Barring the most unforeseen bust in history, the new Indianapolis Colts regime's first draft was a good one. But it could end up even better.
If only the top three players – Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen – turn into big-time contributors, the foundation, at least on offense, is in place.
The two players who could turn this draft from good to great are wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and nose tackle Josh Chapman. If these two pan out, and both are at least a bit of a gamble, the rebuilt Colts could be on a faster track than expected.
Hilton and Chapman couldn't be more different physically. Hilton is 5-foot-9, 193 pounds. Chapman is 6-foot, 316 pounds. They'll be on opposite sides of the ball, in vastly different roles, but with the opportunity, if they can seize it, of becoming major players.
Neither one lacks confidence, that's clear.
Listen to Hilton during his first interaction with the Colts media on draft day:
“I was talking to (offensive coordinator Bruce Arians) and the wide receivers coach (Charlie Williams) and he just flat-out loved me from Day One,” Hilton said. “We sat down and broke down my film and the rest is history.”
Later: “I'm a blazer.”
Later still: “I'm going to change the game from kick return to punt return and also as a receiver. I think I can run 60, 70 and 80-yard touchdowns, so me and Luck are going to do just fine.”
Hilton played at Florida International. Last time I checked, it wasn't mentioned alongside Alabama, LSU, Texas or Oklahoma as a major player in college football. But it's significant that Colts general manager Ryan Grigson went only once outside the major power conferences in the draft, and Hilton is the guy. Grigson traded two picks to move up in the third round and pick Hilton.
No matter what the competition, Hilton returned four kickoffs and two punts for touchdowns in his career. In the recent history of the Colts, the return game has been invisible. As a receiver, he caught 229 passes for 3,531 yards and 24 touchdowns in his career. He said he has been clocked as fast as 4.24 in the 40-yard dash.
Grigson calls him “electric.” In Hilton's first play with Florida International as a freshman, he returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown against Kansas.
“Our special teams coaches, coach (Marwan) Maalouf and (Brant) Boyer, loved him; it was evident, we all did,” Grigson said. “You put the tape on of this guy and you see it pretty quick. You talked about whether he ran away from people at that level, he took it to the house against Alabama.
“…We're expecting big things out of him and he knows that.”
Chapman, meanwhile, might have been a higher round pick if not for a torn anterior cruciate ligament during his senior season at Alabama. He was faced with a choice to get the surgery, miss the season and be healthier sooner (i.e. for the draft), or postpone the surgery, deal with it and play the season.
He chose to play in order to compete for a national title, which Alabama won.
You can find a lot of players Chapman's size, but finding one who places that type of priority on winning is exactly what the Colts need now.
How soon Chapman becomes healthy enough to play remains to be seen. The hope is he can compete by the time regular training camp opens. He puts his postseason surgery rehabilitation at about 50 percent right now.
“Coach (Chuck Pagano) could tell you that he's an excellent fit at nose tackle for us,” Grigson said. “He's exceptionally strong, he's instinctive, he makes plays in a great conference, the SEC, and he's wired the way Chuck wants a nose tackle to be wired in terms of his strength, his natural leverage and the way he plays the game.”
The Colts must have a run-stopping nose tackle to deliver the goods as they switch to the 3-4 style of defense. If Chapman emerges as that man, or can team with Brandon McKinney in that role, the whole speed of the defensive building accelerates, too.
I have no doubt Luck can deliver. He looks, and thinks, like a dynamic quarterback. His tight ends will offer targets and catch the ball.
If Hilton can set up great field position on a consistent basis, and Chapman can help the defense take steps toward becoming a relevant unit, this first draft of the new era can only grow in success.
After the depressing 2-14 season of 2011, any projection of optimism is a good thing.