We’re a couple months away from the start of the regular season, and of course that means it’s far too early to truly tell what will happen with the Colts’ roster.
But with the conclusion of the offseason program and with fans looking forward to training camp, it seems like a good time for our first prediction of the team’s 2017 53-man roster. But first, a couple of notes.
Firstly, this will change a lot before the season starts. There are a lot of spots up for grabs, and there will be plenty of camp competitions. Furthermore, expect Chris Ballard to be very busy in making roster moves and waiver claims throughout camp and after the cutdown.
Secondly, remember that this year there will only be one roster cutdown - from 90 to 53 - instead of the two that the league used to have. So even during training camp, it might be harder to truly predict what will happen on the 53-man roster. With all of that said, however, here’s my best guess at this point as to how things will shake out.
Quarterback (2): Andrew Luck, Scott Tolzien
I’m assuming two things here: 1) that Andrew Luck is healthy and ready to go for week one; and 2) that Scott Tolzien wins the backup quarterback position. I’m more confident in that first one than I am in the second one. If Luck isn’t back healthy, the Colts will have to keep three quarterbacks, and I debated having them keep three anyway. And for the backup spot, I don’t think we should just assume that Scott Tolzien will win it - especially since the Colts have been open about the competition there this offseason. Stephen Morris (who I thought outplayed Tolzien last year in camp and in preseason) and Phillip Walker (who the Colts have repeatedly praised this offseason) will make very tough competition for Tolzien for the spot.
Running Back (4): Frank Gore, Robert Turbin, Marlon Mack, Josh Ferguson
I have the Colts keeping four running backs in part because of my belief that the team will look for ways to take the load off of Frank Gore in 2017. Gore is 34 years old, and I think we’ll see a bit more rotation at the position. Turbin is the short-yardage and goal-line guy, but I think he’ll get more reps in other situations this year too. Mack is the change-of-pace back that the Colts drafted in the fourth round, and he’ll be exciting to watch. Christine Michael would have been an interesting competitor here, but he was unfortunately injured in mini-camp. So that left a toss-up between Dalton Crossan and Josh Ferguson, and it could go either way. Many here know that I like Ferguson, but the Colts seem pretty high on Crossan. At this point, though, it’s anybody’s guess.
Wide Receiver (5): T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Kamar Aiken, Chester Rogers, Phillip Dorsett
Hilton, Moncrief, and Aiken all seem like locks to make it. Then Chester Rogers impressed last year in limited reps, really impressed this offseason, and offers versatility as he’s able to contribute both in the passing game and on special teams. I think he’ll see a decent role in the offense as the fourth receiver, and I think he’ll be the Colts’ return man in 2017. Because of that, at this point I think Rogers has a pretty secure spot on the roster too. That leaves Phillip Dorsett and a number of other young guys competing for the fifth spot, and I have Dorsett winning here by default. I don’t think he’s locked into a roster spot by any means, but until someone else steps up to take the spot from him, I think it’s the right assumption to make.
Tight End (3): Jack Doyle, Erik Swoope, Brandon Williams
The tight end position is an interesting one, because it seems like the top three are pretty clear at this point, yet only Jack Doyle is truly proven at the NFL level. Doyle is of course the top tight end, and I think it’s very safe to say that Swoope is the number two just given how much the Colts are excited about him and anxious to see what he can do. So if that’s the case - Doyle as an all-around tight end and Swoope as a receiving tight end - then I’d expect the third spot to go to a blocking tight end, and that’s Brandon Williams. Darrell Daniels, the undrafted free agent out of Washington, could make a push for a spot too, however.
Offensive Line (9): Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, Ryan Kelly, Joe Haeg, Le’Raven Clark, Brian Schwenke, Zach Banner, Denzelle Good, Jeremy Vujnovich
For all the talk of competition up front, I think the offensive line is actually pretty clear right now. Castonzo, Mewhort, Kelly, Haeg, and Clark seem like the starters (and the correct choices, too), while Schwenke, Banner, Good, and Vujnovich seem to be the top depth guys on the roster too. I suppose we could see some competition for those depth spots in training camp if someone steps up, but right now I think this one is pretty straightforward.
