A popular endeavor to undertake in the offseason is power rankings, which is simply a way for a person (or group of people) to put into list format what the expectations are for certain teams.
Yesterday, the MMQB’s Peter King unveiled the bottom half of his offseason power rankings, and he doesn’t think very highly of the Colts. He has them ranked 24th in the NFL.
Now, simply looking at where the Colts are ranked, it doesn’t make a ton of sense, and here’s why: last year, with a horrible defense, the Colts were tied for the 17th-best record in the NFL. This year, they have Chris Ballard at GM, have gone to work on a defense that almost certainly won’t be as bad as it was last year, and they still have Andrew Luck. So arguing for the Colts being lower in the power rankings than they wound up last year means that other teams (at least six of them) must have improved just that much more than the Colts and no teams get worse, which is unlikely. It’s no secret that I don’t think super highly of the Colts’ roster right now, but it’s at least making progress and they should have a legit chance at the playoffs. 24 seems low, but hey, it’s just another power ranking.
What I find far more interesting - and far more disagreeable - is King’s explanation for why the Colts are 24th in his power rankings. Here’s what he had to say:
I like Ballard, and when a new GM takes over, you’ve got to show some faith in his roster evaluation. The most interesting thing Ballard did is stay status quo with the offensive line, which could have the same starting five that ended the 2016 season—in a very disappointing way. The five projected starters for the Colts this year were rated as mediocre by Pro Football Focus in 2016: Anthony Castonzo and Joe Haeg 15th and 39th, respectively, at tackle, Jack Mewhort and Denzelle Good 25th and 68th, respectively, at guard, and Ryan Kelly 19th at center. Ballard says he likes the line Grigson assembled more than the critics do, so we’ll see. I make this point because Andrew Luck has been hurt more than most quarterbacks, and he’s a pocket player, and if he continues to get hit the way he has, this team is going to struggle.
At least it seems the national media has finally realized that Jack Mewhort is a guard and not a tackle, but they’re still behind on a few of the other positions for the Colts’ offensive linemen. Joe Haeg will be working primarily at guard, so he’s not a projected starter at tackle by any means. And neither is Denzelle Good a projected starter at guard. I find it very curious how King came up with those projected starters, because the right side is inaccurate. Yes, Anthony Castonzo will be at left tackle, Jack Mewhort will be at left guard, and Ryan Kelly will be at center, but from there it’s most likely that Joe Haeg will start at right guard and that Le’Raven Clark will start at right tackle. And it’s very possible that King’s “projected starter” at both positions won’t even be second on the depth chart, as Brian Schwenke could wind up as the backup at right guard and Zach Banner could wind up as the backup at right tackle.
King also writes that Ballard seems to like the offensive line “more than the critics do,” but that’s not entirely accurate - those critics in Indianapolis who cover the team locally seem to have some optimism too, so it’s just the national critics (those who are still trying to figure out who the projected starters are, apparently) that don’t. And King said that the offensive line finished the season “in a very disappointing way” when, in fact, the final three games of the season were what gives many hope for the unit moving forward, primarily due to the play of Le’Raven Clark.
Look, I don’t write this to be particularly hard on King, because he’s more well-connected than I or most NFL writers could possibly imagine. But it just hits on something that has been obvious for a while that I’ve pointed out before: it’s impossible for national writers to give you the kind of info about a team that local writers can. A person trying to keep up with 32 teams at once won’t have the same level of insight as a person solely focusing on one team. So, for instance, when it comes to the offensive line, it’s easy to just look at the paper roster and see a few names, whereas there’s actually much more going on.
But then there’s also that sentence at the end about Andrew Luck that’s just... well, wrong: “I make this point because Andrew Luck has been hurt more than most quarterbacks, and he’s a pocket player, and if he continues to get hit the way he has, this team is going to struggle.”
Let’s take that piece-by-piece. “Andrew Luck has been hurt more than most quarterbacks...” He had an injury-plagued year in 2015 in which he missed nine games, and then he missed one game in 2016 due to a concussion. He did undergo shoulder surgery this offseason, but that was for an injury he suffered in 2015. So in his five seasons in the NFL, he’s missed ten games total. I don’t think that’s bad; it’s just not an elite ironman streak like some QBs have. So it’s ok to think Luck gets hurt too much, but it’s certainly debatable.
“... and he’s a pocket player...” This isn’t just disagreeable, it’s actually quite obvious: Andrew Luck is not just a pocket player. Literally one of his greatest strengths that has been talked about over and over again is his ability to get out of pressure and move around and make plays. He can scramble, he can buy time, and he can make plays with his legs. Ideally, he’d have a clean pocket and he’d be able to just be a pocket player all of the time, but labeling him as a pocket player is at best misleading and at worst just flat out wrong.
“...and if he continues to get hit the way he has, this team is going to struggle.” Well, that’s technically true, I guess. Despite Luck playing very well last year, for example, the Colts were 8-8. So the Colts do need to surround Luck with better play and better talent... but are the offensive line and the hits to blame? Luck was hit a ton in 2012, 2013, and 2014 too, yet the Colts won eleven games each year and made the playoffs. Luck was hit a ton in 2015 and 2016 and the Colts won eight games each year and missed the playoffs. The biggest thing for the Colts to do is to improve the defense, as I would say that is far, far, far more of a reason why this team has struggled than the hits on Luck (and in fairness King did later note the defense as the most important factor for the team in 2017).
Again, I don’t say this to pile on Peter King, because he’s a respected voice in the NFL media world and he is certainly an insider in the league. But in this particular case, as we look at his power rankings, it’s hard not to disagree with his assessment of the Colts. Think they’re going to be bad in 2017? Ok, that’s fine. But the way he explained it isn’t exactly the best way to argue for that conclusion.