Finding the Fits: Special rookie class may get Colts galloping in 2018

Tyquan Lewis made 23.5 sacks in his Ohio State career.Ohio State athletics

By Rob Rang,

This is part of a series -- Finding the Fits -- in which will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2018 NFL Draft. The goal is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

Indianapolis Colts' best fit: Tyquan Lewis, DL, Ohio State, selected No. 64 overall (second round)

If Colts fans were not already champing at the bit for the 2018 NFL season to begin with news that star quarterback Andrew Luck resumed throwing, they might be ready to stampede once they fully realize the rookie crop of talent that general manager Chris Ballard is bringing to Indianapolis.

While some clubs (including AFC South opponent Houston) are not expected to see much impact from this year's rookies, Ballard found several candidates who appear to be terrific fits for the up-tempo offense that new head coach Frank Reich is bringing from Philadelphia along with the 4-3 alignment of new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus (previously the linebacker coach and passing game coordinator in Dallas).

Top pick Quenton Nelson is only the most obvious of the Colts' fantastic fits. He is ticketed to start immediately at left guard, with surprise second-round pick Darius Leonard expected to play a Sean Lee-like role as the Colts' weakside linebacker. Though they may not start, flashy edge rusher Kemoko Turay and Day Three skill-position standouts Nyheim Hines and Deon Cain also offer the immediate impact potential to warrant mentioning in this space.

The point of this series, however, is to shine some light on less-heralded prospects, and given the "big" role he is likely to see playing up and down the Colts' defensive line this season, Tyquan Lewis -- whom Ballard traded up to get with the final pick of the second round -- certainly qualifies.

The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Lewis primarily played right defensive end at Ohio State but was asked to slide inside to defensive tackle and even nose guard, at times, a testament to his strength, toughness and broad frame. The former four-star recruit played in all 55 games of his career with the Buckeyes, leaving the storied program ranked fifth all-time in sacks (23.5) and 15th in tackles for loss (36.5).

Though he may still see plenty of time on the outside, the Colts see the three-year All-Big Ten honoree as a potential interior pass rush specialist at the three-technique defensive tackle position, the penetrating role critical to the 4-3 alignment's success. Lewis is expected to rotate here with free agent signee Denico Autry, a 6-5, 270-pounder signed from Oakland after he registered career-highs in tackles (23) and sacks (five) last season.

Lewis was ranked 12th among defensive ends on's board but when comparing his workout numbers to defensive tackles, it was easy to see why Ballard, Reich and Eberflus are so excited about his potential in this role. It is worth remembering that many of his competitors at this position weigh 30 pounds or more than him, but Lewis' athleticism stood out in workouts.

In fact, Lewis' numbers at his March 22 Pro Day would have ranked first in the 40-yard dash (4.69 seconds), broad jump (10 feet, 2 inches) and short shuttle (4.34 seconds), tied for first in the vertical jump (35.5 inches) and second in the three-cone drill (7.20 seconds) among defensive tackles tested at the Combine, with only well-known freak athlete Taven Bryan (the Jaguars' pick at No. 28 overall) putting up similar numbers.

Fortunately for the Colts (and unlike the relatively unpolished Bryan in Jacksonville), Lewis is fundamentally sound and ready to contribute at a position of concern immediately.

Other thoughts on the Colts' 2018 draft class:

I gave the Colts an above average grade -- a solid B -- on my initial AFC South report cards for the 2018 NFL Draft, but after further analysis, I believe I shortchanged Ballard, Reich and Co. for this class. In fact, I wonder if this group will not one day be considered special and a spark to the Colts' triumphant return to the playoffs, perhaps as early as this year.

I won't waste a lot of time in this space gushing about Nelson, the best guard prospect I've scouted since Steve Hutchinson. It is not just that Nelson is a terrific talent with an ideal blend of size (6-5, 330), strength (35 repetitions of 225 pounds at the Combine) and mobility. Like Hutchinson (a Hall of Fame finalist in 2018), Nelson complements his physical gifts with a nasty playing demeanor that can be simultaneously inspirational to his teammates and demoralizing to opponents. He has a bully element that the Colts' offensive line (and team, as a whole) has been missing for quite some time.

Further, with defenses getting so much more creative over the past 10 years with twists, stunts and delayed blitzes from virtually every imaginable angle, interior offensive line play is more important to the passing game than perhaps ever before. Though injuries sustained to quarterbacks may be a different story, many pocket passers (like Luck) are most hampered on a snap-to-snap basis by defenders in their face, rather than those screaming off the edges.

This is why I applaud the decision to draft another solid future starting guard in Braden Smith, even after the free agent acquisition of 10-year veteran Matt Slauson, who is expected to be the Colts' starting right guard opposite Nelson in 2018.

Of course, while Luck and the Colts' top brass will recognize the impact Nelson (and Smith) make up front, flashy Day Three picks Nyheim Hines and Deon Cain will be the ones earning buzz from the media and fans.

Well-suited to do so given his 4.38 speed, vision and soft hands, the 5-8, 198-pound Hines is expected to play a Darren Sproles-like role in Reich's up-tempo offense and as the team's primary returner. Hines is lightning in a bottle but is at his best in small doses, making him an ideal complement to the slashing Marlon Mack and bruising Robert Turbin, as Reich is expected to use a similar committee approach to the position as he did last year as the Eagles' offensive coordinator.

One need only read my report on Cain -- my 74th overall ranked prospect -- to know what a potential steal I believe he could be for the Colts, who found him still available 111 spots later.

Talent has never been the question with the 6-2, 202-pound Cain and I believe his draft day slide will serve as all the motivation he needs to begin to live up to his ability. Even as a sixth-round pick, Cain is a potential surprise starter and fantasy football sleeper as a rookie, a testament not only to his talent but the fact that the Colts currently lack proven commodities at receiver, with the notable exception of speedster T.Y. Hilton, of course.

Indianapolis' 2018 draft class:

1st Round, No. 6 overall: OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

2nd Round, No. 36 overall: LB Darius Leonard, South Carolina

2nd Round, No. 37 overall: OG Braden Smith, Auburn

2nd Round, No. 52 overall: DE Kemoko Turay, Rutgers

2nd Round, No. 64 overall: DL Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State

4th Round, No. 104 overall: RB Nyheim Hines, North Carolina State

5th Round, No. 159 overall: WR Daurice Fountain, Northern Illinois

5th Round, No. 169 overall: RB Jordan Wilkins, Mississippi

6th Round, No. 185 overall: WR Deon Cain, Clemson

7th Round, No. 221 overall: LB Matthew Adams, Houston

7th Round, No. 235 overall: OLB Zaire Franklin, Syracuse

Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:

Michael Badgley, K, Miami

Skai Moore, LB, South Carolina

Steve Ishmael, WR, Syracuse


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