The latest debate in Colts country isn’t deliberating whether ‘Coke or Pepsi’, even ‘Mac or PC’ is superior, but rather if the Indianapolis Colts should select Penn State running back Saquon Barkley or NC State pass rusher Bradley Chubb with the 3rd overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft among other top prospect possibilities.
Team owner Jim Irsay made headlines earlier this week, when he alluded to the possibility that his franchise could be leaning toward selecting a certain superstar level running back (i.e. Barkley) with the 3rd overall pick.
However, as highly as Barkley is regarded as a running back prospect (maybe the best prospect at his position to come out since Adrian Peterson in 2007), it’s simply a more prudent idea to select the pass rusher: Bradley Chubb.
Last season, the league’s leading rusher, the Kansas City Chiefs Kareem Hunt, was selected in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft, whereas arguably the NFL’s future Offensive Rookie of the Year, the New Orleans Saints Alvin Kamara, was selected just about 20 picks earlier in the 3rd round at running back respectively.
Among four of the NFL’s other Top 10 leading rushers this season, Le’Veon Bell (Round 2), LeSean McCoy (Round 2), Jordan Howard (Round 5), and C.J. Anderson (Undrafted) were not even selected in the first round of their respective draft classes–meaning including Hunt, 50% of the league’s Top 10 leading rushers weren’t even first round selections.
Not to mention, one of the best running backs in the game, Arizona Cardinals All-Pro running back David Johnson (Round 3), only lasted a game this season because of a season-ending wrist injury, who would’ve presumably also been in the ‘leading rusher’ picture.
The returns on a first-round running back haven’t necessarily been great either:
Don't draft a running back in the 1st round pic.twitter.com/gqWNWRq8fi
— guga (@guga31bb) January 3, 2018
Now, Barkley could be a generational talent and a ‘surefire Hall of Famer’ as any prospect in this draft class, but selecting him with the 3rd overall pick might not be the best allocation of the Colts draft resources–especially when a potential franchise pass rusher like Chubb is at stake.
Not only do running backs have a limited shelf-life in the NFL of just an average career of 2.57 years, but this also happens to be one of the deepest running back draft classes in recent memory:
Running back https://t.co/c0ALcdu6BE
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 3, 2018
Ronald Jones II
Seriously, this RB class is loaded. #NFLDraft
— Doug Moore (@DMooreNFL) January 2, 2018
The Colts could easily get that elusive pass rusher in Chubb with the 3rd overall pick and still get a very good, if not great running back in the second or third round of this year’s draft–even if the prospect isn’t quite on Barkley’s transcendent Hall of Fame level.
As great as Barkley could potentially be, it still doesn’t matter either if the Colts don’t also take the necessary steps to improve the interior of their offensive line with better starting offensive guards, as even the best running back will have a hard time running through non-existent running lanes.
Meanwhile, the Colts had just the 2nd least amount of sacks in the entire league last season (25), as their season sack leader, Jabaal Sheard, had just 5.5 sacks, and no other player had more than 3.0 sacks.
Selecting Chubb wouldn’t be just about filling a position for the position’s sake, as like Barkley, he’s also an elite prospect in his own right:
Bradley Chubb was a force for the Wolfpack this season. pic.twitter.com/sxfrPjIgdm
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) December 13, 2017
Specifically, per Pro Football Focus, his 55 total quarterback pressures were the 2nd most among all FBS-I ‘edge defenders’, and he had the 3rd highest pass rush productivity as well respectively.
On the season, the senior standout for the Wolfpack had 72 tackles, 23.0 tackles for loss, and 10.0 sacks in 12 starts–earning All-ACC First Team and Defensive Player of the Year honors:
Yo! @PackFootball DE Bradley Chubb is a monster. Great combo of size, AA, strength & hand skills as a pass rusher. 25.5 career sacks. It's hard to avoid the comparison to Mario Williams based on his skill, production and jersey #.
— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) November 11, 2017
Just finished doing Bradley Chubb. If I had a choice between him or any of the QB’s, it’s Chubb hands down. Future Pro Bowler & scheme versatile
— Greg Gabriel (@greggabe) December 21, 2017
With plays like this, it’s easy to see why:
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) October 6, 2017
Impact pass rushers in their prime rarely–if ever hit the open free agency market, and unless a franchise is selecting in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft (maybe even Top 7), there’s no real great way to find one.
Look no further than last year, when premier pass rushers such as Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul, and even lesser types such as Nick Perry and Mario Addison were poised to hit the open free agent market in 2017.
Want to know how many of those players actually became free agents?
Zero. Zip. Nadda.
Each pass rusher of that group was either franchise tagged or signed a lucrative multi-year deal with their current teams before so much as sniffing the wide open green pastures that is NFL free agency.
The days where a franchise like the Colts could find a Robert Mathis-like gem anymore in the 5th round of an NFL Draft are fewer and farther in between, as teams have more scouting resources at their disposal and pure pass rushers (even athletic specimens) are held at a premium in today’s passing league.
By getting a much needed ‘alpha dog’ pass rusher like Chubb–like Mathis or even Dwight Freeney once were for the Colts before him, it makes the whole defense better by the ability to consistently command a double team and generate pass pressure.
Chubb may not be quite a ‘Von Miller‘ uber-pass rushing prospect coming out of college, but at the same time, he’s a player who could strike some much-needed fear into opposing offensive tackles and quarterbacks, which the Colts currently lack (and have for quite some time).
His arrival would allow last year’s top pass rusher, Sheard, to be more of a complementary pass rusher instead of ‘the guy’, as well as enable the John Simon‘s and Tarrell Basham‘s of the world to also get more favorable one-on-one blocking matchups off the edge pass rushing.
Not to mention, the Colts secondary would collectively improve, as cornerbacks and safeties aren’t expected to play in coverage for an eternity like last season–knowing that a Chubb-led pass rush will no longer leave them as sitting ducks.
That’s not to say that Saquon Barkley won’t become a great, even future Hall of Fame running back (and I wouldn’t necessarily be upset about the Colts selecting him as it stands), but at the same time, the Colts would be better served finding that rare, elusive young impact pass rusher with the #3 overall pick–the only way they reasonably can.
The franchise could still find another really good (if not elite running back) in the early-mid rounds of this year’s NFL Draft in what’s projected to be an ultra-deep class.
Otherwise, their pass rush figures to remain once again non-existent.
However, adding Chubb could instantly change those fortunes for the Colts.