There is an old football adage, according to Bruce Arians, that goes “Every rookie you start should cost you a game.” For this year’s Indianapolis Colts, the more accurate saying would be “every rookie you start should win you another game.”
Yes, this year’s Colts team has been the surprise of the NFL. Why? Because of their youth. Because they are filled with rookies in key positions. A rookie quarterback. A rookie running back. Two rookie wide receivers. Two rookie tight ends. That doesn’t exactly sound like the makeup of a playoff team, does it?
But that is exactly what the Colts may be this year – a playoff team. Yeah, they have been helped out tremendously by a weak AFC conference. But they are 6-4 with six games remaining, already notching more wins than many thought they would have all year. And that success is in large part to the rapid acclimation of the rookies.
Andrew Luck, the number one overall draft pick, has been spectacular. He has thrown for 2,965 yards through ten games, the most by a rookie through ten games in National Football League history. He has accounted for 17 total touchdowns both through the air and on the ground, and leads AFC quarterbacks with 5 rushing scores. He also leads AFC quarterbacks with 163 yards rushing. He has led the Colts on four game winning drives this year and has been impressive week in and week out. Even last Sunday’s disastrous game against the Patriots was an impressive overall game from Luck – the negatives just overshadowed all the positives. And he will only get better as the season goes along.
Fifth round pick Vick Ballard has earned more playing time as the season has gone on, thanks in part to Donald Brown missing time with injury and also in part due to his impressive running. On the year, he has rushed for 386 yards (second among AFC rookies) while averaging 3.7 yards per carry. He has also caught 11 passes for 112 yards and a score (remember that great game winner in OT in Tennessee). He has proven himself to be the Colts’ best runner this year and as the season goes on his playing time will likely increase even more.
Third round pick T.Y. Hilton has quietly had himself a spectacular year. I say quietly because I didn’t realize how good he actually has done. On Sunday he tied a club rookie record with his third 100 yard receiving performance. On the year, he has caught 30 passes for 455 yards (15.2 yards per catch) and four touchdowns, including two on Sunday. He is inconsistent at times, but the production he has put up is more than could have realistically been expected before the season began. He has looked much less solid returning punts, but in the receiving game, he has quietly been having a very good year. With the instability at the receiver position outside of Reggie Wayne, Hilton’s opportunities could increase down the stretch as well.
Fellow rookie wideout LaVon Brazill has seen much less chances but still has managed to haul in 8 passes for 125 yards (15.6 yards per catch) and had easily his most impressive game of the season on Sunday. He caught only 2 passes but for a season-high 46 yards. He too has been less than impressive in the return game when he has gotten his chances, but as a receiver off the bench he has provided solid effort.
Second round tight end Coby Fleener has been a bit of a disappointment, but still has caught 21 passes for 222 yards while also missing some time with a shoulder injury. He has been a better blocker than many expected but has not been the receiving threat the Colts had hoped. Still, with a threat like Fleener, it is only a matter of time before he has a breakout game. When that happens, watch out.
When the Colts drafted a tight end in the third round after taking Fleener in the second, eyebrows were raised. But Dwayne Allen has been incredibly impressive this year. Receiving and blocking – he’s the complete package. He has shown the potential of a pro bowl tight end and in a few years he likely will be one. He has been very reliable, playing in every game and catching 31 passes for 349 yards and 2 scores. Allen has been one of the most impressive rookies and with him at tight end, the Colts appear set. Add Fleener into the mix and the tight end duo in Indianapolis could be very good.
And those are only the rookies who have played and made an impact. Fifth round nose tackle Josh Chapman was just recently activated from the PUP, and many have high hopes for him as well. Undrafted free agents Nathan Palmer and Bradley Sowell have also seen some playing time. And of course there are those who, while not technically rookies, are playing for the first time, most notably starting inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who also has been very impressive.
The young guys on the Colts were thought to be a big question mark and a negative entering the season. Instead, ten weeks in, they are a big reason why the Colts are 6-4 and currently. sitting in playoff position.
Bruce Arians said today that he has already warned the rookies about the rookie wall that seems to happen in December – where the mental fatigue gets to rookies and the grind of a 16 game season can be felt.
Hopefully the Colts can avoid that. And there’s nothing to say they won’t be able to. After all, rookies are supposed to lead to losses, or so goes the old adage.
For the Colts, the rookies are leading to wins. And that is just another reason why they are the story of the NFL season.