Colts rookie projections: Anthony Richardson, two others should be Year 1 starters

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What will Anthony Richardson bring to the Colts as a rookie? Where will Josh Downs fall in the Indianapolis catcher pecking order? And what does Stephon Gilmore’s departure mean for second-round cornerback Julius Brents?

Projecting the impact of each member of the Colts’ 12-player rookie draft class:

Round 1, number 4 of the general: Anthony Richardson
Projection 1st year: beginner

The Colts’ hope, of course, is that Richardson is worthy of the fourth overall pick and becomes a long-term franchise quarterback. However, Indianapolis is in for what could be a bumpy rookie season. At 20 years old and with just 13 starts at Florida, Richardson will need reps. Coach Shane Steichen’s playbook needs to accentuate Richardson’s strengths and maximize his comfort.

There’s a chance Gardner Minshew starts the year, he spent the last two seasons with Steichen in Philadelphia, but it would be surprising if Richardson doesn’t start by midseason.

Richardson under the most pressure of the 2023 QB draft class?

Richardson under the most pressure of the 2023 QB draft class?

Emmanuel Acho, Joy Taylor, LeSean McCoy and David Helman debate which QB taken in this draft class is under the most pressure.

Day 2, number 44 of the general: CB Julius “JuJu” Brents
Projection Year 1: High Impact Starter

With Gilmore gone, Brents has a good chance to start on Day 1. What could hold him back initially is his health. He had wrist surgery in March, but is expected to be ready for the start of training camp.

At 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, Brents is the Colts’ biggest cornerback. The advantage is also there with his fluency and length. Brents, an Indianapolis native, was a first-team All-Big 12 selection at Kansas State last season, leading the Wildcats with eight pass breakups and four interceptions.

Round 3, number 79 of the general; WR Josh Downs
Year 1 Projection: Starter (WR3), punt returner

Outside of Richardson, the diminutive Downs (5-foot-9, 171 pounds) was the most talked-about player coming out of rookie minicamp earlier this month, his big hands on display. It shouldn’t be a surprise. He was a very productive player at North Carolina, with at least 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in consecutive seasons with different quarterbacks to finish his college career.

Free agent acquisition Isaiah McKenzie is currently ahead of him on the depth chart, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Downs stepped into the WR3 role behind Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce at midseason.

With Keke Coutee and Nyheim Hines no longer on the roster, Downs should also be the Colts’ top punt return option. In 34 games at UNC, he returned 26 punts for 389 yards.

Round 4, number 106 of the general: OT Blake Freeland
Year 1 Projection: Backup/No. 3 OT

At best, Freeland can provide some competition for sophomore left tackle Bernhard Raimann and be a reliable swing tackle option as a rookie. Freeland started 41 games in four years at BYU: 26 in left, 15 in right.

Rround 4, no. 110 general: DL Adetomiwa Adebawore
Projection Year 1: Backup

General manager Chris Ballard has prioritized going eight to nine players in the defensive line rotation, so the athletic Adebawore figures to be a key support behind standout starters DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart. He led the Northwest in sacks and forced fumbles the past two seasons.

Round 5, no. 138 general: DB Darius Rush
Projection year 1: support, special teams

Like Brents, Rush is a big cornerback (6-foot-2, 198 pounds) for Gus Bradley’s defense. The former South Carolina standout has a chance to be a long-term starter (with Brents), but he’s not an explosive athlete. He figures to add depth to the Colts’ young secondary and be used as a gunner on special teams.

Round 5, no. 158 of the general: S Daniel Scott
Projection year 1: support, special teams

Julian Blackmon, Rodney Thomas II and Nick Cross are all ahead of Scott on the depth chart at safety. The former Cal standout will have to be indispensable on special teams to have a role as a rookie.

Round 5, no. 162 of the general: TE Will Mallory
Projection year 1: support, special teams

Tight end is one of the Colts’ strongest position groups. That’s why Mallory’s role could be limited to special teams until he improves as a blocker, seen by scouts as a weakness. He was a strong pass catcher at Miami, leading the Hurricanes with 538 receiving yards in 2022 en route to second-team All-ACC honors.

Round 5, number 176 of the general: RB Evan Hull
Projection year 1: support, special teams

Star Jonathan Taylor and backup Zack Moss will take the lion’s share of the snaps, but Hull has a chance to be the No. 3 option. He had 88 receptions for 810 yards and four touchdowns over his last two seasons at Northwestern, with the potential to be a much-needed pass-catching option out of the backfield for Indianapolis.

Round 6, number 211 of the general: border Titus Leo
Projection 1st year: special teams

There could be a steep learning curve for Leo to adjust to the NFL from FCS Wagner, plus the Colts already have an established top three at his position (Kwity Paye, Dayo Odeyingbo). He will have to make a name for himself on special teams.

Day 7, number 221 of the general: CB Jaylon Jones
Year 1: Special Teams, Practice Squad

A three-year starter at Texas A&M, Jones has the experience to provide depth at cornerback. Some scouts believe he could move to safety. That versatility could make him more valuable to the Colts.

Round 7, No. 236 overall: OT Jake Witt
Projection of year 1: support, training team

Witt could make the starting 53 because of the need for depth on an offensive line that struggled last season, but he will be a developmental project. He started his college career as a basketball player and has only been playing on the offensive line for two years.

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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