The Colts defense had their struggles last year, but if it weren't for the cornerback position, they would have had many more. In fact, at cornerback is a player who is the second-most important player on the team behind Andrew Luck, and that is, of course, Vontae Davis.
There's not enough good things we could say about Davis' season in 2014. Playing with a pass rush that could only generate pressure if the team sent blitzes - and even then it was no guarantee - and a defense that had trouble stopping the run and had to focus more attention there, Davis entered the elite level of cornerbacks and played as well as anyone in the league. In 2014, Davis was fantastic. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, no corner in the NFL had a lower opposing passer rating than Davis did. Quarterbacks had a rating of just 38.8 when throwing at Davis, as they completed 31 of 71 passes (43.7%) for 405 yards (5.7 yards per attempt), zero touchdowns, and four interceptions. He made his first career Pro Bowl and was incredibly impressive, providing the Colts with a player who could lock down one side of the field in press man coverage and allowing them to get creative in trying to generate pressure.
Opposite of Davis is Greg Toler, who is entering his third season as the Colts' second starter at the cornerback position. Toler is a player who is commonly criticized by fans for his play, but he does a solid job of being the second starter. Again according to Pro Football Focus, Toler has allowed 93 receptions (on 167 targets) for 1,336 yards, 13 touchdowns, and three picks in his two years with the team, good for an opposing passer rating of 100.3. In 2014, opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 97.3 when throwing against him, but what is interesting is that when you take away the horrible week sixteen game against the Cowboys (in which Toler allowed four receptions for 81 yards nd three touchdowns), the opposing passer rating was just 86.4 - not terrible for the team's number two corner, particularly when he's playing opposite of one of the best in the NFL. This isn't to make excuses for Toler when he gets burned (which does tend to happen more often than you'd like), but it's to say that, for the role he plays in the Colts defense in providing another press man corner opposite of Davis, you can do a lot worse.
The third member of the Colts' cornerback trio (because in today's NFL the nickel corner is very important as well) is Darius Butler, who the Colts re-signed this offseason to a two-year deal. Butler has done a very nice job for the Colts in the slot over the past few years, and while he's not as good when forced to play outside, he does a good job in the role that the Colts ask him to fill in the slot. In 2014, he was the 11th-best slot cornerback in the NFL, at least according to Pro Football Focus, as quarterbacks had a passer rating of 96.7 when throwing against him. Having a guy who can play in the slot like Butler can is important in today's league.
The top three on the depth chart at the cornerback position for the Colts are firmly entrenched, but after that there is a battle to take place. The overwhelming favorite, however, appears to be D'Joun Smith, who the Colts drafted in the third round of this year's draft. The Colts have been working him at both the outside and inside cornerback positions this offseason and think that he can play anywhere on the field, allowing the team to be creative based on the matchup. That versatility is something that the Colts really like, and they seem to like Smith a lot as well. With a 16-game season (plus playoffs), the possibility of injury is always a real scenario that teams have to deal with, and that makes the fourth cornerback spot for any team important. The Colts are likely to have a rookie fill the role for them, but there's a lot to like about D'Joun Smith and it will be interesting to watch his development under Chuck Pagano.
The Colts' cornerback position hasn't changed much from last year, other than the fourth cornerback spot - an area where D'Joun Smith appears to be an upgrade over Josh Gordy. But considering the fact that the position was the strength of the defense a year ago, that's not necessarily a bad thing, and the cornerback trio should be among the least of the team's concerns on the defensive side of the football.
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' roster heading into camp, check out Josh Wilson's other position previews: