The Indianapolis Colts this offseason signed Johnathan Hankins, a move that undoubtedly improves their defense.
But... do they have the best defense in the AFC? That’s what Hankins thinks, as he said in an interview with NFL Network this morning.
“Right now I feel like we got probably the best defense in the AFC,” Hankins said, according to Pro Football Talk. “On paper, it looks good, but we’ve got to go out there and prove it. We’ve got a great quarterback here, as y’all know, Andrew Luck, and some great weapons on offense. So, if we can just come together during OTAs, and once training camp starts, get a good feel of everybody and just trust each other, I feel like we’ll be real dominant out there.”
It probably goes without saying, but that statement is quite bold. In the five years under Chuck Pagano, the Colts have ranked 26th, 20th, 11th, 26th, and 30th in yards allowed. They’ve ranked 21st, 9th, 19th, 25th, and 22nd in points allowed. In the last two years, the Colts have had the two worst defenses in the Indianapolis era, at least in terms of yards per game - with their mark of 382.9 yards per game allowed in 2016 being the most they’ve given up in any of their seasons in Indy. So when you think of the Colts’ defense, “best defense in the AFC” probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
Now, in fairness, the Colts do seem to be making progress with that side of the football, with Chris Ballard taking a more methodical and long-term approach of trying to add as many young players with potential as possible. That led to free agent acquisitions like Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, Sean Spence, and, of course, Johnathan Hankins, among several others. It’s also what led to the Colts using six of their eight picks in this year’s draft on defense, including first round safety Malik Hooker, second round cornerback Quincy Wilson, and third round pass rusher Tarell Basham. So it does look like the Colts are heading in the right direction on the defensive side of the football, but they’re far from rebuilt yet. It will be a process, one that doesn’t fix all of the issues in one year.
None of this is to bash Hankins, because he’s doing about what is expected: he’s expressing confidence and optimism about his team at a time of year where pretty much everyone on every team is confident and optimistic. And while the Colts are far from the best defense in the AFC, there is legitimate hope that they could make significant strides forward in 2017 as their defensive rebuild gets underway.