With the NFL Draft now less than 8 days away, it’s time to look at other areas of need for the Indianapolis Colts. For this Draft Day series, we had previously looked at the safety and center positions. Today, we will focus on the nose tackle position, which is another addressing need in the center of the Colts’ defense. Currently, the Colts have NT Josh Chapman and few other alternatives on their active roster aside from possibly DT/DE Montori Hughes. The primary starter last year, Aubrayo Franklin, started 15 games for the Colts last season, but at age 33 and now a free agent, it remains uncertain whether the team is interested in having the veteran return.
Josh Chapman remains the heavy favorite to start the season as the team’s starting nose tackle. A fifth round pick of the Colts in the 2012 NFL Draft from Alabama, Chapman has been fairly productive when healthy. He appeared in 13 games last season after missing the entirety of the 2012 season due to ACL rehabilitation. As a rotational defensive lineman, he made his fair share of plays in 2013. Still, Chapman is a BIG man at 6’0″ and 340 lbs., and he’s playing on a “questionable” knee. I have no problem with the Colts leaning on him as the every game starter in 2014. It just seems prudent to have another capable big body behind him. Banking on Chapman as your lone true nose tackle would seem to be a risky proposition for the Colts and their GM Ryan Grigson, especially given the durability of his knee.
The Colts’ Montori Hughes remains a bit of a wildcard for the team. Another fifth round pick of the Colts, only this time in 2013 out of the University of Tennessee at Martin, Hughes appeared in just 4 games for the Colts last season. In his limited action, there were plays where he flashed potential of being a disruptive force, but he ultimately lacked consistency. Still, at 6’4″ and 349 lbs., he obviously has more than enough size to be in the discussion for the nose tackle position.
The team will likely look to add depth to the position through the NFL Draft, Rookie Free Agent Pool, and NFL Free Agency. For the purposes of this article, we will look at the highly rated nose tackles that may be available during Round 2-4 for the Colts. As you may recall, the team traded its first round pick for Trent Richardson in the Cleveland Browns trade. Nevertheless, there are still some talented nose tackles projected to be available at this point and throughout the draft. Please see our analysis of some of these intriguing prospects below:
Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota: 6’6″, 310 lbs, 5.02, Sr…”Alternately lining up over the nose or as a three-technique, Hageman consistently pushes his counterparts deep into the backfield, demonstrating rare upfield burst for a man of his size, as well as impressive strength. A brute in the middle, combining excellent size and power to push blockers deep into the pocket. At times struggles to locate the football quickly, can appear a bit stiff changing directions and shows just average speed and determination in pursuit, despite being subbed often.”-Rob Rang, The Sports Xchange
“They don’t come much more physically imposing than Hageman, whose broad shoulders, long arms and trim waist have generated comparisons from J.J. Watt to John Henderson. Hageman’s physical tools are exciting and his rise from a tough childhood is inspirational, but best of all is his DL versatility. Hagemen looks more like a modern day offensive tackle, possessing broad shoulders, long arms and a relatively trim waist. He remains a bit raw but possesses first round traits.” –CBSSportsline.com
“He is really interesting and especially given his background and where he’s coming from and what he’s had to go through in life, and I think the hard part is putting the tape on in one game, you see a kid that can go as a Top 15 pick and then you put the next tape on, and then he disappears for three quarters and that’s a fifth or sixth round pick and you have to rectify the whole thing if he blows up the Combine; who are we getting. That’s the important thing is trying to understand the kid, because the talent is certainly there.”-Mike Mayock, NFL.com
“He flashes [his potential] is what he does. Of course, you see glimpses of the big-time ability he has. He’s got incredible talent from a physical standpoint, and he can run. I’ve seen him pursue the sidelines and run like a linebacker, and he’s a big kid. I mean, this is a kid who’s got enormous potential. You coach him up in the NFL, improve his technique, and certainly in a rotation situation, he can be a very good player. I think he’s probably a second-round type of player now. He was on the Big Board; I took him off because obviously you don’t see that type of consistency from the first to the fourth quarters and the dominant performances like some of the other guys like say an Aaron Donald at Pittsburgh, who has 19 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. You’ve got guys out there that are just really taking over games, and [Hageman] hasn’t been able to do that on a consistent basis. But the flashes are enough, the physical ability. I think with the combine, when you stack him up against the other defensive tackles, I think it could put him in the second-round mix.”-Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN
