Colts finish draft weekend with unusual class
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Ryan Grigson may never have another draft class quite like this one.
After scouring the nation’s best college football players, the Colts general manager used his first three picks on a German-born pass rusher, an interior lineman who played college football in the Midwest and started high school in Idaho and a center whose father has spent nearly four decades working for the Saudi royal family.
Soon, Indianapolis will find out if they’re as big a hit on the field, too.
“In terms of their off the field and overall stories, they are all very unique human beings and some of their stories are amazing what they’ve overcome,” Grigson said after making the last pick of the weekend -- 264-pound tight end Justice Cunningham. “The first two guys off the board were just amazing. The other ones, whether it’s injury stuff or lack of size, these guys have all been resilient and that’s what these guys are really all about and that’s what we’re all about.”
It was no secret that this year’s draft was uniquely strong along the offensive and defensive lines.
So Grigson, a former offensive lineman, played to the strengths.
He chose college defensive end Bjoern Werner with Indy’s first-round pick, No. 24 overall, with visions of turning him into an outside linebacker.
Then Grigson plugged more holes along an offensive line that allowed 41 sacks and dozens more hits on franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. Even though the Colts signed two potential starters in free agency, right tackle Gosder Cherilus and guard Donald Thomas, Grigson took Hugh Thornton in the third round and center Khaled Holmes in the fourth.
It should make for an interesting collection in the locker room.
Luck and Werner can trade stories about growing up in Germany when both were watching NFL Europe.
Luck was in Europe because his father, Oliver, was the general manager of the Rhein Fire. Werner grew up in his native country looking for a way into the NFL.
“The last six years I was believing that I could make it, but, of course, I just say it like that,” Werner said. “Two years ago, before my sophomore year when I was named a starter for the Florida State Seminoles, I knew ‘Wow you could not only like make it, you can get drafted pretty high.’ It’s just really, really amazing to see my biography just for myself.”
Indy expects Werner to solidify a pass rush that struggled with the switch to 3-4 last season and is now without Dwight Freeney, the Colts’ career sacks leader.
On paper, he looks a lot like an international version of Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. Suggs is 6-foot-3, 260 pounds and scared some teams off when he ran a 4.84-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 2003. Werner is 6-3, 266 and also raised red flags by running a 4.83 at the combine in February. Both wound up getting taken in the first round by teams that projected them as NFL linebackers after playing almost exclusively at defensive end in college.
The Colts’ other big need was protecting Luck.
So they took Thornton, a 6-foot-3, 320-pound guard, who grew up in Idaho, endured his parents’ divorce and then moved to Ohio after his mother and sister were murdered in Jamaica as he slept in a nearby room. After all that, Thornton is staying close to his roots.
“I’ve got a lot of family from Ohio so I’ll have a lot of my support system at games,” Thornton said. “I’m an overcomer. I’ve overcome a lot of adversity and I’m going to give nothing but the best to the organization.”
Holmes, Indy’s fourth-round pick at No. 121 overall, might have the strangest story.
The 6-foot 3, 302-pound center grew up listening to his mother reading classics from Homer and Plato instead of the usual childhood favorites. He played the cello and basketball when he was deemed too big to play Pop Warner football, and his family has a distinguished football legacy.
Holmes’ father was a defensive lineman at Michigan under Bo Schembechler and turned down a chance to play in the NFL so he could become a business manager for the Saudi royal family. Holmes’ brother, Alex, played two years in the NFL after winning back-to-back national championships at Southern California in 2003 and 2004, and his sister just happens to be married to Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
Now, the newest Southern Cal grad is developing a mobile app as part of his master’s program, and for the first time since his freshman season in high school, he won’t be snapping balls to Matt Barkley.
“I’m excited to do that,” Holmes said when asked about lining up in front of Luck. “He’s such a great player. He proved himself in the NFL last year. We had some battles with him in college. I’m excited to be on his team.”
But the Colts didn’t stop there.
Grigson traded a fourth-round pick in 2014 to move back into the fifth round to take the 329-pound Montori Hughes, who was booted off Tennessee’s team following multiple off-the-field incidents, and resurrected his career at Tennessee-Martin. He adds another big body on a defensive end that has undergone a major makeover this offseason. Coach Chuck Pagano compared him to Ravens Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata.
The Colts closed out the draft by taking safety John Boyett of Oregon, who played in just one game last season because of injuries to both knees; 5-foot-7 running back Kerwynn Williams, who led Utah State to a bowl game last season; and Cunningham, who initially was called the wrong name during the Mr. Irrelevant ceremony.
So when the three-day rookie mini-camp convenes May 10, this draft class will have plenty to discuss. The only question is how everyone will perform.
“We’ve got tough, hard-nosed guys that are physical,” Pagano said. “This is a dynamic class, and I feel good about these guys.”