2023 NFL Draft: Chris Ballard Lands Left Tackle and Quarterback of the Future in this 7-Round Colts Mock Draft

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) offensive lineman Javontez Spraggins (76) celebrate Hooker's touchdown during the NCAA college football game against Kentucky on Saturday, October 29, 2022 in Knoxville, Tenn.Utvkentucky1029
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) offensive lineman Javontez Spraggins (76) celebrate Hooker's touchdown during the NCAA college football game against Kentucky on Saturday, October 29, 2022 in Knoxville, Tenn.Utvkentucky1029 /

2023 NFL Draft: Chris Ballard Lands Left Tackle and Quarterback of the Future in this 7-Round Colts Mock Draft

Using ESPN’s FPI, the Indianapolis Colts will pick in the top five of the 2023 NFL Draft. The team is also owed a conditional third-round pick from the Washington Commanders due to the Carson Wentz trade. It looks like Wentz won’t play enough to satisfy the conditions to make it a second-rounder, but the extra pick will benefit Colts’ general manager Chris Ballard, regardless of where it lands.

The defense is stout and is mostly young. The offense is led by Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr., a great RB-WR duo. Even though the offensive line has performed poorly, Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith still possess elite potential at their respective positions.

The Indianapolis Colts are not looking for a full-scale rebuild, nor should they. That is not to say trades won’t happen, but a fire sale will never be in the cards while Jim Irsay roams this Earth. High-priced underachievers, like Ryan Kelly, for example, are great trade candidates come NFL Draft time.

General manager Chris Ballard has his work cut out for him. His foundational building blocks are still in place, but nearly all of them play non-premium positions. As talented as Jonathan Taylor, Shaquille Leonard, and Quenton Nelson are, they play RB, LB, and OG, three of the most replaceable positions in the NFL.

The band-aids at quarterback have undeniably set the franchise back. Ballard failed to secure a replacement for left tackle Anthony Castonzo following his retirement, which impacts the Colts’ offensive performance to this day.

Chris Ballard swung and missed on a few defensive backs and defensive linemen in the early rounds, too. Quincy Wilson, Malik Hooker, and Ben Banogu were all selected inside the top-50 picks in their respective drafts; it is fair to say none of them have lived up to that status.

Where Ballard shines is the latter portion of the NFL Draft. He is as good as they come at finding starting-caliber players late on day 2 and throughout day 3. Several of the Colts’ current core fits this bill. This trait of Ballard’s is incredibly important for one reason.

The Colts may lose enough games to land a QB without trading up in the 2023 NFL Draft. If they are still out of range, Chris Ballard can be aggressive by trading up for a signal-caller in the first round. With all of this in mind, let’s take an early look at what the 2023 NFL Draft could look like for the Indianapolis Colts.

Round 1; Pick 4 – Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

For those of you yelling CJ Stroud or Bryce Young, unfortunately neither are available with the Texans and Panthers picking ahead of the Colts. Will Anderson — my top-rated player in the class — also is off the board, going to the Pittsburgh Steelers to form a fearsome duo with TJ Watt.

So what do the Colts do at No. 4 in this scenario? The best player available on my board is Georgia defensive tackle, Jalen Carter, but Indy is set with DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart at the moment. A trade-down is possible, but I see Chris Ballard learning from his previous mistake of passing on a left tackle by selecting Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski.

The first thing you notice when watching Skoronski is how efficient he is with his movements. Whether it be footwork or hand usage, there is very little wasted motion in his game.

The Northwestern brawler brings a relentless motor to the table as a run blocker. Skoronski anchors well in pass protection as well. He uses flawless technique to shut down would-be pass rushers and his athleticism to impact the game on the second level.

The biggest knock on Skoronski comes from his short arms. They reportedly measure somewhere in the 32” range, which is well below the 34” threshold that many teams look for in a left tackle. It is important to look deeper than some measurements when it comes to Skoronski.

One thing that helps alleviate the short arm concern is how strong Skoronski is. He is rarely caught on his heels, keeping impeccable balance on a vast majority of snaps. The aforementioned footwork and athleticism help stop defenders in their tracks.

Look no further than Skoronski’s former teammate, Rashawn Slater, to see that subpar arm length can be covered up if the prospect is elite in nearly every other facet. I am not saying Skoronski will be Slater, that is a tough standard to live up to, but he is the top offensive lineman in this class and will have a long career in the NFL.

The Colts have tried to make Eric Fisher, Matt Pryor, Bernhard Riamann, and Dennis Kelly work at left tackle, but it is time to fix the offensive line. Peter Skoronski can start from day one and provide considerably better play than Colts’ fans have witnessed on the blindside in recent years.

The temptation to reach on a quarterback will be tough to resist, but with another top-36 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and a likely early third-rounder from the Commanders, the Colts have ammo to trade back into round one to get a quarterback at a better value. In fact…

Colts acquire: No. 20 overall
Seahawks acquire: No. 36 overall, No. 76 overall, 2024 1st Round Pick

Round 1; Pick 20 – Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee

After adding a franchise left tackle at No. 4 overall, the Indianapolis Colts trade up with the Seattle Seahawks, this time acquiring their quarterback of the future. Full disclosure, this is a tad rich for my liking, but sometimes you have to pay a little extra to secure your guy.

