Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich entered scramble mode when 2020 starter Philip Rivers announced his retirement. Indianapolis immediately targeted a long-term solution at quarterback, reuniting Reich with Carson Wentz. Some analysts favor the Colts to win their division this year, and another impactful draft class could continue tipping the scale.

Ballard hit on most of Indianapolis’s early selections last year, landing starters Julian Blackmon, Michael Pittman Jr., and Jonathan Taylor. However, the Colts have been an every-other-year team under Ballard when it comes to finding gems in the draft. Perhaps this is the year Indianapolis breaks through and produces back-to-back star-studded classes.

I used The Draft Network’s mock draft machine and Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator to justify each of my selections. At least one website had the chosen players available at their listed picks over several simulations. I didn’t create any trades and included an “ideal pick” after every selection for optimistic fans.

Round 1 (No. 21): Kwity Paye, EDGE Michigan

Paye made it to 21 for PFF and TDN. Jaelan Phillips was also available for PFF but not for TDN. I view Phillips as the top edge rusher in the draft, and I don’t think he’ll fall to 21st overall either. That leaves Paye as the best option to replace the production vacated by Denico Autry and Justin Houston.

Colts fans can get excited about Paye lining up alongside DeForest Buckner for at least the next four years. The Michigan defensive end never had standout production in college, but he’s newer to the position. At 6-2, 261 lbs., Paye is an elite athlete. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds and posted 36 reps on the bench press.

Paye is agile, strong, and twitchy. He explodes out of his stance and immediately pushes tackles back into the pocket with his bull rush. Paye also displays elite pursuit speed and motor. However, he’s not refined as a pass rusher. Paye can be a solid starter but won’t become a great player for the Colts unless he adds more counters and moves.

Ideal pick: Christian Darrisaw, OT Virginia Tech

Round 2 (No. 54): Walker Little, OT Stanford

The Colts would’ve loved to start Liam Eichenberg alongside fellow Notre Dame product Quenton Nelson, but he didn’t make it to 54th overall. Little is a great consolation prize because his ceiling is much higher than Eichenberg’s. Unfortunately, the former five-star recruit has only played in one game over the past two years. We’re not sure where Little is in his development as a plug-and-play tackle.

In the simulations I ran, Little was often the best option at tackle for the Colts. Other prospects such as Jackson Carman and Brady Christensen don’t project as starting left tackles and aren’t worth the 54th overall pick. Taking Little is risky, but waiting to draft a left tackle until 127th overall is worse.

Little is 6-7 and weighs 313 lbs. He’s an athletic tackle capable of beating speed rushers to the top of their attacks and recovering when beaten. Little is a good mover in general, but bull rushers can drive him back. At 6-7, he also gives away natural leverage in the running game.

Ideally, the Colts get a more proven tackle at 54th overall, and Little lands somewhere in the third-round.

Ideal pick: Liam Eichenberg, OT Notre Dame

Round 4 (No. 127): Cade Johnson, WR South Dakota St.

Johnson turned heads at the Senior Bowl, proving he’s capable of beating more than just FCS competition. The 6-0, 184 lb. receiver made a name for himself with the Jackrabbits, recording 139 receptions, 2,554 yards, and 25 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Johnson plays with good burst off the line of scrimmage and is more than willing to take contact across the middle.

There are plenty of talented slot receivers in this draft that the Colts could take to push Parris Campbell out of the starting lineup. Johnson isn’t the best slot option in this class, but taking him allows the Colts to address more significant needs on Day 1 and Day 2.

Ideal pick: Tommy Tremble, TE Notre Dame

Round 5 (No. 165): Camryn Bynum, CB California

Bynum was a four-year starter for the Golden Bears. He entered the draft after intercepting six passes and breaking up 28 more throughout his college career. At 6-0, 196 lbs., Bynum can play outside or in the slot. He’s an asset against the run, but teams are concerned about his recovery speed.

Bynum’s best fit in the NFL is in a zone-heavy scheme. He’s extremely disciplined at holding his space in zone, and all of those starting snaps built up his football IQ. Teams will torch Bynum if they see him in man coverage.

Ideal pick: Thomas Graham Jr., CB Oregon

Round 6 (No. 206): Josh Imatorbhebhe, WR Illinois

The Colts began retooling their wide receiver room years ago by drafting Campbell. The Ohio St. speedster hasn’t contributed at the NFL level yet, but Indianapolis hit on Pittman last year and drafted Johnson in this mock. Imatorbhebhe is a project receiver that doesn’t have to see significant playing time as a rookie.

Indianapolis’s other developing threats should give the 6-1, 223 lb. Imatorbhebhe time to develop. He’s an athletic monster with an insane 46.5-inch vertical. However, he was never very productive at Illinois and is little more than a raw athlete. The Colts can help Imatorbhebhe develop his route tree and become a legitimate receiving threat.

Ideal pick: Damar Hamlin, S Pittsburgh

Round 7 (No. 248): Avery Williams, CB Boise St.

Williams is a niche player that won’t excite every team. He’s only 5-8 and weighs 187 lbs., which means he’s a slot in the NFL. Williams is a willing tackler with desirable speed and agility. He ran a 4.41 40-time and 4.02 short shuttle at his pro day.

Williams’ true value shows on special teams. During his four seasons at Boise St., Williams returned six punts and three kicks for touchdowns. He blocked field goals and punts too. There isn’t a better special teams player in this year’s draft.

Ideal pick: Buddy Johnson, LB Texas A&M