Da’Quan Jones, Penn State: 6’4″, 322 lbs, 5.35, Sr…”Dropped nearly 25 pounds during the 2013 offseason and displayed more quickness as a senior with the ability to be effective later into games. He has a wide base and broad shoulders and wins with his brute strength and power to take on multiple blocks and overwhelm blockers. Jones showed improved instincts toward the end of 2012 and through the ’13 season. Will struggle with leverage and lacks ideal range.”-Dane Brugler, NFLDraftScout.com
“Da’Quan Jones dropped about 25 pounds before the 2013 season, which was a wise move — he set career marks with 56 tackles, three sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, and led all Big Ten defensive tackles in quarterback hits. He made first-team all-conference, and coming in at 6-foot-4, 322 pounds at the combine and at his pro day, Jones shows there’s a lot to like about his NFL potential. Because he really came on late, it’s possible some lucky pro team will take him later than he should be picked, and reap the rewards as Jones continues to develop.”-Doug Farrar, SI.com
“He’s smooth. Just not as fast, but the technique is there.”-Mike Mayock, NFL.com
“He’s probably the best defensive tackle in college football. He’s going to have a big year. And he has a chance to be a first-round pick.”-Gil Brandt, NFL.com
Justin Ellis, Louisiana Tech: 6’2″, 334 lbs, 5.03, Sr…”Ellis is a wide-bodied rusher and uses his ball quickness and snap anticipation to surge past blockers before they can set up, making him a tough guy to square up and slow down. He looks like a zero-technique who should be a man-eating run stuffer, but is more of an upfield penetrator who is a handful to control as a pass rusher. Ellis is scheme-versatile to play a two-gapping NT role or as a 3-technique who wins with initial burst.”-Dane Brugler, NFLDraftScout.com
“Justin Ellis was an undervalued high school prospect, but after excelling at the WAC and Conference USA levels, he woke up a lot of people with strong performances at the Shrine Game and during Senior Bowl week. Projects best as a nose tackle at this point, but if Ellis dropped about 15-20 pounds from his 6-foot-2, 334-pound frame and mastered a few fundamentals, he could be a multi-gap force. He already has the ability to shoot gaps at a surprising level for his size.”-Doug Farrar, SI.com
“Ellis is a nose tackle, but could play ‘5 technique’ [3-4 d-end] if he needed to. He could play base end. He’s mostly a two-down plugger. He played well at the East-West Shrine Game and got called up to the Senior Bowl. He’s just one of those guys who’s slowly risen from a small-school interesting prospect to a legitimate third- or fourth-round nose tackle.”-Mike Mayock, NFL.com
“Ellis (6-foot-1 1/2, 342 pounds) ran the 40 twice, in 5.03 with the wind and 5.21 against the wind. He stood on the rest of his numbers from the combine. Ellis has amazing quickness for a player his size, and I think people will have a tough time blocking him. His height isn’t ideal, but at 342 pounds he moves around like a gazelle. He could be a third-round choice in the draft.”-Gil Brandt, NFL.com
Daniel McCullers, Tennessee: 6’7″ 352 lbs, 5.30, Sr…”Five players who should be on the Indianapolis Colts’ draft radar: NG Daniel McCullers, Tennessee: For Pagano’s (and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s) 3-4 scheme to improve against the club’s No. 26th overall ranking against the run, the Colts must get bigger and more physical at the line of scrimmage. At 6-foot, 340 pounds, holdover Josh Chapman certainly possesses the square, powerful frame to handle nose guard duties but he hasn’t been as effective as hoped yet after the team selected him in the fifth round two years ago. At a staggering 6-foot-7, 352 pounds, Mt. McCullers certainly would add some beef to the middle. If available in the third round, the Colts might find his size, strength and upside too much to ignore.” –Rob Rang, The Sports Xchange
“A big-boned, short-area plugger with some underachiever traits, McCullers has raw tools that could become special if he learns to harness the innate strength in his body and pairs with a DL coach who can refine his mechanics.”-Nolan Nawrocki, NFL.com
“He’ll blot out the sun, and the Earth moves when he walks. He’s a monster, an absolute monster. The problem for him is, he looks like John Henderson coming out of Tennessee, same school. But it’s not John Henderson. John Henderson was the ultimate freak defensive lineman — destroy you in the run game, rush the passer and obliterate you that way. I haven’t seen that second part out of Daniel.”-Charles Davis, NFL Media Analyst
“McCullers (6-6, 350) makes most big guys look small. Despite his mass, McCullers is very fast for his size (5.15 in the 40). He is also very strong and possesses very good movement skills. His nickname is “Shade Tree,” which should give you an idea of his size.”-Gil Brandt, NFL.com