The Colts secondary last season stunk. There’s really no way around it. There is most certainly a reason why the team only kept half of their starters (they kept Antoine Bethea and Vontae Davis while releasing Tom Zbikowski and letting Jerraud Powers walk in free agency). Entering the offseason, the secondary (and especially the cornerback spot) was a glaring concern and a huge priority.
Enter Greg Toler. Drafted in the 4th round of the 2009 NFL Draft out of the Division II St. Paul’s College, Toler soon became a very good player for the Arizona Cardinals. In 2010, he started 13 games and recorded 90 tackles, forced 2 fumbles and picked off 2 passes. He was quickly becoming one of the top young CBs in the game, but unfortunately he missed the entire 2011 season due to a torn ACL, hindering his progress. In 2012, he started only 2 games (playing in 11) and obviously saw a decrease in his statistics as well. Still, however, he was good enough to be ranked Pro Football Focus’ 5th best cornerback in the NFL in terms of opponent’s passer rating when throwing against him (51.5); and PFF also ranked him the 10th best free agent corner despite having started only 2 games last year. Peter King listed him on his list of the top 50 free agents (he had Toler at number 49). ESPN Insider Field Yates listed Toler as the player essential for the Cardinals to keep. Many thought he would re-sign with the Cardinals (and there were even reports that he had agreed to a deal, though they were obviously false). Luckily for the Colts, he didn’t.
General Manager Ryan Grigson gave Toler a 3-year, $15 million deal to play for the Indianapolis Colts, a deal the fifth-year cornerback accepted on the first day of free agency. Here’s what I wrote about the signing at the time:
Greg Toler has started 15 games and appeared in 38 in his four years with the Cardinals. He has totaled 128 tackles, 19 pass deflections, 5 interceptions (2 returned for scores), and 1 sack in his career. He only started 2 games (appearing in 11) last year and as a result saw his stats decrease, but he did make the highlight reel with a 102-yard pick-6. Just 2 years ago, in 2010, Toler notched 90 tackles, forced 2 fumbles, and picked off 2 passes while starting 13 games. This move is a good move for an underrated player. While his reported contract of 3 years, $15 million may seem a bit high, Toler figures to start outside at corner opposite Vontae Davis. He was pretty good against the pass in 2012...
While $5 million a year seems a tad high for a player like Toler (which I suggested at the time in my article), it actually isn’t all that high for a quality NFL starting corner, which is exactly what the Colts think Toler can be (and, if it matters, I agree). Grigson is banking on Toler getting back to the level he was at in 2010 and improving from there. Pre ACL tear, Toler looked like he was developing into a real good corner. Post ACL tear, Toler showed promise but wasn’t the same as he was in 2010.
If Greg Toler can regain his form from a few years ago, the move is a very clear and significant upgrade over Jerraud Powers and is a tremendous signing by Grigson. The Colts are getting a real tough and physical player with good athleticism who, while not necessarily a ballhawk, knows how to get the ball and also can take it to the house. He’s very good in man coverage and he has the look of solid zone coverage as well. He is good in coverage and solid against the run – which, as I digress for a moment, actually looks to be a strength of the entire secondary, with Bethea, LaRon Landry, Davis, and Toler all being very solid players against the run.
So why would this move possibly not work out? Simple – the Colts are replacing a small, injury-prone corner in Powers with a small, injury-prone corner in Toler. While neither player is short and in fact both are typical height for a corner, they are both at a big disadvantage against taller receivers – the likes of which NFL teams are seemingly starting to value more. The biggest concern, by far, is the injury history though. Toler played in 38 games in Arizona… out of a possible 64. That’s basically 60%. If he only plays 60% of games in Indy, he won’t be a reliable player, he won’t be able to realize his potential, and the signing will be viewed as a lateral one at best.
Only time will tell whether Toler will be able to stay on the field in Indianapolis, but overall the signing is probably my favorite of the offseason for the Colts. Toler is a talented player who could excel opposite of Vontae Davis. The signing was a huge piece in a Colts secondary that looks to be greatly improved. Antoine Bethea is a very good player who, despite a rough 2012, will likely still be the staple of the secondary. LaRon Landry, who we will look at later on in this series, brings an obvious upgrade at the safety position and gives the Colts a very physical player to roam the field. Vontae Davis is incredibly talented and showed enough improvement towards the end of last year to make me feel comfortable with him as the team’s number one corner. Toler, as we have looked at in this article, is a talented player who, if he can stay on the field, could make a big difference. Then add in the nickel services of the re-signed Darius Butler, who was a huge piece of the Colts’ playoff run last year, and the secondary looks quite decent, actually. It no longer is a concern. No, it won’t be one of the best in the league, but it won’t be one of the worst either. It has been clearly upgraded, and the signing of Greg Toler is a big reason why I feel much more comfortable with the secondary (this summer we will take a position-by-position look at the roster in which I will go into much more detail about the secondary, along with other positions.)
What impact do you think Greg Toler will have this season? Do you think that he is an upgrade over Jerraud Powers? Let your voice be heard in the comments!