In Ryan Grigson's first year as general manager of the Colts, he had so many spots to address that one position he didn't make many moves at entering training camp was at cornerback. Then, however, he pulled off trades for Josh Gordy and Vontae Davis just a few days apart and a month later brought in Darius Butler as a free agent. Slowly but surely, the secondary began to show improvement, Davis really began to play like a great corner in the final weeks, and Butler was key to the Colts' making the playoffs.
The team didn't re-sign the injury prone Jerraud Powers this offseason but countered the move by signing Greg Toler, another injury prone player (but not nearly as much as Powers). With Davis hopefully emerging as a shutdown-type corner and Butler continuing his great play from a year ago, Toler should be a good addition to the team and this cornerbacking core is one that could be pretty decent in 2013. Let's look at each player more closely.
Vontae Davis is unquestionably the best corner on the roster and does indeed have shutdown-corner potential. He started out the 2012 season pretty badly but began to improve as the year went on and finished it out very well, even being named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week in week 17 after picking off the Texans' Matt Schaub twice in the win. Drafted in the first round (25th overall) by the Dolphins in 2009, Davis is entering his 5th year in the NFL. He has played in 54 games (starting 46) and has racked up 199 tackles, 2 sacks, 39 pass deflections, 12 picks, 1 touchdown, and 1 forced fumble. In 2012, he started 10 games and made 51 tackles, a sack, 7 pass deflections, and 3 picks. He was slowed by an ankle injury early, which is a very likely reason for his poor play early in the year. There's no doubt that there are big expectations for Davis in 2013, and the success of this position may very well lie on his shoulders. [For a good read as to what Vontae Davis needs to improve on this season, read Andrew Mishler's article on that subject here.]
The biggest success of the cornerback position last year, however, was Darius Butler. Signed by the Colts on September 25, Butler would play in 11 games for the Colts in 2012, starting 4. He notched 31 tackles, 7 pass deflections, 4 picks, 2 touchdowns, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery. Butler was a huge part of the Colts' playoff run and was rewarded when the Colts re-signed him this offseason, a move that I was very certain should happen. And it did. Butler is back and with the addition of Greg Toler, should continue to be able to develop in his best spot, which is nickel (slot) cornerback. At that spot, he can really excel and be a great player for the Colts.
Despite the hopes fans have for Davis and Butler, the team needed to sign another corner to solidify the secondary and to ensure that Butler could remain in the slot. The Colts did that by signing Greg Toler. Drafted by the Cardinals in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, Toler has spent his entire four year career in Arizona. He has started 15 games (playing in 38) and has made 128 tackles, 1 sack, 19 pass deflections, 5 interceptions, 2 touchdowns, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovered. He missed the entire 2011 season due to a left knee injury suffered in preseason, and when he returned in 2012 he had lost his starting spot. He still played in 11 games last year (starting 2) and made 27 tackles, 8 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, and returned one of them 102 yards for a touchdown. Toler is a solid corner who has suffered from injuries at times but who has potential. Signing Toler was actually probably a safer move than re-signing Jerraud Powers, and in my opinion Toler brings more upside as well. If he can stay healthy this year, he should grow a lot under Chuck Pagano and continue to develop into a good number 2 corner. [For more on Toler, check out Josh Wilson's player profile on him here.]
Alright, so we know those three are making the 53-man roster, but what about the others? The Colts currently have 9 corners on their roster, and it's likely that they will keep five guys total at the spot. 3 of the spots go to Davis, Butler, and Toler. So who are the other two who will make it? Let's look at each of the remaining 6 players and assess their chances.
Allen Chapman is an undrafted rookie out of Kansas State who spent his final two years of college at K-State after spending the first two at City College of San Francisco. In his two seasons at K-State, he notched 107 tackles, 6 picks (2 returned for scores) and 15 pass deflections. He was invited to rookie mini-camp on a tryout basis and was so impressive that he was signed to the 90-man roster afterwards, in the process supplanting fellow Kanas State cornerback Nigel Malone.
Josh Gordy was acquired by the Colts on August 21, 2012 in a trade with the Rams, with the Colts giving up an undisclosed 2014 draft pick for Gordy. In his career (with the Packers, Rams, and now Colts) he has started 10 games (playing in 31) and recorded 63 tackles, 1 sack, 5 pass deflections, 3 picks, and a fumble recovery. In 2012, he played in 15 games for the Colts, starting 1 (when the Colts opened in a nickel package) and notched 19 tackles and a sack. He contributed on special teams as well.
