The biggest contract the Colts handed out this offseason was to keep one of their own, cornerback Vontae Davis. The Colts re-signed Davis to a four year, $39 million deal, paying him like a top corner and clearly expecting him to play like one in 2014. For the Colts to be successful in 2014, he'll need to.
I've written in the past about how I think Davis is a very good corner and how I thought it was necessary for the Colts to bring him back, which you can read more about here. The bottom line is that Davis is a young corner (26 years old) with potential to be one of the league's best. He showed that potential at times last year, such as the week seven game against the Broncos, but then he had inconsistent games like the one two weeks later against the Texans. Inconsistency was his big question mark, but it was nothing that caused me to say the Colts shouldn't re-sign him. He's back on a four-year deal, and the Colts expect - and need - big things out of him.
It's not just his talent and potential that makes him crucial enough to the Colts that he's the number two player on this list. Rather, it's the need to the team and the importance of his role. It's no secret to readers of this site that the Colts's secondary is filled with question marks. LaRon Landry has struggled with injuries and was bad when he did play in 2013, and the Colts need him to step up at safety this year in a bigger role. The other safety spot, however, has even bigger questions, and we don't even know who will be starting there, though it'll most likely be either Delano Howell or Mike Adams. Either way, there are question marks there as well, leaving doubts and concern about both safety spots.
As for corner, Greg Toler will be playing opposite of Davis and, while Toler played pretty well when healthy last year, the issue is that he wasn't healthy often and in fact missed about half of the season with injury. Given the fact that he has a long history of injuries, that's a huge concern going into the season. As much as they hope that he can, the Colts simply can't count on Toler playing all 16 games, and therefore they'll need their other corners to step up, and after Darius Butler there are question marks as to who will even make the roster, much less play that important number four corner role. There are plenty of question marks at the cornerback position as well.
Ultimately, three of the four starting secondary spots for the Colts are filled with question marks, and the lone outlier there is Vontae Davis - who, admittedly, some fans have questions about in regards to his consistency and his contract. There is no time for questions with Davis this year, however, as it is going to need to be all about answers. In 2013 Davis played in every game for the Colts, a crucial block of consistency that an injury-plagued secondary desperately needed and needs even more this year since the incredibly dependable Antoine Bethea is no longer around. The Colts need Davis to play every game and be the consistent block of an inconsistent secondary. There's going to be a lot of pressure on Davis as the team's number one corner, and with the questions at both the safety and corner spots, the pressure is intensified.
Some readers might opt to switch Davis and Robert Mathis (number 4) on this list, but here's my reasoning for placing Davis ahead of the NFL's reigning sack champion: Mathis will miss at least four games this season guaranteed, as he's suspended for the first four weeks of the season for violating the league's prohibited substances policy. While we talk about how Bjoern Werner and others will need to step up and replace Mathis, the real pressure might fall on the secondary. If we're being completely honest, there's no way at all that Werner and the other pass rushers on the roster can truly replace Mathis in terms of production, and considering the fact that the pass rush was already lacking last year with Mathis, it looks incredibly likely that opposing quarterbacks will have quite a bit of time to throw. When that happens, it puts immense pressure on the secondary. While with a strong pass rush corners will only have to cover receivers for a very short time, with a weaker pass rush it means longer time in coverage for corners. For a team like the Colts that plays a lot of man coverages, that means that players will need to stay on an opponent in man coverage longer, and that can be a very tall task. It may not seem obvious, but Vontae Davis will feel the pressure significantly from Mathis's absence and will play a big role in trying to help the defense get on without him.
Even with Mathis in the lineup, however, Davis will be a key contributor to the Colts in 2014 and he'll need to play like a top cornerback, something he's definitely capable of doing. He's going to need to be the consistent member of a secondary filled with questions, and he's going to have to play the first four weeks with an even weaker pass rush. Davis is a very talented player, and the Colts will absolutely need him to play well in 2014. For that, he appears on this list as the second most important player to the Colts's success in 2014 (I bet you can't guess who will be number one...).
Check out our list counting down the 14 most important players to the Colts' success in 2014:
2. Vontae Davis, cornerback