Experts grade the Colts’ 2023 draft class
The Indianapolis Colts made it a point to add talent, depth and athleticism to the roster during the 2023 NFL draft.
Walking away with 12 selections and arguably the most athletic draft class in the league, the Colts achieved their objective. They also grabbed their quarterback of both the present and the future in Anthony Richardson while adding some talented players to positions of need.
Between the three draft trades and 12 players selected, here’s how the experts graded the Colts’ draft class:
Colts general manager Chris Ballard, who has been feeling some heat in recent years, nailed this draft, and he did it by focusing in traits-based players, which can get some GMs in trouble. Richardson could nuke the NFL in the kind of QB run game new head coach Shane Steichen just ran with Jalen Hurts in Philly, and that’s an easy like-as-like transition. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has three new big, athletic cornerbacks in Julius Brents, Darius Rush, and Jaylon Jones, who should thrive in Bradley’s single-high, island-based coverages. Josh Downs will be a great target for Richardson, and he has some aspects of his game that are similar to former Colts star T.Y. Hilton. Blake Freeland needs to add about 20 pounds to his frame to deal with NFL defenders, but he may be the best pure athlete at his position in this class. Combine star Adetomiwa Adebawore is a guy that Bradley can move around in his fronts to great effect.
Getting their franchise quarterback was the big, obvious move, but Ballard and his staff had a draft here that could open things up for a good, long time.
Richardson can play behind Gardner Minshew in 2023 and will eventually thrive as he gains experience under new head coach Shane Steichen, thanks to his physical skill set. After two trades down in Round 2, the Colts still found Brents, a long athlete who just needs to stick to receivers more consistently. Downs is the productive slot receiver needed to replace Parris Campbell.
Freeland and Witt are similar to 2022 third-round choice Bernhard Raimann, tall and full of athleticism and promise. Adebawore will grow into an excellent value as a fourth-rounder; he’s not just a workout warrior. The Colts got great value in the fifth round by taking Rush and in the seventh round by taking Jones. Mallory and Hull (drafted with the choice obtained from Dallas in exchange for Stephon Gilmore) were smart picks to add depth on offense.
GM Chris Ballard stuck to his guns with the big-arm and super-athletic upside of Richardson, the highest-ceiling QB in the class. Brents and Adebawore were exceptional values to improve defensive weaknesses. Downs is a needed extra big playmaker for Richardson, while Freeland has a chance to start at either tackle soon. Mallory and Hull were good depth for that side, too. Rush, Scott further increase secondary depth well behind Brents and Jones was another steal there.
Pro Football Focus
Day 1: The Colts stay at Pick 4 and swing for the high ceiling of Anthony Richardson. While Richardson was inconsistent as a passer, he is arguably the most incredible athlete at the quarterback position we have ever seen. He forced 39 missed tackles in 2022.
Day 2: Brents is in the group of long, athletic prospects that the Colts have gravitated to on defense over the past several years. There aren’t too many cornerbacks out there at 6-foot-3 with 34-inch arms and a 42-inch vertical. Brents’ production and grading profile don’t overly impress, but he has traits worth betting on here for Indianapolis.
Downs was WR5 on both the PFF Big Board and the consensus big board but comes off the board here to Indianapolis as WR12. He is undersized, even for the slot, but he is one of the better underneath separators in this class and wins in contested situations over the middle of the field. Downs hauled in 13-of-18 contested targets for UNC in 2022.
Day 3: The Colts need reinforcements along the offensive line and land the 6-foot-8 Freeland, who tested off the charts with 95th percentile or better scores in the vertical jump, broad jump, short shuttle and three-cone. Freeland’s athleticism will be best utilized as a run blocker in space, earning a 90.2 zone blocking grade in 2022, but he will need to improve as a pass protector at the NFL level.
One of the more puzzling fallers of the draft after a ton of buzz following a ridiculous combine performance that was truly one of the best we’ve seen, Adebawore needs refinement at the NFL level and can now develop behind a crop of good defensive linemen with the Colts. Adebawore earned an 80.3 pass-rush grade in 2022 but a lot of that production came from pure athletic advantages. He needs to improve his hand usage and counter moves beyond just speed to power.
Rush, a former high school quarterback and college wide receiver at the start, is an incredible athlete still learning the nuances of the cornerback position. At 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, Rush ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash and earned an 80.3 coverage grade in 2022. When he is in position, he has a knack for making plays on the ball, as well. This is the developmental type prospect you look for on Day 3.
Scott graded better in 2021 (81.8) than in 2022 (66.8) but finished strong in his last three games. He’s a versatile and intelligent safety who is capable enough in the slot as well. He’ll add depth to the Colts’ secondary as well as a surefire contributor on special teams.
Mallory offers legitimate receiving ability and not much as a blocker. He’ll give C.J. Stroud a threat up the seam and brings legitimate versatility in the slot. He just needs to become passable in the run game.
Jones is big, strong and young — a good combination of adjectives for a late-round cornerback. He fits best in a Cover 3 scheme and, fortunately, he lands with Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who runs more Cover 3 than any other defensive play-caller.
