In today’s passing NFL, it’s incredibly important to have a capable secondary that’s able to go against some tough passing offenses and hold their own. The Colts aren’t quite there yet, but their secondary also isn’t a complete mess like the front seven is.
Vontae Davis once again had a good 2016 season, and he started 14 games while recording 37 tackles, ten passes defensed, and an interception. He’s been their top corner for several years, and though he’s got a large cap number this year, that doesn’t figure to change in 2017. Davis is easily the best cornerback the Colts have, and he had another good year in 2016.
After Davis, however, the depth chart was a little confusing last year, in large part due to injuries. In the preseason, with Davis, Patrick Robinson, and others injured, the Colts signed veteran Antonio Cromartie off the street. It actually worked out quite well, as he was solid in his first three games before a disastrous game against the Jaguars in week four. It was so bad, in fact, that the Colts decided to simply cut him the following week, despite his four starts and solid play early on.
It made sense, though, because the Colts wanted to start Vontae Davis and Patrick Robinson... right? Robinson was signed last offseason as the key free agent in the secondary, but injuries hampered him all year long. He wound up playing in just seven games and starting six, and he wasn’t even that great when he was healthy (he recorded 26 tackles, five passes defensed, and a forced fumble). In all honesty, he wasn’t even that much of an upgrade over Greg Toler. It was a disapointing season for Robinson, but the Colts were fortunate to have another free agent signing ready to step in.
That free agent signing was Rashaan Melvin, who was signed on September 7 after having been cut by the Dolphins during final roster cuts. It wasn’t that big of a signing, as it was just to provide depth - but Melvin wound up playing in 15 games and starting nine of them, recording 60 tackles, seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Outside of Davis, no Colts cornerback started more games than Melvin did in 2016, and Melvin gave the team very solid play too. He wasn’t spectacular, but he was a crucial piece: with Robinson dealing with injuries, Melvin was a guy who could start and play capably on the outside.
That was particularly huge because it allowed the Colts flexibility with Darius Butler, who’s a good slot corner but who struggles on the outside. With Melvin able to fill in for Robinson, it allowed the Colts to keep Butler in the slot, where he once again had a good season. Butler wound up playing more and more safety as the season went on, too. In total, he played in 14 games and started seven of them, recording 33 tackles, seven passes defensed, three interceptions, and a forced fumble.
The Colts also had other players step up, too - such as Darryl Morris. He was also signed after final cutdowns were made, and though he was cut midseason he was brought back a month later. He wound up playing in 12 games and starting two, recording 35 tackles, six passes defensed, and an interception. Morris was a player who, like Melvin, exceeded expectations and gave the Colts really solid play. Christopher Milton also saw action, as he played in six games and started one, recording nine tackles and two passes defensed.
Moving forward, the Colts have some decisions to make at cornerback. This will be the last year of Davis’ contract, so they’ll have that looming decision in the back of their minds. There’s also the chance they could move on from Patrick Robinson, though that seems unlikely. But more importantly, they’ll need to make a decision on whether to re-sign Butler this offseason. Even if they do bring him back, however, it’d likely be just as much as a safety as a cornerback. That’s where some of the young guys who stepped up for the Colts last year are key. They have a guy in Rashaan Melvin who they know is fully capable of stepping in and giving them solid play as a starter, while Darryl Morris could be a solid slot cornerback.
It will be interesting to see how much the Colts choose to address the cornerback position this offseason, since though they could certainly use an upgrade in talent, they’ve at least got some guys to work with. That’s more than could be said of the linebackers, for sure, and so it will be interesting to see how much Chris Ballard wants to address things.