Marshay Green is a second year player who has played in 2 career games, including one last year for the Colts. He notched 3 tackles in 2012 for Indy (making up 75% of his career tackles in the NFL). He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cardinals in 2010 but was then released. He was signed to the Colts practice squad in October of last year, then elevated to the 53-man roster briefly before being placed back on the practice squad, where he finished the season. He was signed to a reserve/futures contract in January.
Sheldon Price was signed as an undrafted free agent out of UCLA, where he started 45 games (playing in 47) and notched 157 tackles, 5 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and 21 pass deflections. In 2012 alone, he picked off 4 passes in what was clearly his best season. The tallest corner on the Colts' roster (6 foot 2 inches) and a fast guy as well (4.42 40 at UCLA's pro day), he was rusty and got burned quite a bit early on at UCLA. In 2012, however, with experiened coach Jim Mora Jr. coming in to coach the team, Price finally got the coaching he needed and began to show noticable signs of improvement. He still has a lot of work to do and a lot of room to improve, but he has the potential to become a real good man-to-man corner. NFL.com's scouting report on him even stated that he was likely a third-to-fifth round prospect, so for the Colts to get him as an undrafted free agent was a steal.
Cassius Vaughn was one of Grigson's first moves to address the corner position, as he traded for the corner from Denver for fullback Chris Gronkowski on May 23, 2012. Entering his 4th year in the league, Vaughn has played in 38 career games, starting 14. He has made 94 tackles, 13 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, 2 touchdowns, and 3 fumble recoveries. He has also spent some time returning kicks in his career. In 2012 for the Colts, he played in all 16 games and started 11, racking up 66 tackles, 9 pass deflections, and a pick, which he returned 3 yards for a score. The same week that he scored the touchdown on the pick 6, a week 14 win against the Titans, he was also named the AFC's Defensive Player of the Week (he added 8 tackles and 3 pass deflections to the pick-6 that week). While he's not a guy that the Colts would ideally want starting, he's a guy with experience and isn't a bad player at all to keep around for depth.
Last but not least is Teddy Williams, who is a second year player for the Colts. Williams, a very good sprinter in track and field while in college, was originally signed by the Cowboys in 2010 but released shortly after. The Colts signed him to their practice squad on October 30, 2012 and then added to the 53-man roster on November 16. He appeared in 7 games last season, but didn't record a stat line at all. That said, he's a super fast player who could be an intriguing option to keep around as a fifth or sixth cornerback.
Alright, so let's narrow this down to the players who I think will make the 53-man roster entering week one. Vontae Davis will be the team's number one corner, Greg Toler the number two guy, and Darius Butler the nickel/slot corner. Those three are pretty much set in stone, and they have the potential to be a real solid unit. The depth after them, however, remains a question mark.
I then also think that the final two spots will go to Cassius Vaughn and Sheldon Price. Neither guy is anything certain to make it, but those two guys stand out to me as the most likely. My guess is that Vaughn will serve as the team's number four corner, at least early on, while Price continues to grow and develop as a player. He is a guy that I really like, but he is a guy that needs coaching to continue to develop. We saw that happen in his senior season at UCLA with Jim Mora Jr., and Chuck Pagano is a very good secondary coach who should be able to help him as well.
The bottom line is that I'm not as concerned as this position as I thought I would be. I think that Davis could really emerge this season, and I really like Butler in the slot. Toler is a signing that I liked as well and I think that he is a good player, the real key is just whether he can stay healthy. Cassius Vaughn, for a backup player, is not bad and a good guy to have on the roster, and as I stated before, I think that Price can become a good corner with some more coaching.
This position will be completely dependent on the starters. Davis needs to take strides forward, Butler needs to continue to produce like he did last year, and Toler needs to stay healthy. Because, if any of those three guys gets hurt or struggles, the depth suddenly becomes a concern and we'll be back to talking about the needs at cornerback once again. And that's a topic I'm fine not addressing any further for quite a while. Hopefully, that can be the case. With these starters that's certainly the hope, and one that's not too far-fetched, either.
Week One Starters: Vontae Davis, Greg Toler; Backups: Darius Butler (nickel/slot corner), Cassius Vaughn, Sheldon Price (R); Cut: Allen Chapman (R), Josh Gordy, Marshay Green, Teddy Williams
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts’ roster heading into camp, check out Josh Wilson’s other position previews:
| QB | RB/FB | WR | TE | OL | DL | OLB | ILB | CB | S | S/T |