Witt is one of the rare prospects who PFF doesn’t have data or grades on, but he came in at 211th overall on our final big board. He’s an athletic tackle — shocking, given Indianapolis’ strategy in this draft — who will be another developmental project for the Colts.
The Colts entered the draft needing to address quarterback (duh), receiver, cornerback and offensive line, and they did so. But what stands out the most is the athleticism of Indianapolis’ draft class.
The Relative Athletic Score (RAS) metric takes a player’s NFL combine measurables and breaks it down into one number, on a scale of 0 (lowest) to 10 (highest). Each of Indianapolis’ 12 draft picks scored at least 8.48. Anthony Richardson had a perfect score.
Best Pick: Second-round corner Julius Brents fits perfectly into the Gus Bradley scheme. He is a long corner who has a lot of cover ability. Nice pick.
Worst Pick: Third-round receiver Josh Downs went a little higher than I would have taken him, He’s a solid player, but I don’t think he will be as good as some others do.
The Skinny: Their draft will be decided by what quarterback Anthony Richardson becomes as a player. He was taken in the first round with the fourth overall pick, which could pay off in a big way. Richardson has the tools to become a star with development. I liked Will Levis more, but I see why the Colts took him. They had some nice picks after Richardson, including Brents, fellow corner Darius Rush and tight end Will Mallory in the fifth.
Pro Football Network
Chris Ballard and the Colts have officially (if it wasn’t already official) leaned into the niche of simply drafting ridiculous athletes and telling the coaches to develop talent. With the team making so many selections in 2023, it was hilarious to see freak athlete after freak athlete come off the board. There might be better drafts in the class, but this was easily the most entertaining one to follow.
Colts GM Chris Ballard spent the weekend taking a bunch of players with elite physical traits. And I’ve got to be honest, I love almost everything Indy did in this draft, starting with their selection of the highest-upside player in this class, Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson. The former Gators star lacks experience but has all the tools to develop into a high-level starter. Ballard also added a pair of long-levered, athletic corners in Julius Brents (Kansas State) and Darius Rush (South Carolina), a shifty and explosive slot receiver in Josh Downs (North Carolina), and one of my favorite interior defensive lineman in this draft in Adetomiwa Adebawore (Northwestern). Add in Miami tight end Will Mallory and Northwestern running back Evan Hull, and this Colts team has got a stew going.
It turns out that the Indianapolis Colts weren’t smitten with Kentucky quarterback Will Levis. Instead, they grabbed the quarterback with the most upside at No. 3, Florida’s Anthony Richardson.
“Anthony Richardson is a home run swing on elite tools and fearless pocket management,” Derrik Klassen of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.
The Colts traded down just a bit to open Day 2, snagging the 141st pick to drop from No. 35 to No. 38. Indy traded down again before selecting Kansas State cornerback Julius Brents 44th overall. Brents was a logical target after Indianapolis traded Stephon Gilmore to the Cowboys.
Indy reached a bit for BYU tackle Blake Freeland, the 209th-ranked prospect on the B/R board, but the 6’8″, 302-pound prospect has intriguing physical traits. Northwestern defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore, the 56th-ranked prospect on the B/R board, was a much better value in Round 4.
The Colts added a couple of additional weapons for Richardson in North Carolina receiver Josh Downs and Miami tight end Will Mallory. They could be early contributors next to Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce.
General manager Chris Ballard did solid work addressing Indy’s glaring needs, and he came away with the quarterback with arguably the highest upside in this class.
We have to give Indianapolis credit for not panicking and trading up for a quarterback. General manager Chris Ballard stuck at No. 4 and still got Anthony Richardson. While I would have gone with Will Levis over Richardson, there’s no denying the talent and traits the former Florida passer possesses. At 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds, there aren’t many quarterbacks in the history of the league with Richardson’s size, speed and arm strength. The problem? He really struggled with accuracy in his lone season as the full-time starter, and he needs a lot of improvement on his footwork and mechanics. The upside is tremendous — and the Colts have a solid offense around him to help — but I’d be worried to throw him into the fire in Week 1, as the team seems eager to do.
Josh Downs (79) is a quarterback-friendly slot receiver, and he is a great addition to help Richardson. I mentioned after Day 2 I would have preferred other corners over Julius Brents (44), but he does fill an immediate hole. The Colts must think he can start as a rookie.
On Day 3, the Colts hit on some nice prospects. Offensive tackle Blake Freeland (106) has excellent traits in a 6-foot-8 frame, while defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore (110) is a top-50 prospect on my board. I thought Adebawore had a chance to go in the top 40 picks. I actually have Darius Rush (138) as my 11th-best corner in the class, one spot below Brents. At 6-foot-2, he ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the combine. I picked tight end Will Mallory (162) as one of my combine risers in March. Jake Witt (236) is an intriguing dart throw in Round 7; he is my 17th-ranked offensive tackle.
Look, new Indy coach Shane Steichen worked magic with Jalen Hurts when he was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator, but he has a long ways to go to build up Richardson’s passing mechanics. I love what Ballard did on Day 3 — and grabbing Downs in the third round — but this class will be defined by Richardson and how the quarterback’s career goes.