With the Indianapolis Colts' 2014 season over and having had time to reflect on the 11-5 season that saw the Colts win the AFC South and win two playoff games but also left them with plenty of work to do, it's time to hand out our annual Indianapolis Colts awards at Stampede Blue!
Most Valuable Player: Andrew Luck, Quarterback
There are few players in the entire National Football League who are more valuable to his team than Andrew Luck is to the Colts. In 2014, the third-year quarterback set career highs in completion percentage (61.7%), yards per attempt (7.7), passing yards (4,761), passing touchdowns (40), and passer rating (96.5), breaking the Colts single-season passing yards record and leading the league in touchdown passes in the process. He really carried a Colts team that wasn't overly strong and helped lead them to the AFC Championship game behind two playoff wins. Luck has that incredibly rare ability to carry a team that puts him among the most valuable players in the league and without any doubt makes him the Colts' MVP for 2014.
Offensive Player of the Year: T.Y. Hilton, Wide Receiver
The offensive player of the year award typically goes to someone who didn't win the MVP award, and in keeping with that tradition I'm giving the Colts' offensive player of the year award from 2014 to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. The receiver led the team with 82 receptions and 1,345 yards, also scoring seven touchdowns and averaging 16.4 yards per reception. He recorded 62 first downs and notched 21 plays of more than 20 yards. He had 18 more receptions and 566 more yards than the second leading receiver on the Colts, and that was with Hilton not catching a single pass in the final two regular season games due to injury. As Andrew Luck's favorite target, T.Y. Hilton had a fantastic season and because of that is our Colts' offensive player of the year for 2014.
Honorable Mention: Ahmad Bradshaw, running back
Defensive Player of the Year: Vontae Davis, cornerback
There's really no doubt that the defensive player of the year for the Colts in 2014 was cornerback Vontae Davis. As I wrote in my positional review of the cornerback position:
There's really no other way to say it: Vontae Davis was elite in 2014. Using Pro Football Focus' signature stats (subscription required), the argument could be made that he was the best cornerback in football. Among players who played at least 50% of the snaps, Davis was second in the league in number of times spent in coverage compared to receptions allowed (with 15.5), was first in opposing passer rating allowed (38.8), was tied for third in the league in interceptions (4), and did not allow a single touchdown all year long despite spending 479 snaps in pass coverage. Furthermore, he was in the top 20 among corners in run stop percentage (1.6) and ranked second in combined tackle efficiency (22.5). Simply put: Davis was fantastic.
Davis played a huge role in the Colts' defense this season and without him they wouldn't have had nearly as much success as they did. He wasn't just the most important player on the unit, but he was also the best player on the defensive side of the football and is an easy choice for our defensive player of the year award for the Colts in 2014.
Rookie of the Year: Jack Mewhort, offensive lineman
This one was a tougher choice than the previous three awards, because the Colts had a couple of rookies who really stepped up. In the end, I narrowed the decision down to offensive lineman Jack Mewhort and outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome, and while both of them had very good rookie seasons, I'm giving the nod to Mewhort because he not only played well but made a consistent contribution all season long. He started 13 games at left guard for the Colts and one game at right tackle, giving the Colts a ton of snaps and giving them very solid play in the process.
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Newsome, outside linebacker
Most Improved: Anthony Castonzo, left tackle
There were a couple of different options that were considered here, but left tackle Anthony Castonzo earns our most improved award for 2014. He not only played more snaps than any offensive lineman in the entire NFL, he also played very well for the Colts also, playing like a top ten left tackle in the league last year and becoming much more consistent - which had been a bit of an issue before. In a season with a lot of questions and struggles along the offensive line, the consistency of Anthony Castonzo and his great play were huge, and he was certainly very improved from a year ago.
Honorable Mention: Daniel "Boom" Herron, running back; Erik Walden, outside linebacker
Biggest Surprise: Mike Adams, safety
We've talked about it a lot recently, but it's important to mention here: the Colts entered the 2014 season with a lot of question marks at the safety position, and Mike Adams (who was signed in the middle of summer) took over as the starter during training camp after Delano Howell was injured. There were a lot of concerns about the safety position, but it turns out that Adams was the answer to many of the questions. In 2014, he was one of the team's best defensive players and most important, earning his first Pro Bowl nod for his play. He recorded 87 tackles, 11 passes defensed, five interceptions, and two fumble recoveries to tie for the league lead with seven takeaways. The Colts had a couple of pleasant surprises in 2014, but none was bigger than Mike Adams, who was terrific and definitely deserving of this award.
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Newsome, outside linebacker; Daniel "Boom" Herron, running back
Biggest Disappointment: Bjoern Werner, outside linebacker
This one was a very tough decision, and that's not a good thing. I could have gone a number of different directions with this "award" and was close to giving it to Trent Richardson, but upon thinking about it more I decided that there were higher expectations for Werner entering the season than for Richardson, so the "award" would go to Bjoern Werner. As I wrote in my outside linebacker positional review:
On the season, he recorded 50 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 passes defensed, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Consider, however, that 11 tackles, 4 sacks, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble came in a three week span in weeks five through seven. Outside of that stretch early in the season, Werner recorded 39 tackles, no sacks, a pass defensed, and a fumble recovery combined in 12 games - all as a starter! That's not good whatsoever. Sure, credit him for those three games if you want to, but Werner was bad in 2014. The role the Colts drafted him for - as a pass rusher - was the role in which he was nearly invisible. He did do some good things as a run defender, but it wasn't enough to overshadow the negatives from the pass rush failures. How bad was it? He was inactive for the AFC Championship game. General manager Ryan Grigson said that the reason was because Werner was battling through injuries, but that's just an excuse. They wanted to get Werner rest in the AFC Championship game because he was dealing with some injuries that didn't even limit him in practice at all that week? I don't buy it, and rather it seems that Werner was simply a healthy inactive for the biggest game of the season. That's how bad things got for the former first round draft pick, and his role with the team must be questioned moving forward.
Honorable Mention: Trent Richardson, running back; Hugh Thornton, offensive lineman; LaRon Landry, safety
Best Performance: Divisional Round game vs. Denver Broncos
The best overall team performance for the Colts, considering both how they played and the stage it was on, was in the divisional round of the playoffs, when they defeated the Denver Broncos 24-13. Led by their best defensive performance of the season, the Colts shut down Peyton Manning's offense as much as could possibly have been expected and then some, being led by a tremendous game by their three cornerbacks (Vontae Davis, Greg Toler, and Darius Butler). Andrew Luck and the Colts offense didn't have their best or most efficient day, but when you look at the game overall from all facets for the Colts, there's little doubt that this was their best team performance of the season.
Best Moment: Beating Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the Playoffs
Peyton Manning is the greatest player in Indianapolis Colts history, but he no longer plays for the Colts, as he's ending his career as a Bronco. This was the case again in 2014, and Manning's Broncos beat the Colts in week one on Sunday Night Football. After the Colts beat the Bengals in the wild card round of the playoffs, however, it meant that the Colts would travel to Denver to play Manning and the Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs. The game had plenty of drama from a Colts perspective, and, as we looked at just a moment ago, the Colts came to play. It wasn't just their best team performance of the season, it was without a doubt the best moment of the 2014. There was something special about the Colts beating a Peyton Manning led team in the playoffs on the road to advance to the AFC Championship game, and it is our best moment of the season.