Rumors of the Indianapolis Colts’ trading up in the draft have infiltrated the team’s offseason. Those reports cooled in March, however, when the Carolina Panthers moved up from No. 9 to No. 1 (previously owned by the Chicago Bears).
With just three weeks until the draft, CBS Sports writer Ryan Wilson thinks the Colts will do the opposite in a new mock draft. He projects Indianapolis to give up the No. 4 pick for the Las Vegas Raiders’ No. 7 and No. 34 picks.
By trading down, Wilson said the Colts would elect against selecting a quarterback. Instead, he thinks they will take Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez at No. 7.
“The Colts need a quarterback in the worst way but they don’t want to compound matters by overdrafting one here,” Wilson wrote. “Instead, they trade down, pick up some draft capital and get one of the most athletic players in this class (in Gonzalez).”
In addition to Gonzalez’s size and strength, Wilson touted his 40-yard dash time (4.38) but also acknowledged that he needs “to improve in run support.”
All four of Gonzalez’s picks happened during the 2022 season when he was given All-Pac 12 First-Team honors.
What Would Lead to the Colts Trading Down?
Wilson believes the Colts wouldn’t trade down on their own accord. If it were to happen, another deal would lead Indianapolis to move backward in the draft.
In a pre-draft trade, Wilson has the Tennessee Titans leapfrogging the Colts by trading with the Arizona Cardinals (who currently own the No. 3 pick). The Titans would get No. 3, while the Cardinals would receive No. 11, No. 41 and a 2024 first-rounder.
With the No. 3 pick, Wilson projects the Titans to take Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson. Wilson said Richardson’s pro day has done enough to convince teams of his highlight-reel potential.
“Richardson has solidified his spot as QB3 — and he can only go up in the final few weeks of the pre-draft process,” Wilson said. “In fact, my co-host, former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, said that he thinks the Seahawks at No. 5 would be an intriguing landing spot, and we’ve long maintained that the Colts and new coach Shane Steichen make some sense too.”
It already turns out that the Colts have a recent history of trading down in the draft under general manager Chris Ballard’s leadership.
Ballard’s Pre-Draft Trade History
One of the Colts’ most notable pre-draft trades involved trading the 2020 No. 13 pick to the San Francisco 49ers for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Buckner was named an AP First-Team All-Pro in 2020 and a Pro Bowler the following year.
In terms of trading up in the first round, however, that hasn’t happened during Ballard’s now-seven-year tenure. Ballard has historically traded down to increase draft capital and address specific positional needs.
For example, he moved down from No. 3 to No. 6 in 2017 to take five-time Pro Bowl left guard Quenton Nelson. By trading down with the New York Jets, Ballard acquired capital to select five-year starting right tackle Braden Smith and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin.
In 2019, Ballard sent the No. 26 pick to Washington for No. 46 and a 2020 second-round selection. The Colts sent No. 46 to the Cleveland Browns for No. 49 (defensive end Ben Banogu) and No. 144 (cornerback Marvell Tell III).
A year later, Indianapolis took its eventual top wide receiver in Michael Pittman Jr. with Washington’s second-round pick (No. 34).
Ballard could once again be willing to move down in the draft to take players that will immediately inherit significant roster roles. Considering his pre-draft trade and positive player development history, Ballard was named the NFL’s best general manager and top talent evaluator by 33 NFL agents in 2021.