Jaylon Carlies

AFC South Notes: Colts, Nabers, Texans, Jags

The Colts‘ wide receiver room includes two starters acquired before Shane Steichen‘s arrival — Michael Pittman Jr., Alec Pierce — and the team made a three-year, $70MM commitment to its No. 1 target in March. Steichen is starting to put his stamp on the WR room, however, with the Colts having drafted Josh Downs in last year’s third round and Adonai Mitchell in this year’s second. As Chris Ballard continues to run Indianapolis’ draft, ESPN.com’s Stephen Holder notes Steichen “strongly advocated” for Mitchell in the second round.

Mitchell is unlikely to stroll into a starting spot early, as Holder adds the Texas product will be expected to begin training camp as the top backup behind Pittman, Pierce and Downs. But the ex-Longhorns standout’s draft slot (No. 52) suggests he will be heard from early in his career. The Colts have seen mixed results from their second-round WRs under Ballard, with Pittman shining and Parris Campbell struggling to stay on the field. Pierce (No. 53 overall in 2022) has eclipsed 500 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons. A Georgia transfer, Mitchell blazed to a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the Combine. Although he only topped 450 receiving yards in one college season (2023, with 845 and 11 touchdowns), plenty will be expected from a Colts team that has struggled with receiver depth for most of Ballard’s GM tenure.

Here is the latest from the AFC South:

  • Staying on the WR topic, the Titans had a contingency plan in the event one of the teams above them at No. 7 zagged. The Giants were seemingly down to QB or WR at No. 6 throughout the pre-draft process, but a post-draft report suggested they were also eyeing Joe Alt. The Chargers were both connected to Alt and JC Latham at No. 5. In a scenario in which targets Latham and Alt were off the board, ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler notes Malik Nabers would have been the Tennessee pick at 7. A Nabers choice would have left the OL-needy Titans less equipped up front, and Latham filled a bigger need. The team has since signed Tyler Boyd to team with outside targets DeAndre Hopkins and Calvin Ridley.
  • The Colts are changing some of their rookies’ positions ahead of their first NFL offseason programs. Ballard said fifth-round pick Jaylon Carlies will move from safety to linebacker, with the Indianapolis Star’s Joel Erickson indicating fifth-round safety Jaylin Simpson is sliding from safety to cornerback. Simpson has CB experience but moved to safety while at Auburn. Before Day 3 investments, the Colts did not address the cornerback position beyond Kenny Moore‘s re-signing. This leaves some uncertainty here — particularly on the outside.
  • Third-round Colts draftee Matt Goncalves spent his college career at left and right tackle, but ProFootballNetwork.com’s Adam Caplan notes the rookie will be given time at guard this offseason. The Day 2 pick will compete for a backup job as a rookie, per Holder, as it appears Indy is planning to keep its low-cost starters (Bernhard Raimann, Will Fries) in place alongside veterans Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith.
  • The Texans will make an adjustment at a key front office post. The team did not renew director of pro personnel Ronnie McGill‘s contract, KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson notes. McGill followed GM Nick Caserio from New England in 2021; the Texans had promoted him to the director post in 2022. Teams regularly make scouting adjustments post-draft, and a notable Texans hire will be on tap.
  • A scouting veteran of more than 30 years, Tom McConnaughey is retiring from his Jaguars post. The veteran staffer, who has been with the Jags since 2021, will leave after three years as a national scout with the team, InsidetheLeague.com’s Neil Stratton tweets. McConnaughey spent 26 years with the Chargers prior to moving to Jacksonville.
  • In addition to hiring A.J. Highsmith and Keenan Agnew, the Titans are adding Sam Summerville to their scouting staff. Summerville is expected to join the team as a national scout, per Stratton. The Bears recently parted ways with Summerville, a former Fritz Pollard Alliance scout of the year honoree, after 12 years.

Colts Sign Round 1 DE Laiatu Latu, Four Other Draftees

Thursday’s run of first-rounders inking rookie deals will continue with Laiatu Latu. The Colts agreed to terms with their top pick, who is now signed through 2027.

The UCLA prospect — the first defender off the board in this year’s draft, at No. 15 — will see his contract fully guaranteed, as all first-rounders’ deals are, and the Colts can keep him on this deal through 2028 via the fifth-year option. For now, Latu will get to work building on his Los Angeles-based career resurgence.

[RELATED: Colts Pick Up Kwity Paye’s Fifth-Year Option]

A neck injury at Washington forced a medical retirement from Latu, but he resurfaced with the Bruins in 2022. Last season’s Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year showing (13 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss) solidified Latu’s value as a first-rounder. With six QBs going off the board in the first 12 picks, other teams opted to fill wide receiver and tackle needs. The Raiders opted for a value pick in Brock Bowers. This left Latu on the board for the Colts, who jumped at the chance to grab a player they viewed as the draft’s top defender.

Latu began to display first-round-level form with a 10.5-sack 2022 season at the then-Chip Kelly-run program. He also intercepted two passes last season. The Colts had made offers to trade up in Round 1, and pre-draft reports suggested Indianapolis was targeting a skill-position player. Malik Nabers may well have been Indy’s target, but the Colts circled back to the WR position in Round 2 by taking Texas’ Adonai Mitchell. Latu will be plugged into a suddenly deep DE corps.

The Colts did not meet with Latu on a “30” visit, but they joined most teams in being comfortable with his medical outlook. The Falcons were interested enough in Latu they attempted to trade back into the middle of Round 1 — after eschewing their edge-rushing need to take Michael Penix Jr. at No. 8 — to draft the Pac-12 star.

In Indianapolis, Latu joins former first-rounder Kwity Paye, ex-second-rounder Dayo Odeyingbo and 2023 free agency pickup Samsom Ebukam. This trio fared well for the Colts last season; each posted at least eight sacks — career-high totals across the board. That group, with a heavy assist from DeForest Buckner, accumulated 51 — good enough for fifth in the league. Latu joining this rush cadre certainly should provide more strength for Indy’s suddenly formidable pass rush.

Additionally, linebacker Jaylon Carlies and cornerback Jaylin Simpson signed fifth-round rookie deals, while cornerback Micah Abraham and defensive tackle Jonah Laulu agreed to terms on their seventh-round contracts Thursday night.