Indianapolis Colts 2021 Team Previewby Mason Thompson August 4, 2021 0 comments
The Indianapolis Colts are coming off of an 11-5 season where they lost in the Wild Card round to the Buffalo Bills. While many things have stayed the same, there are some very notable changes across the roster and the coaching staff ahead of the 2021 season. Along with the changes, there are already some big injuries that have happened before the pre-season.
Make sure to check out all of our other 2021 NFL Team Previews.
The most important positions in football are arguably quarterback and left tackle. For the Colts, both starters from last season, Philip Rivers and Anthony Castonzo, both retired. With coaching changes across the league, former offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni left the Colts to become the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
With the quarterback position still open, Chris Ballard traded with the former Indianapolis offensive coordinator and struck a trade to get Carson Wentz over to Indianapolis to be the starting quarterback. The Colts gave up a third-round pick in the 2021 draft and a conditional second-round selection that could turn into a first. At the left tackle spot, the Colts signed several veterans to try and combat the loss of Castonzo. Sam Tevi and Julie’n Davenport are two low-level starters that could battle it out for the starting job in Week 1, while Eric Fisher, who the team also signed, recovers from his injury suffered in the playoffs last year.
Denico Autry was the big-name player the Colts didn’t retain during the free agency period. Autry signed with the division-rival Titans on a three-year deal. Veterans T.Y. Hilton, Xavier Rhodes, Marlon Mack, and T.J. Carrie are back for the 2021 season. A few additions from other squads include Chris Reed, Antwaun Woods, Sean Davis, and Isaac Rochell to round out the depth chart for this year.
Training Camp Injuries
Unfortunately for Indianapolis, injuries have already piled up for the squad. Fisher will start the season on the PUP list, which already put a damper on things for the start of the season. Earlier this week, Wentz and Quenton Nelson had surgeries on foot injuries that will sideline them for 5-12 weeks. With Fisher and Nelson potentially out for the early part of the season, Indianapolis is testing their depth along the left side of the offensive line. With Wentz potentially sidelined for a good portion of September and October, the Colts will turn to 2020 fourth-round pick Jacob Eason to be the starter.
With Wentz out, the quarterback role now belongs to Eason for the start of the season. While the team drafted Sam Ehlinger on day three of the draft and signed Brett Hundley, Indianapolis seems committed and has trust in Eason to be the starter for the time being. After spending a year learning Frank Reich‘s system, it will be interesting to see Eason’s growth. Thankfully, the rushing attack should still be a focal point with Jonathan Taylor in his second year and Nyheim Hines and Mack returning. The receiving core is almost the same as last year, with a few additions. The offensive line will look different in Week 1, with Fisher and Nelson potentially out of the lineup. If Nelson can’t start in Week 1 and afterward, Danny Pinter will start at left guard while Nelson recovers.
Indianapolis has one of the most underrated defenses in the league, led by Matt Eberflus. Along with Autry, the biggest departure on the defensive side of the ball was Anthony Walker, who signed with the Cleveland Browns on a one-year deal. With Walker gone, Bobby Okereke will now align as the starting MIKE linebacker. The pass-rush was lacking even with the addition of DeForest Buckner, so Ballard used the first two draft picks on pass-rushers Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo. Odenigbo will likely start the season on the PUP due to an injury suffered in the pre-draft process. The cornerback room is the biggest concern on the defense, so it will be interesting to see if any young players step up opposite of Rhodes.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
The timeframe for the injury to Wentz keeps him off of IR. The lack of a veteran quarterback gives Hundley a roster spot as the backup behind Eason. Ehlinger offers a lot of upside as a third quarterback while Wentz recovers from his injury. Once Wentz returns, there is no sense in keeping Hundley on the roster. Keeping four quarterbacks is a bit outlandish, but there is a need for the Colts.
No questions are surrounding the running back room. While Deon Jackson could potentially beat out Wilkins, the top four are likely set. Taylor had an excellent rookie season and is looking to continue to build upon that success in his sophomore season. Hines will continue to be one of the best receiving backs in the league, and Mack will look to get back to full strength following the Achilles injury he suffered last season.
