INDIANAPOLIS – It was never thought the Colts defense would get the bulk of attention in the 2022 Draft.
And that was the case with none of the first three picks. But Gus Bradley’s side of the ball did get half of the selections, with four of the final five picks going to the defense.
Here’s a capsule look at the Colts four picks on defense in 2022:
Round 3, Pick 96: Maryland Safety Nick Cross (6-1, 213)
-2022 Stats: 13 games (13 starts). Compiled 67 tackles (45 solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, 7 passes defensed, 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles.
-Career Stats: 29 games (21 starts). Compiled 135 tackles (89 solo), 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, 18 passes defensed, 6 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles.
-Interesting Fact: Cross ran the fastest 40-yard dash time of any safety at the 2022 Combine (4.34).
-Cross’ Quote to Note: “I bring high energy. I fly around and make plays. I’m physical on the back end and I’m able to come downhill and make solid tackles. I’m someone who can play the middle of the field and intercept the ball. Make sure no one makes any big plays down the field. I want to be someone who can take the ball away and cause havoc for the offense.”
-Chris Ballard’s Thoughts: “Just a really good athlete that can run. He’s young. He’s not even 21 years old yet. I remember asking the group, ‘Where would you take this kid if he was in next year’s draft?’ And it was second round, so we don’t have any problem giving our third next year to go get him.”
-Outlook: It’s quite a statement when Chris Ballard trades up for a prospect in the draft. It says even more when he does it by giving up a future 3rd round pick, like he did here for Cross. What the Colts debated on Cross is where the 20-year-old prospect would have been drafted in 2023, had he not declared for the draft a year early. The thought was Cross would go in Round 2 next April. So that’s why the Colts traded back into the third round to get Cross, despite safety not having a super pressing need in 2022. This move adds to the uncertain second contract futures for Khari Willis (free agent in 2023) and potentially Julian Blackmon (free agent in 2024). Cross has to be someone Gus Bradley was a big fan of. Defensive playing time for Cross as a rookie might be hard to come by, but he should have a special teams role.
Round 5, Pick 192: Missouri State Defensive Lineman Eric Johnson (6-5, 298)
-2021 Stats: 12 games started. Compiled 43 tackles (19 solo), 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 2 blocked extra points.
-Career Stats: 55 games played (47 starts). Compiled 131 tackles (56 solo), 19.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, 2 passes defensed.
-Interesting Fact: Johnson had 4 blocked kicks in his college career.
-Johnson’s Quote to Note: “The area I need to improve mostly is the transition between my run and pass. I can do individually, both pretty well but when I need to (inaudible) that can be crucial. So, speeding that up is definitely where I want to focus my game on. I feel where one of my strong suits comes from is my versatility, being able to play multiple positions and holding in there being a reliable character for the line is one of my strong suits as a player.”
-Outlook: Defensive line depth was a concern entering the draft so that’s where Johnson can help. With the extra COVID year, Johnson is the rare 5-year starter in college football. It’s also pretty impressive that he never missed a game in his college career, despite playing on the defensive interior. Johnson will try to earn a role behind DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart in spelling those big guys, when needed. Remember, Gus Bradley brings a new emphasis to the defensive line and that’s a focus on getting up field right off the snap, and less read and react. Johnson’s quick first step was something that attracted to the Colts under their defensive change.
Round 6, Pick 219: Cincinnati Defensive Tackle Curtis Brooks (6-2, 285)
-2021 Stats: 14 games started. Compiled 56 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble.
-Career Stats: 61 career games played (20 starts). Compiled 162 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, 12.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 passes defensed.
-Interesting Fact: Played in the NFLPA Bowl this year.
-Brooks’ Quote to Note: “I’ve spoken with the defensive line coach (Nate Ollie) and head coach (Frank Reich), we’ve had a couple of conversations. I didn’t go out there for a visit, but I definitely am aware of what’s going on down there. I feel like I fit in the three-technique role, just get vertical and just play fast. That’s something I do best.”
-Outlook: Brooks was an interesting name that popped up near the end of Round 6. It’s pretty impressive when you see a defensive tackle, on one of the best defenses in college football, put up 7.5 sacks. That’s what Brooks did last year. Now, Brooks dropped because of his age (24), size (290-ish pounds), but he appears to be a direct fit to a Colts scheme that is all about getting up field right off the snap. Brooks, along with 5th round pick Eric Johnson, will compete for some depth spots behind Grover Stewart and DeForest Buckner.
Round 7, Pick 239: Yale Cornerback Rodney Thomas (6-1, 200)
-2021 Stats: 10 games (9 starts at defensive back, 1 at linebacker). Compiled 50 tackles (35 solo), 1.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 11 passes defensed, 2 interceptions.
-Career Stats: 33 games (19 career starts). Compiled 134 tackles (95 solo), 8.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 21 passes defensed, 6 interceptions.
-Interesting Fact: Thomas became the first Yale player chosen in the draft since 2018.
-Outlook: Exact fit for Thomas remains to be seen. The Yale product has a lot of linebacker history in college, along with some safety and corner. The Colts think the first look will be at cornerback. In a way, this pick reminds me of Marvell Tell back in 2019 (who had safety history at USC before moving to corner in the NFL). If Thomas indeed sticks at corner, he’s going to have a good shot to make the team, given the lack of proven depth behind the likes of Kenny Moore and Stephon Gilmore. That’s a pretty good thing to ask for when you’re taken in the 7th round.