This is the final edition of What to Expect for 2011. We've covered Castonzo, Ijalana, Nevis, and Carter this week. After the season, we'll look back at the series and evaluate the rookie year for the players.
The Colts final pick was surprising in the specific, but not in general. Indy took Chris Rucker a corner out of Michigan State. A big, physical Marlin Jackson-like player, the selection of Rucker was in keeping with the Colts' trend of regularly drafting corner backs.
It turns out that the 6th round is a popular round for taking defensive backs. Since 2004, there have been 45 safeties and corners taken. Because Rucker has been mentioned as a big physical DB who could end up at safety, it's fair to include the safeties as well. 13 of the 45 players taken never made an NFL squad. Only six of the 45 ever became starters at any point in their careers. Only four were starters their rookie years (Afalva, Bethea, Harris and Brown). Only 11 of the 45 collected at least 10 tackles in their rookie season.
Essentially, if a rookie 6th round DB makes the team and plays at all, he's way ahead of the curve.
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The Colts love to take defensive backs. Since 2002, they've taken 19 different DBs in the draft. 17 made the team (including Kevin Thomas who got hurt in rookie minicamp last year). Of the 19, 10 eventually became starters at some point in their career for some team. Five became starters of at least 8 games as rookies (Powers, Bethea, David, Doss, Strickland). 10 of the 19 had at least 15 tackles in their rookie season. The Colts take DBs liberally, and then play the guys who can play.
Rucker is coming into a deep secondary for corners. The Colts have Powers, Tryon, Hayden, and Lacey who have all played extensively. They also have Kevin Thomas who should be healthy and ready to go. Polian compared Rucker to Marlin Jackson physically. Jackson occasionally played safety and was looking to make the move to the position with Philadelphia before his knee blew. The Colts clearly think Rucker can be physical presence and good tackler. That means he should be able to carve out a nice role for himself on special teams if no where else.
The history of 6th round DBs is not illustrious. A fair expectation for Rucker is that he makes the team and contributes a dozen tackles over the course of the season. That would be a top 10 season for a 6th round rookie DB since 2004. There is very little chance he'll ever become a starter or a marquee player. The only 6th round DB since 2004 to make a Pro Bowl was Bethea. Rucker is the kind of player teams pick to shore up special teams and to create depth.
If he gives the Colts anything at all in 2011, he'll have exceeded expectations.
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This concludes the What to Expect series for 2011. Bear in mind, that many of these players may prove far better than the meager expectations I've set this week. These are meant to be simple baselines so that we don't expect a level of production from a player that is out of line with normal expectations for the draft slot. It's entirely possible Nevis could be a force and get 5 sacks or that Ijalana could take the RT job from day one. Carter could rush for 1,000 yards. Anything is possible. By having realistic expectations, however, we can better praise players who do better than the norm as well as fairly judge players whose career is on a perfectly acceptable arc.
Here's hoping that all five Colts' picks crush these expectations. More to the point, here's hoping we judge them all fairly.