Re-signing Hilton allowed for the Colts to not have to draft a receiver high in the draft. After a down year last season, Hilton looks to be back to the player he once was. Pittman had an impressive rookie season and is looking to take over the number one receiver role in Indianapolis. Campbell has been hindered by injuries so far into his career and is looking to put those behind him. Patmon will make the roster as the fifth receiver, and Dulin is a massive contributor on special teams that will get him onto the 53-man roster.
As the running back room, the tight end room is set. Doyle is the veteran of the group and could be unseated by Alie-Cox as the starter. Last year, Alie-Cox filled in nicely for Doyle and was the most productive tight end when given starting snaps. Indianapolis spent a day three selection on Granson, and the rookie has already impressed in training camp.
With Fisher on the PUP to start the season, the battle for the starting left tackle role will be between Tevi and Holden. Either way, the spot will cause issues. Pinter seems poised and ready to start at left guard while Nelson recovers from his foot injury. Kelly, Glowinski, and Smith are all reliable starters, and Smith just got a massive payday. Reed is a solid depth piece that can play as a swing tackle. The Colts are starting to rely on their depth on the offensive line, and it will be interesting to see how the left side of the offensive line plays in the first couple of weeks.
Buckner and Stewart form one of the best defensive tackle duos in the league. Muhammed returns once again after being re-signed during the offseason on a small deal. Woods makes his way over from the Cowboys to compete for the final roster spot in the room. If one of Buckner or Stewart gets hurt, there could be some cause for concern in this room.
This is the room to look for a lot of development defensively. The Colts used their first-round selection on Paye, hoping he can produce immediately to help the defense get better than it already is. On the opposite side, there appears to be a battle between Banogu and Lewis. Banogu has been hurt for the majority of his career so far but has been lighting it up thus far in camp. Turay is another young player with a good amount of draft capital put into him. Rochell was added to replace Autry and could be expendable once Odeyingbo returns.
The Colts have one of the better linebacker tandems in the league with Leonard and Okereke. There is a lot of debate surfacing around Leonard’s contract situation, and the most underrated storyline is the fact Okereke will be moving to the MIKE linebacker role. Franklin is a key contributor on special teams along with Glasgow, and now the three will be competing for the third linebacker spot in base packages.
Like a few other positions on the roster, the cornerback room appears to be set. Rhodes and Moore have their spots locked up as the number one boundary cornerback and perhaps the best slot cornerback in the league. Look for the rest of the four to battle for the second boundary slot, and it is put-up or shut-up time for Ya-Sin this season. Rodgers could make some noise and enter the starting lineup at some point during the season.
Blackmon and Willis form the best young safety tandem in the league. Blackmon was on pace for a rookie of the year type season last year before his injury, and Willis doesn’t get enough attention either. Odum is one of the best special teams players in the league. The other two will compete for the third safety role.
Sanchez and Rhodes are locked to make the roster right now. Blankenship is in a kicking competition with Eddy Pineiro for the starting job, but reports have stated that the second-year pro has improved his deep-kicking.
One Player to Add
With the Nelson injury, the Colts could potentially look to add a veteran at the guard position. David DeCastro is a candidate, but it is unknown how serious his injuries are. The best guard candidates would be Joe Dahl or Stefen Wisniewski. It is more likely that the Colts roll into the season with the roster they currently have.
2021 Outlook & Odds
The unknowns of Wentz and Nelson’s injuries put a bit of a question mark on the season. In this case, both miss the first half of September with their injuries and miss two or three games. If the injuries take longer, the development of Eason will be a focal point in how good the Colts do this year.
Indianapolis has an over/under of 10 wins on the season. With the recent news of the injuries to Wentz and Nelson, wait to take bets here until there is more clarity on their situations. Eason has a difficult stretch to start the season if he does indeed start in Week 1.
Season Prediction: 10-7 and Make the Playoffs.