There are so few big-name stars in this year’s NFL draft that the NFL Network felt compelled to create one.
No, Leon Sandcastle — Hall of Famer Deion Sanders’ fictional alter ego — will not be the No. 1 overall pick tonight when the Kansas City Chiefs go on the clock in New York City. But that is one of the 2013 draft’s few certainties.
Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel is the favorite to hear his name called first. Unless, of course, it’s Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher — the left tackle rumored to be favored by new Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.
Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, Oregon’s Dion Jordan and Alabama’s Dee Milliner are projected to be the first defensive players off the board. But BYU’s Ezekial Ansah — a 6-foot-5, 267-pound athletic freak with just nine collegiate starts to his name — could leap-frog all of them and go No. 2 to Jacksonville.
Other questions that should be answered tonight include: Where will West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith land? How many guards will be taken in the top 10? And will this be the first draft in 50 years without a first-round running back?
But the question foremost in local fans’ minds is this: Who will the Indianapolis Colts draft with the 24th pick?
The answer, quite honestly, could be no one.
Several analysts believe this year’s draft could have more value in the second and third rounds than in the first. With several teams at the top of the second round expected to be interested in trading back into the late first to take a quarterback, there could be an opportunity for the Colts to recoup the second-round pick they sent last year to Miami for cornerback Vontae Davis.
But if no viable trade emerges, general manager Ryan Grigson has confidence he’ll find a solid player at 24.
“I love casting a wide net and just narrowing it down,” Grigson said. “The staff I have and the communication we have and the mutual respect we have, with the coaches and the scouts, it’s a great synergy. As long as we maintain that, I think we are going to have really good drafts.”
Here are five prospects the Colts could be interested in if they stay put:
- Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Rhodes has the size to get physical with the NFL’s growing stable of big wide receivers.
His abilities as a press corner also fit nicely with Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano’s scheme, and he’s become a popular pick in mock drafts.
The biggest question is whether the draft’s second-ranked cornerback will remain on the board long enough to get to the Colts.
- Datone Jones, DE, UCLA: The former Bruin could be the rare 3-4 defensive end who can be effective rushing the passer.
Draftniks love his quick surge and ability to collapse the pocket. And he’s powerful enough also to hold up against the run.
He lacks the name appeal of some of the skill position players that also could be on the board, but Jones is a solid pick that fills a need.
- Robert Woods, WR, Southern Cal: Scouts who flocked to the Trojans’ pro day to get a look at quarterback Matt Barkley seemed to come away more impressed by Woods.
The 6-foot, 190-pounder has the versatility to play outside as well as in the slot, and he has the college production (210 catches, 3,218 yards, 41 touchdowns) Grigson tends to value.
Add in soft hands and potential in the return game, and there’s the makings of a late first-rounder.
- Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama: Vick Ballard proved to be a steal as a fifth-rounder in 2012, but the draft’s top-rated running back might be hard to pass on.
Lacy ran for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns for the national champs a year ago, and some have compared his power running style to Seattle star Marshawn Lynch.
Others believe his production was the result of the Crimson Tide’s NFL-caliber offensive line and that he’ll struggle at the next level.
- Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame: It’s unlikely the well-publicized girlfriend hoax will have much impact on Grigson’s thinking.
Te’o’s performance against Alabama in the national championship game is another matter altogether.
But the Colts have made improving the run defense a priority this offseason, and Te’o would add an instinctive, explosive hitter in the middle of the scheme. Also, inside linebacker is one of the few positions the team did not address in free agency.