The Indianapolis Colts have high expectations for a few of their rookies heading into the 2022 season. But even before playing a down in the regular season, Colts rookie safety Nick Cross has already looked like a “draft day steal.”
At least that’s what NFL analyst Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report wrote. Sobleski named Cross as one of those 10 rookies who already look like a 2022 draft steal.
“Cross plays like he’s shot out of a cannon. Sometimes, that trait can be positive and negative,” Sobleski wrote. “His collegiate tape suggests he can get caught with his eyes in the backfield or he’ll bite on a double-move, though Cross’ hair trigger and 4.34-second 40-yard dash speed allow him to be an eraser, either playing downhill or on the back end.
“With the proper guidance, the Colts’ third-round draft pick can be one of the league’s best defensive rookies.”
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Colts Traded Up for Opportunity to Draft Cross
It says something about a player when he’s a draft steal despite their team needing to trade up the board to land him.
The Colts traded their 2022 fourth-round pick (No. 179 overall) and a 2023 third-rounder for an additional third-round selection (No. 96 overall) this year. With that pick, Indianapolis drafted Cross.
Essentially, the Colts gave up a Day 2 selection next year to move up 83 spots in the 2022 draft. It was a price well worth paying for the Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard.
“I remember asking the group, ‘Where would you take this kid if he was in next year’s draft?’ and it was second round,” Ballard told the media after Day 2 of the 2022 NFL Draft. “So, we don’t have any problem giving up our third (round pick) next year to go get him.”
The investment is already paying off. Starting Colts strong safety Khari Willis unexpectedly retired on June 15. Then free-agent signee Rodney McLeod underwent offseason knee surgery and wasn’t a full participant early in training camp.
But the Indianapolis defense hasn’t really missed a beat, as Cross has seamlessly transitioned into the starting role opposite Julian Blackmon.
Regardless of what it cost the Colts in next year’s draft, landing a Day 1 starter in the third round is going to be considered a steal.
“He doesn’t act like a normal rookie to me and I think he’s going to help us out a lot,” former NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Colts new cornerback Stephon Gilmore said about Cross, according to Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Moore.
Cross Impressive During Preseason
The rookie safety saw a decent amount of playing time during the preseason. Even in Week 2 when the Colts rested their starters against the Detroit Lions, Cross played 23 snaps.
With his preseason opportunities, Cross shined. After two games, Pro Football Focus gave Cross the best player grade among safeties in the league.
Preseason performance must always be taken with a grain of salt. But as Sobleski wrote, Cross appears on the path to being one of the best rookie defenders in the league.
It might not even be outlandish to state he’s an early sleeper for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Cross will make his official NFL debut on Sunday, September 11 against the Houston Texans.