Maybe Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano is finally getting his wish.
This year’s NFL draft has been all about the defense.
After using their first-round pick on Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, the Colts used two more picks Friday on defensive players: Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson in the second round and Ohio University defensive end Tarell Basham in the third. In less than 36 hours, new general manager Chris Ballard has given Pagano two potential play-makers in the secondary and an edge pass rusher in hopes of fixing the longtime underperforming defense.
“Defense travels. It travels on the road,” Ballard said. “When things aren’t going good, it keeps you in games. We’ve still got work to do, and it takes time for people to come together in that locker room. But we think we’ve added some young pieces to the roster.”
It’s the first time since 2010, and the fourth time since 2000, the Colts have used their first three picks exclusively on defensive players.
Indy got mixed results out of those previous forays.
This time, they didn’t really have a choice. Indy’s pass defense was ranked No. 30 over the past two seasons and after producing only 33 sacks in 2016, lost their top two pass-rushers. Ballard responded by signing eight veteran defenders in free agency and continued his focus the first two days of the draft.
“We had some holes that we needed to fill,” Ballard said. “Y’all watched the same games I did.”
The Colts appear to have found good value, too.
Hooker went into the draft expected to go in the top 10. But when three receivers and three quarterbacks were unexpectedly taken among the first 12 selections Thursday, Hooker slid to the Colts at No. 15.
The 6-foot-1, 213-pound Wilson found himself in a similar scenario. Projected to be a first-round pick, the Colts took advantage of his slide by grabbing the 20-year-old at No. 46. Wilson made sure everyone knew he wasn’t happy about his fall, donning a new T-shirt Friday with a poop emoji and the word “happens” underneath it.
“I wasn’t prepared for another night, and I saw this shirt and I just felt like it was appropriate,” Wilson said.
He entered the draft after three seasons at Florida, two as a starter. He finished with 81 career tackles, six interceptions and 14 passes defensed and scored on a 78-yard interception return last season.
The last time Indy picked defensive backs in the first two rounds was 2005 when they took Marlin Jackson, whose AFC championship game interception sealed Indy’s first Super Bowl trip, and Kelvin Hayden, whose interception return for a touchdown two weeks later sealed Indy’s Super Bowl victory over the Bears.
Wilson will get a chance to prove himself right away since there is no established starter playing opposite former Pro Bowler Vontae Davis.
Basham will have an opportunity to prove himself, too.
The first person from his family to attend college thrived in the Mid-American Conference. He finished last season with 11½ sacks and was named MAC defensive player of the year. Basham leaves school as the Bobcats’ career sacks leader (29½), knowing exactly what Pagano expects this summer.
“I see they’re trying to get that defense going,” Basham said. “I’m proud to be part of the Indy Colts new defense. I hope I can come in and make an impact this year.”
The Colts will start Saturday with four more draft picks. They have three in the fourth round — at No. 121, the Patriots’ at No. 137 and a compensatory pick at No. 144. Indy acquired New England’s pick in the Dwayne Allen trade. Indy’s final selection is expected to come in the fifth round at No. 158 overall.