The doldrums of the off-season are the worst, and we're right in the thick of them. Football-related news has slowed to less-than-a trickle, and weariness of the same rehashed topics has people kind of burned out. Unfortunately, this post won't offer anything in the way of news. What I hope it does, though, is help keep us excited for the upcoming
Super Bowl victory great season. There are some on this site who have been openly critical of some of the draft picks and free agent signings (or lack thereof), and those people are enormous douche bags. That said, the Colts have who they have, and pedantic concerns over "context" aside, there's a lot to be excited about. Without further ado, here's my take on the players to be most excited about entering the 2014 season.
JONATHAN NEWSOME, OLB
I've been very critical of this selection, but only because I think the players the Colts could have chosen instead of him have higher floors and are more game-ready. That said, even though this list isn't rank-ordered, I can't not put him at the top. I don't think he will have much of an impact this year, but I'm giddy about his long-term potential. He has the kind of quickness and relentlessness that are prerequisites to being a stand-out pass rusher. I've noted before that in college, he seemed to rely on getting a clean release in order to make a big play, but that's just fine for a 5th round pick who will have time to develop. You can teach the skills necessary to shed blockers; you can't teach the type of explosiveness this guy has. Newsome has drawn many comparisons to Robert Mathis, but I think a more relevant (and realistic) comparison is to Auburn's Dee Ford. From very early on I was a huge Ford booster because of the way he knifes into the back field. Newsome has that same level of explosiveness. Generally it's prudent to be cautious about taking a player who played against very low levels of competition, but in Newsome's case I'm not concerned; he dominated that competition. Again, while there were more game-ready options, for the long term Newsome is a really exciting prospect.
BJOERN WERNER, OLB
I don't understand why so many people are down on Werner. No, he didn't set the world on fire in his rookie year, but that's extremely rare. I think a lot of us have been spoiled by the 2012 draft class--due to the instant and sustained success of Luck, Hilton, Allen, and Ballard, we've kind of forgotten what rookies look like. Werner showed marked improvement over the course of the season, and when he returned from injury he picked up right where he left off. He was routinely a step away from making an impact play, and I expect him to continue to progress this season, especially given that Mathis is out for the first four weeks. Werner has the size and speed to play either rush OLB or SOLB, and I expect him to prove why he was taken in the first round this year.
DELANO HOWELL, S
Howell played admirably in relief of the Glass Bicep last season, so much so that some questioned whether Landry even deserved his job back. I'm really excited to see whether he wins the starting job, and if so whether he picks up where he left off. While it's frustrating that the front office didn't get a free agent safety or one in the draft, the silver lining is that we get to see if Howell has the ability to develop into a solid starter. If he can, Grigson deserves an award for not splurging on a FA safety or using a high-round pick on one. I, for one, can't wait to see what happens.
ARTHUR JONES, DE/NT
I've said from very early on that this defense lives and dies by the play of Cory Redding. When Redding is getting pressure, everything seems to work better. It makes sense, too; if the offensive line needs to worry about Redding, that leaves fewer blockers to stop the other pass rushers and run stoppers. That, in turn, benefits the secondary. I was pounding the table for the Colts take to take a DE, but with the signing of Arthur Jones that became irrelevant. Hopefully they don't use him at NT very often. With a play-making DE coming off both edges, this defense should be instantly improved in a big, big way.
GRIFF WHALEN, WR/PR
Before some of you lose your minds over me listing him here, let me make a few things very clear. First, I understand he could easily be cut; I'm listing him here assuming for the sake of argument that he will make the roster. Second, listing a player as exciting is not the same as saying he's a great player. Contrary to what some people might have you believe, people who root for Griff Whalen don't think he's ever going to be more than a WR3. Third, I'm listing him here in large part because of his returning ability. As a receiver, Whalen is extremely tough to bring down, and he's shown meteoric improvement over the past two seasons. He might be at his ceiling already, but his enormous gains certainly leave the door for even more improvement wide open. For that reason, I'm extremely excited to see what he can do if he makes the roster. Further, I can't wait to see if he improves as a punt returner. Although he had just 8 returns last season, he averaged more than 13 yards per. That ties him for 8th best in the league; 6th if you exclude returners with only one or two returns. Compare that to Brazill's 8.3, Hilton's 9.4, and Rainey's 7.3. If he can keep those numbers up, he should be a tremendous upgrade for the return game.
HONORABLE MENTION: DONTE MONCRIEF, WOOOOO
Whenever someone mentions Moncrief on this blog, I tend to respond by posting "WOOOOOOO" with varying numbers of Os. That's because when I saw this pick announced, I actually stood up and shouted "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!". Moncrief is a guy I was initially very low on, but then as I watched more tape I became much more excited about. He has a lower floor than guys like Allen Robinson and Davante Adams, but he has as high a ceiling as almost any receiver in this draft. Getting him in the 3rd was a coup. I don't remember the last time the Colts had a receiver with his size, speed, and college production. Despite opposing teams scheming their defense to stop him, Moncrief was still able to compile outstanding numbers against high quality competition. He seems equally at home running a deep go route as he is cutting over the middle to take a short slant the distance. While there are some concerns over his catching technique, he has time to learn from the absolute best. Don't be surprised if Moncrief emerges as the Colts future WR1. However, he's only honorable mention on this list because I simply don't see him having a huge impact this year. It's already tough for rookie receivers to be great, but beyond that there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen. Moncrief will likely be behind Wayne, Nicks, Hilton, Rogers, and Whalen; even if he is better than the last two, this coaching staff has already demonstrated an adamant refusal to start better young guys over entrenched veterans. In 2015, though, look out.
So who are you guys most excited about?