and I will be a great addition to this franchise.”
6. There will be strong competition along the Colts’ D-line.
Adding Paye and Odeyingbo to the Colts’ group of defensive ends will create plenty of competition at that spot in the coming months. The Colts return Kemoko Turay, Ben Banogu and Tyquan Lewis; Al-Quadin Muhammed was re-signed and Isaac Rochell was brought in via free agency. Add those guys to the Colts’ standout interior linemen — DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart — and Ballard is pleased with the state of the defensive front after the draft.
“We have some other kids here who are pretty talented too now. It’s not like we had an empty cupboard like everybody made it out to be,” Ballard said. “I mean Tyquan Lewis is coming on, Turay is very talented. Muhammad has played a lot of football here. Rochell had played good football with the Chargers. Banogu has a lot of talent. This is what you want, you want to create competition at positions for guys to play.”
7. Sam Ehlinger will arrive in Indianapolis with the right mindset.
For the second consecutive year, the Colts picked a quarterback on Day 3 of the draft, with Sam Ehlinger (sixth round, 2021) joining Jacob Eason (fourth round, 2020). The plan is for Ehlinger, Eason and Jalen Morton to compete not only to back up Carson Wentz, but for spots on the 53-man roster.
“Just learning as much as possible, learning what it takes to be successful at the next level,” Ehlinger said of his goals for 2021. “Obviously, going into my rookie year there are going to be a lot of learning curves and getting great coaching and learning as much as possible is my main objective and doing whatever it takes to help the team be successful. At the end of the day, I am going to do whatever it takes to make everybody in the organization better and that’s my objective.”
Ehlinger knows Eason from attending the same quarterback camps over the years and said he’s a “great dude, obviously has a cannon for an arm.” He hasn’t met Wentz but said he has a tremendous amount of respect for the work the Colts’ QB1 has done on and off the field.
“Obviously an incredible player. I can’t wait to be around him,” Ehlinger said. “… I really appreciate the way Carson carries himself and has trademarked the ‘Audience of One,’ deal and that’s something that I’ve tried to follow as well, so I can’t wait for it.”
8. Mike Strachan isn’t lacking in size and speed — or confidence.
The Colts picked Strachan (pronounced “Strawn”) with the first pick of the seventh round, adding a D-II standout with some eye-popping traits. He’s 6-foot-5 and possesses blazing speed — he wanted to run track for the Bahamas in the 2020 Olympics before the pandemic postponed the games last year — and while the leap from Charleston to the Colts will be significant, he believes he has what it takes to be one of the biggest steals of the 2021 draft.
“I’m just an overall playmaker,” Strachan said. “I’m going to come in and be coachable. I’m going to give championship effort. I feel like I’m that special player that the Colts need. I just feel like I can come in and with the tools I have adding up to what we already have, that we could really be in the run for a Super Bowl. That’s really what I want to get to is a Super Bowl and I feel like we can definitely do that especially with the tools that we have right now.”
9. Kylen Granson can complement the Colts’ other tight ends.
The Colts see Granson as adding a different element to their tight end room as a smaller (6-foot-2, 242 pounds), speedy option compared to some of the bigger guys already in place there.
“We like to think we know what we’re doing when we’re using that position, but I think he’ll complement the other guys well,” Reich said. “Very versatile, we can put him in the backfield. This is a highly intelligent player. That room is a very productive room and they need to complement each other and I think he adds an important piece to our offense.”
10. Don’t sleep on Shawn Davis and Will Fries as depth options.
Davis has the four-phase special teams experience to compete to be an immediate contributor there, but he also has plenty of experience as the “quarterback” — as Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham described him — of a defense playing in college football’s most competitive conference.
“(Davis) plays the way we want to play,” Ballard said. “He is aggressive, he is tough, he has good ball skills.”
And then Fries’ versatile experience at Penn State — where he started at both guard and both tackle positions — will help build competition behind whatever the Colts’ starting five linemen look like come September.
“We’re excited about all the guys we drafted today,” Ballard said Saturday. “And our guys are still currently down working on undrafted free agents right now. We’re excited and we’re ready to go.”