The 2018 NFL season is over and once again it is the New England Patriots celebrating Super Bowl success. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have now led the Patriots to six Super Bowl titles but New England will be wary of struggles on the horizon. With the Patriots aging, we may be about to see a new dominant force in the AFC and the Indianapolis Colts fit the bill. With a healthy Andrew Luck for the whole year, it would be foolish to write Indy off.
Expected to struggle in 2018, the Colts put together an incredible run of form in the second half of the season to qualify for the postseason. Frank Reich’s men travelled to AFC South rivals Houston Texans on wildcard weekend and produced a sensational display to advance to the next round, but fell short against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. With a couple of new additions, the Colts will be right in the mix again in 2019.
And Jerry Tillery could be a prime target for Indianapolis in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Notre Dame defensive lineman ticks all the right boxes to enjoy a successful career at Lucas Oil Stadium and we could see Indy make their move come April. Tillery was explosive at the position during his college career and most will be expecting him to go in the mid-late first round. If the Colts are lucky, he will still be available at pick number 26.
At 22 years old, Tillery has entered the NFL Draft following his senior year. He hasn’t tried to rush his way to professional football, instead taking the time to hone in on his weaknesses – which most teams will view as a positive. Maturity and experience are two invaluable traits at this level and Tillery brings lots to the table. On paper, there is lots to like and Tillery will almost certainly go to one of the 2018 playoff teams.
However, there is always the chance that someone takes an earlier risk. The Colts will hope that Tillery falls down to the 26th pick but Reich and the Indianapolis office may opt to trade up if they believe that he is worth it. As of February 5th, the Colts are 13.00 to win the Super Bowl according to Oddschecker markets and plenty of punters will be tempted to back Indianapolis to at least win the AFC South if they manage to acquire Tillery.
Tillery is also versatile – another key trait that NFL head coaches look for. With the ability to line up in a number of positions on the defensive line, Tillery is the ideal pick for a team with lots of moving part. At Indianapolis, the collective is more important than its parts but the Colts would have a real stud with Tillery. If he is happy to play a team role, Indy will benefit directly from this. Reich is excellent with man management and he will have a plan to get Tillery involved as often as possible.
With the NFL Combine taking place at Lucas Oil Stadium once again in 2019, Indianapolis coaches can get a close look at Tillery. Individual meetings with the player will be key here too – Reich is building a defensive machine but you’ve got to be made of the right stuff. If the Colts head coach believes that Tillery doesn’t have the right attitude or ability to adapt, Indianapolis won’t take the risk. Your first round pick HAS to be spot on.
Notre Dame DT Jerry Tillery continues to dominate up front. Wins this rep with a club/rip combo against the LG to press through the crease and force the strip sack.— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) September 15, 2018
I highlighted Tillery among one of the players that would fit the Colts for @ZachHicks2 article. pic.twitter.com/P0Fs3I1CGG
The previous Indianapolis regime got their first rounds pick largely wrong on the whole – with the obvious exception of Andrew Luck. Wide receiver Philip Dorsett, now with the Patriots, was the strangest pick of all and we are likely to see a few eyebrow-raising selections in the 2019 Draft. It will be equally surprising to see a player of Tillery’s calibre fall into the second round; talent-wise, he is right up there with the best rookie defensive tackles in the draft class.
The latest mock draft on NFL.com has Tillery ranked as the fourth best defensive tackle – though many would dispute that he deserves a top three berth. Tilly recorded eight sacks for Notre Dame in 2018; tied for 35th most at college level. This tally would be impressive for an outside pass rusher let alone an interior defensive tackle. Indianapolis need a player who can pressure from the inside and Tillery can certainly do that.
While his run game needs some work, Tillery’s ability to make explosive plays at the line gives him an edge over some of his peers. An elite pass rusher from the tackle position, he can force running backs to change their route; which is often as good as a tackle for a loss. He is an absolute nuisance for offensive linemen and his huge six-foot-seven frame will make opposing quarterbacks edgy in the pocket.
The Colts should take this into account, particularly when evaluating their AFC South rivals. Tillery could wreak havoc on the defensive line and force the likes of Marcus Mariota and Deshaun Watson out of the pocket. Both are mobile quarterbacks but this should give the likes of Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker the chance to make big plays. If you’re looking to put opponents under pressure, what better way than putting a monster on the defensive line?
The Indianapolis Colts had one of the worst defensive units in the National Football League in 2017 and Reich made stability on that side of the ball one of his main priority ahead of last season. And they didn’t disappoint. The AFC South side finished the year with the 11th best record in yards allowed per game, 10th in points allowed per game and eighth in rushing yards allowed per game. Not bad for a team expected to finish with a sub .500 record. Tillery has the potential to blossom into a household name in the NFL, no matter where he ends up. For Indianapolis, defensive pressure is the main area that requires improvement ahead of the 2019 campaign and the Notre Dame star would give the Colts a real boost. On the whole, Tillery is an exciting pick with elements of risk but the reward could be massive. The Colts already have Darius Leonard and Jabaal Sheard and Tillery could slot perfectly into Reich’s scheme.