Defensive Line (7): Henry Anderson, Hassan Ridgeway, Johnathan Hankins, Kendall Langford, Grover Stewart, Al Woods, Margus Hunt
While the offensive line was relatively easy to predict (at least at this point), the defensive line was easily the hardest area on the roster for me to predict. So let’s walk through it a bit. I think Anderson, Hankins, Ridgeway, and Stewart are guaranteed spots on the roster. I also think that Langford, provided he’s back healthy, is very likely to make it too. Right away, though, that already means that five spots have been decided, leaving little room for a lot of interesting depth players like Al Woods, David Parry, Margus Hunt, and T.Y. McGill - all of whom I think would be good to keep around. A lot of this too depends on where Hankins plays, whether it’s at nose tackle or not. Either way, I reasoned that Al Woods will probably beat out David Parry there, and then reasoned that Margus Hunt - by nature of his being signed by this regime and his ability to contribute on special teams - might beat out T.Y. McGill. If it were up to me, I’d probably go with McGill because of his pass rush than Hunt, even though Hunt’s ability to block kicks could really come in handy. But it’s a coin flip, and I’m going with Hunt over McGill here on this projection. Either way, I think the Colts will be cutting some defensive linemen who could find new teams.
Outside Linebackers (5): Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, Tarell Basham, Akeem Ayers, Barkevious Mingo
Though Basham is listed on the team’s roster as a defensive end, we’ll list him here at outside linebacker because I think that’s where he’ll primarily work - as a rush linebacker. This position is almost entirely made up of newcomers, and I think Sheard, Simon, and Basham are locks. Ayers is one of the most natural pass rushers the Colts have (though that isn’t saying much) and should make a nice push as a depth rusher. And then Barkevious Mingo is a wild card, as the Colts signed him this offseason after he spent the last couple of years primarily as a special teams player. The Colts could use special teams guys, however, so Mingo might make it for his ability to contribute there - and if he can flash the skills defensively that made him a high first round pick a few years ago, that would be even better.
Inside Linebackers (5): Sean Spence, Jon Bostic, Anthony Walker, Antonio Morrison, Edwin Jackson
Though I consider this to be the most wide open position on the roster because of the competition for the starting spots, I think that these five guys are the clear frontrunners for the active roster, with Luke Rhodes just missing the cut. Spence and Bostic both seem to have impressed this offseason; Morrison and Jackson both started several games last year and have valuable experience; and Walker is an interesting rookie out of Northwestern who could be in the mix too. It will be very interesting to see which guys wind up starting, but I at least think these five will be the inside linebackers on the roster.
Cornerbacks (5): Vontae Davis, Quincy Wilson, Rashaan Melvin, Darryl Morris, Nate Hairston
For as much as the cornerback position was talked about as a big weakness this offseason, I actually like this group. Vontae Davis is unquestionably the starter and number one corner, and then rookie Quincy Wilson will likely start opposite of him. I like Rashaan Melvin a lot, though, and I think he’s more than capable of starting for the Colts if they need him to, whether that be to start the season as Wilson adjusts to the NFL level or as an injury replacement at some point. Melvin is a valuable third cornerback to have. The big question at cornerback, however, is who the nickel corner will be, and I think Darryl Morris is probably the favorite there after impressing last year (but this depends a lot on the team’s plans for Darius Butler). Rookie Nate Hairston will probably be considered a slot corner at first, but his primary role early on might simply be on special teams.
Safety (5): Malik Hooker, Darius Butler, Clayton Geathers, Matthias Farley, T.J. Green
The huge question here is about the health and return date for Clayton Geathers. He’s been out with a neck injury that required surgery this offseason, and there’s no timetable for his return. Simply put, unlike with Andrew Luck, we actually have no idea when Geathers will be back. It wouldn’t shock me if he started the season on the PUP list, which would free up a roster spot, but until we know more I’m including him on this projection. Ideally, Geathers Malik Hooker would make a promising safety tandem, with Darius Butler also seeing reps and being used as both a safety and as a nickel corner. Matthias Farley really impressed this offseason, and he seems likely to make the roster too since he’s a big contributor on special teams and also could see more defensive reps. There’s a bit of a question as to whether T.J. Green will make the roster, but I think he probably will and will see some work in the safety rotation (especially if Geathers misses time).
Special Teams (3): Adam Vinatieri, Jeff Locke, Thomas Hennessy
Two of these three spots seem locked in, as veteran Adam Vinatieri will be the Colts’ kicker and rookie Thomas Hennessy will be their long snapper. I think the punter position is a little more up in the air, but Jeff Locke does seem to be the clear favorite. Locke will be competing with undrafted rookie Rigoberto Sanchez, however, and while that hasn’t been talked about much, I think it’s an under-the-radar thing to keep an eye on in camp.