With so much talk about the Colts' offense and how good they are supposed to be, coupled with the questions about the team's defense, it might come as a surprise to some that Indy's second-best player actually plays on the defensive side of the football. And the team's second-best player checks in at number two on our list of the most important Colts for 2015 as well.
Having received a 4-year, $36 million extension last offseason, there were some questions about whether cornerback Vontae Davis could live up to the contract that he had received. On the field in 2014, however, he showed that the deal was a bargain, emerging into the elite echelon of cornerbacks in the league with a fantastic season. Just how good was he? Well, according to Pro Football Focus, no cornerback in the entire league had a better opposing passer rating. When throwing against him, quarterbacks completed just 31 of 71 passes (43.7%) for 405 yards (5.7 yards per attempt), no touchdowns (he didn't allow a single score all year!), and four interceptions - which all boils down to a passer rating of 38.8, the lowest mark for any opposing cornerback. The accolades rolled in, as Davis was named to his first career Pro Bowl for his play. In addition, Davis made the PFF Pro Bowl team, and he was also ranked the sixth-best player of 2014 by PFF, while the NFL Top 100 (voted on by players) ranked him 59th overall. Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, one of the best at his position last year as well, went up against Davis twice and said that he was the second-toughest cornerback he had to face last year behind only Darrelle Revis (and ahead of guys like Richard Sherman).
Davis was tremendous in 2014, and his role in the defense helped the unit to do things they might otherwise have been unable to do. Davis can shut down his side of the field with his press man coverage and really doesn't require much help, which is a benefit to the defense - particularly one like the Colts' in 2014 that struggled mightily to rush the passer. In a way, Davis' play helped the Colts to be able to focus more attention on getting to the quarterback through blitzes, managing to get 41 sacks on the season. I say that to illustrate the impact on the entire defense that Davis has, not simply on the secondary.
Whenever you have a great player like Vontae Davis, he's a player that you really can't afford to lose. But what makes him so important to the team that he ranks second on our list? Well, it's part of what we already mentioned - that he has a huge impact on the entire defense. He's a great player (he's elite) who can shut down his side of the field and help the entire defense overall. That's impressive, and that's a crucial player for sure. But furthermore, like we did with Anthony Castonzo, let's also consider the talent around Davis. Defensively, the Colts are likely to be improved but still not great. That will continue to put added pressure on the cornerback to produce, because there's little margin for error with this unit. Furthermore, the depth at the cornerback position to replace Davis is, at best, questionable. Greg Toler fills the number two cornerback spot for the Colts, and while he does a solid job in that role, he would be a bit underwhelming as a team's best cornerback. Furthermore, Darius Butler - who does a good job in the slot - doesn't do nearly as good of a job when forced to play outside, while fourth cornerback D'Joun Smith is a rookie who, regardless of how much talent and potential he may have, will take some time to adjust to the NFL like all rookies. So, in other words, the Colts really can't afford to lose Davis in 2015.
All of this - from him being the team's second-best player to having a big impact on the entire defense to not having a great replacement behind him - add up to make Vontae Davis the second-most important player to the Colts' success in 2015.
Past rankings on this list: 2nd (2014); 5th (2013)
Check out our list counting down the 15 most important players to the Colts' success in 2015:
15. Jerrell Freeman, ILB
14. Greg Toler, CB
7. Mike Adams, S
2. Vontae Davis, CB