The 2019 season seemed to be over before it even began for the Indianapolis Colts. During the preseason, Andrew Luck shocked the sports world as he retired, leaving Indianapolis and general manager Chris Ballard looking for answers.
Fortunately, Ballard is one of the best general managers in the league and was able to make the season worthwhile after it looked doomed from the start. The Colts started the season 5-2 with Jacoby Brissett looking like the answer at the quarterback position. However, teams started catching on to his style of play and Indianapolis stumbled to finish the season at 7-9.
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With the Colts having one of the best young teams in the league and a ton of cap space, Ballard went out and made sure he helped the team not only now, but for the future as well. Anthony Castonzo was brought back for another year after contemplating retirement and will help an offensive line that is one of the best in the league. Intriguing pass catchers were retained as Mo Alie-Cox, Zach Pascal, Marcus Johnson, and Daurice Fountain are all back for another season.
Some depth on the offensive line has left, though, as Joe Haeg joined Tampa Bay.
Later on in free agency, Indianapolis made a curious decision to let go of Pierre Desir; he had been a starter the last few years and carved a role on an improving defense.
The Colts came into free agency with a ton of cap space and were expected to make a run at some of the high-caliber free agents in the pool. Instead, the team spent its resources on low-risk players that could provide some spark in their respective roles.
Sheldon Day and Taylor Stallworth were brought in to battle for roster spots on the defensive line, while Roosevelt Nix was added to help block for the abundance of running backs. Tavon Wilson was also brought in to help out a young safety room. T.J. Carrie was added to provide some depth in a cornerback room that needed it while Trey Burton reunited with Frank Reich.
The Colts did make three moves during the free agency period that were noteworthy. Of course, you have to start with Philip Rivers. After the worst season of his career, Rivers now comes to Indianapolis with something he didn’t have in Los Angeles: an offensive line. He was only signed to a one-year contract and could be playing for a Super Bowl while the front office decides what they want to do with the future of the position. Xavier Rhodes was brought in to help out the cornerback room, again after the worst year of his career. But the biggest move of all was trading for DeForest Buckner. The former San Francisco 49er has 19.5 sacks in the last two years and is a dominant force on the defensive line, something the Colts desperately needed. The cost, though? The 13th pick in April’s draft.
Without a first-round pick, many thought the Colts would trade back into the first round as they had two second-round picks, but that didn’t happen. Instead, Ballard had one of the best drafts of the year without a first-round selection. Not only do these new players help the future of the team, but they also help the team this year.
Michael Pittman Jr. will likely be the team’s receiver on the perimeter outside of T.Y. Hilton, while Jonathan Taylor will factor into a rotation that already includes Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, and Jordan Wilkins. Julian Blackmon fell to the third round because of injury concerns but could be a starter on the back-end with Malik Hooker‘s fifth-year option being declined. It’s also quite possible that Indianapolis selected their quarterback of the future in fourth-rounder Jacob Eason.
With one of the best offensive lines in the league, Rivers finally has time to make some throws and he has a plethora of weapons at his disposal. Expect the trio of Mack, Taylor, and Hines to form one of the best backfields in the league with the hope that Hilton and last year’s draft pick, Parris Campbell, can add to a receiving core that is deep with talent following injury-riddled 2019 campaigns.
With Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, Rivers is already in a system he has been in and excelled at. He hand-picked an organization that knows how to build a team around the quarterback and it was shown with the first two picks in the draft.
Matt Eberflus is quietly one of the best defensive coordinators in the game. He has turned a very young unit into one of the league’s best, which many still don’t know about. The unit has a star at all three levels with Buckner, Darius Leonard, and Hooker to complement a ton of depth behind the 11 starters.
The linebacker core is one the best in the league as they have three great starters, as well as three or four other rotational pieces that would start elsewhere. The defensive line now led by Buckner is similar as it has a ton of rotational players. The pass-rush unit and cornerback room don’t have an elite option but rather plenty of players that could carve a role and make themselves known.
Predicting the 53-Man Roster
QB (3) – Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Jacob Eason
Rivers is the quarterback and the starter for this year. Past that, nobody knows what the Colts will do. Brissett is arguably the best backup in the league and showed some promise last year but still needed some development. Eason was a polarizing prospect during the draft but Rivers, Reich, and Sirianni are great tutors for him.
Indianapolis has the best quarterback room in the league outside of New Orleans.
Chad Kelly will likely end up on the practice squad.
RB (5) – Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Roosevelt Nix
This room is set in stone and is one of the deepest running back groups in the league. Mack had over 1,000 yards last year and is now joined by Taylor to form a thunder-lightning attack. Hines is set for a huge year with Rivers throwing him the ball while Wilkins is the best No. 4 option in the league. Nix makes the roster as the fullback.
WR (7) – T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr. Parris Campbell, Zach Pascal, Ashton Dulin, Marcus Johnson, Daurice Fountain
Both Hilton and Campbell are looking to return from injuries that derailed their seasons last year. With Hilton potentially slowing down, the Colts have brought in a bunch of receivers with a ton of upside. Pittman was the first selection the Colts made in April, while Pascal is the best blocking receiver in the league and plays a key role on special teams. Dulin is the team’s top gunner on special teams, Johnson is the deep threat of the bunch, and Fountain needs to stay healthy to make the 53.
TE (3) – Jack Doyle, Trey Burton, Mo Alie-Cox
Just like the running back position, this group seems set. Doyle is set to finally be the main man in the tight end room after Eric Ebron‘s departure, while Burton will be relied on in the rushing attack primarily as a blocker and a second option to Doyle. Alie-Cox is a true red-zone threat who is currently on the PUP list but should be ready for the season.
OL (8) – Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski, Braden Smith, Le’Raven Clark, Danny Pinter, Jake Eldrenkamp
Ballard turned one of the league’s worst units in the league into one of the best in just a few years. Castonzo is back for what could be his final season, Nelson looks to continue his dominance, and Smith is developing as one of the best young tackles in the league. Kelly and Glowinski are the two other starters on one of the top starting units in the league. Clark was brought in as the primary backup and Pinter was selected in the fifth round out of Ball State.
DL (4) – DeForest Buckner, Denico Autry, Grover Stewart, Sheldon Day
Buckner is one of the best defensive linemen in the league that makes everyone better around him. Stewart quietly had a breakout campaign in which he added three sacks from the nose tackle spot. Autry can play inside or on the edge and that versatility makes him a lock for the roster. Day will battle with Robert Windsor for the final spot and will be a candidate for the practice squad if he doesn’t make the 53. Buckner’s addition puts the front seven as one of the best in the league.
EDGE (5) – Justin Houston, Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis, Ben Banogu, Al-Quadin Muhammad
Despite his age, Houston led the team in sacks last year. There will be a battle between Turay and Banogu for the starting slot opposite him. Both Lewis and Muhammed can play on the inside and edge, giving the defensive line more depth. Per PFF, Turay had a 22.9 percent pressure rate in the first five weeks of the season, second only to Nick Bosa before Turay got injured. He is currently on the PUP list. If he’s ready for the season opener, he gives the Colts yet another piece on defense.
LB (5) – Darius Leonard, Bobby Okereke, Anthony Walker, Matthew Adams, E.J. Speed
Leonard, Okereke, and Walker all have their spots set. Adams is great on special teams and can play each linebacker spot if an injury were to occur. Speed is one of the staff’s favorites and continues to develop. Both Zaire Franklin and Jordan Glasgow miss the 53 but will likely be candidates for the practice squad.
CB (6) – Rock Ya-Sin, Xavier Rhodes, Kenny Moore II, T.J. Carrie, Isaiah Rodgers, Lafayette Pitts
The group lost Marvell Tell to opting out and will miss him as he could’ve battled for a starting role. Ya-Sin had an up-and-down rookie campaign and will be joined by Rhodes, who will mentor him. Moore is one of the best slot cornerbacks in the game. Carrie provides some solid depth, while Rodgers has the elite speed to help on special teams that make him a lock for the roster. Pitts has had a solid week of practice which makes him the final cornerback.
SAF (4) – Malik Hooker, Khari Willis, George Odum, Tavon Wilson
Blackmon wasn’t included in the 53-man roster due to being on the non-football injury list. Hooker is in the final year of his contract and needs to show Ballard that he’s worth an extension or Blackmon will take his spot outright next year. Willis had an excellent rookie season and Odum is a solid backup piece. Wilson was brought in as a veteran and fourth safety on the opening roster. Blackmon’s return will be on the lookout as he was one of the best safety prospects in the draft.
ST (3) – Chase McLaughlin, Rigoberto Sanchez, Luke Rhodes
With Adam Vinatieri looking to finally be out of the league, the Colts signed McLaughlin in the offseason and signed Rodrigo Blankenship as a UDFA. Sanchez needs to be more consistent as the punter and Rhodes is a holdover from last year as well. The kicking battle is currently the talk of training camp in Indianapolis.
COVID (3) – Marvell Tell III, Rolan Milligan, Skai Moore
Indianapolis has a very easy start to the season as their only true tests come in Week 2 against Minnesota and Cleveland in Week 5. Beginning in November, though, things take a turn beginning with a game against the Ravens. Five of the six divisional clashes come in November and December. With bouts against Green Bay and Pittsburgh as well, the Colts’ second-half stretch will be one of the most intriguing to watch. The thing is, the Colts have one of the deepest rosters in the league that could be up to the test. Don’t sleep on Indy this year.
Prediction: 11-5 with the potential for a surprise Super Bowl appearance
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