My reason for going with Peter Skoronski over Will Levis at No. 4 overall is two-fold. On my big board, the gap between Skoronski and the next offensive tackle is bigger than Levis to Hooker. The other reason is that I firmly believe that whoever plays quarterback next will fail if the left tackle position is not addressed.

Hendon Hooker is experiencing a breakout season in 2022 while leading the Tennessee Volunteers. He has performed well all season long, with his marquee performance coming in an upset over the Alabama Crimson Tide. Hooker witnessed his first down game against Georgia, but that should not erase all the good that came before it.

Hooker is a precision passer from the pocket. He puts the ball in a good spot for his pass catchers and gives them a chance to create after the catch. Downfield, Hooker does well hitting his receivers on the deep ball. He has more than enough arm strength to get the ball where it needs to be.

Another major selling point in Hooker’s game is his dual-threat capabilities. With his previous team, the Virginia Tech Hokies, Hooker ran the football as much as he passed it. His time with Tennessee has turned him into more of a pocket passer, but head coach Josh Heupel allows his quarterback to create with his legs still.

A few glaring red flags serve as the reason for hesitancy with Hendon Hooker. The first one will sound familiar to Colts fans… Hooker holds the ball far too long when surveying the field, resulting in sacks rather than throwaways. Jacoby Brissett, anyone?

Another knock is how unique the Tennessee offensive scheme is. Hooker runs it like a finely tuned engine, but considering how he looks when his first read is not available, it gives reason to think that the scheme props him up.

The last one is his age. Hooker will be 25 when he is taken in the 2023 NFL Draft. The Colts selecting him in the first round would make Hooker only the ninth quarterback 25 or older to be drafted in the history of the NFL Draft.

Hendon Hooker has all the tools to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. His ceiling is likely lower than others in this class, but he is going to provide starting-caliber play early on in his career. Assuming the Colts hire a new head coach this offseason and don’t stick with Jeff Saturday, they will have the ability to pair Hooker with a guy that knows how to maximize his potential.

It stings to eat into the draft capital, but coming away with Peter Skoronski and Hendon Hooker on day one of the 2023 NFL Draft could go a long way to calming the storm in Indianapolis. Adding these two to the offense would transform it, and allow them to stop wasting such a stacked defense on the other side.

Round 4 – Deuce Vaughn, RB, Kansas State

The Indianapolis Colts traded away Nyheim Hines at the trade deadline, and after seeing how quickly injuries derailed Jonathan Taylor’s season, the team likely looks for added insurance behind their star running back this offseason.

Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn is as explosive as they come. The Wildcat weapon is built like a bowling ball, and due to his lack of ideal measurements, he could fall into the early portion of day three. Chris Ballard would be wise to add another dynamic playmaker to their offense.

Round 5 – RJ Moten, DB, Michigan

RJ Moten is a big safety that thrives in the box, similar to what the Colts drafted with Nick Cross. My reason for going with Moten, other than the fact he checks most of the boxes Chris Ballard looks for, is the versatility that he brings to the backend of the defense.

I see Moten as a true hybrid that can fill in for injuries at linebacker and safety. He is a solid athlete and plays with a chip on his shoulder that brings the best out of him. The Michigan standout would bring some more energy to an already amped-up secondary.

Round 6 (via BUF) – Jarrett Patterson, C, Notre Dame

Ryan Kelly is a trade candidate this offseason. The Colts have dipped into the Notre Dame pool before with Quenton Nelson, and they do it again here with the Fighting Irish starting center Jarrett Patterson.

Patterson is another low-ceiling, high-floor player that fits the Chris Ballard MO in the later rounds. He can play immediately or learn the ropes from Kelly if the latter is retained for 2023.

Round 7 – Riley Moss, CB, Iowa

It is no secret that the Colts need help at the cornerback position. Ideally, Chris Ballard will add a starter through free agency or a trade, but late on day three is a great time to add depth.

Riley Moss will not blow you away from a physical standpoint, but his work ethic will get him drafted — and potentially allow him to carve out a career in the NFL. He is a three-year starter at cornerback and, at minimum, brings competition to the position group.

Round 7 (via TB) – Tiawan Mullen, DB, Indiana

We are not done adding to the secondary. With the final pick of this Mock 2023 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts select Tiawan Mullen, a defensive back from their backyard. If Mullen were only a few inches taller, he would have a chance of coming off the board on day two.

Alas, the Hoosiers star defensive back is smaller than his listed height of 5-foot-10, leading many to believe that Mullen’s future is in the slot in the NFL. Kenny Moore is entrenched in that role, for now, but rumblings of Moore’s unhappiness have been bubbling for a while now and Mullen would serve as the ideal replacement.