Colts have to strike defensive gold in upcoming draft

It sounds like someone’s locker combination. In a perfectly horseshoe-shaped world, it’s the beginning of a much-needed face-lift for the Indianapolis Colts:

Fifteen … 46 … 80.

Barring any wheeling and dealing by new general manager Chris Ballard, these will be the first three selections the franchise makes at the NFL Draft, scheduled to take place April 27-29.

We know little about Ballard at this juncture.

Hired by team owner Jim Irsay on Jan. 30, he will have had slightly less than three months to evaluate free agents and college talent by the time the draft arrives.

Trusting him is our only choice.

Irsay apparently does — insert Ryan Grigson-themed punchline here — so maybe this is the person with a gift for spotting diamonds in the rough as opposed to some of the coal clumps Grigson became known for.

Houston, Tennessee and Jacksonville are all gradually improving in what continues to be a mediocre AFC South. Ballard can’t afford to whiff when it comes to this draft, or the franchise will get passed faster than a moped on I-465.

The Colts need to use the first three picks on, in order, a havoc-wreaking rush end, an outside linebacker and a versatile offensive lineman.

Indy isn’t getting a QB’s worst nightmare like Myles Garrett or Jonathan Allen with the 15th selection. However, talented ends from high-profile college programs such as Taco Charlton (Michigan) and Derek Barnett (Tennessee) might still be on the board.

Either would be a godsend for a franchise in desperate search of its next Dwight Freeney and/or Robert Mathis.

Where it becomes thornier is trying to locate an impact linebacker at No. 46.

Recent history shows it can be done.

Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, a three-time Pro Bowl pick, was taken 47th out of Utah State in the 2012 draft. Buffalo Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander made the 2012 and 2016 Pro Bowls after experiencing the disappointment of once going undrafted out of Cal.

Ballard needs to find such impact, be it former Florida Gator Jarrad Davis or Kansas State’s Jordan Willis. Another potential candidate before all is said and done is University of Houston linebacker Tyus Bowser.

The 80th pick must be used to pluck the best guard or tackle available. The surprising retirement of Joe Reitz, 31, earlier this month upped the urgency on locating competent offensive linemen this offseason.

Still, I’m keeping rush end and linebacker as primary priorities.

Defense. Wins. Championships.

Until Indianapolis makes drastic improvements on that side of the line of scrimmage, being a big fish in a so-so division is the highest they’ll reach.

No matter who the Colts select, Irsay, Ballard and Colts head coach Chuck Pagano will immediately shift into public relations mode to apply whatever spin is necessary to make fans believe the team just immediately got better.

All the while knowing we won’t know a thing until the season starts in September.