The Colts, more than perhaps any other team, have always had a strong reliance on a few important players. This year is no different as these 10 players are crucial to the success of the team, especially the players in the top 3. For now, we'll start with five players with large impacts on the team.
10. Frank Gore
Frank Gore is past his prime and his production has decreased quite a bit, but Gore is all the Colts have in the backfield in terms of effective three down running backs. Robert Turbin is not a receiving back and he hasn't proven a lot as a blocking back. During last year's preseason, he received a lot of passing down snaps and proved to be a liability as a blocker, so I doubt the Colts have confidence in him in passing situations. Here's an example of that:
Marlon Mack has very good potential, but I doubt he'll be able to take on a 3 down back role in his rookie year considering he played out of a spread shotgun offense in college that emphasized the passing game and inside and outside zone in the run game.
So with Mack's inexperience and Turbin's ineffectiveness in passing situations, it puts a lot of pressure on Frank Gore to stay healthy and to perform as the majority of the production in the running game will come from him.
9. Jack Doyle
The Doyler had himself a fantastic 2016 season and took over the #1 tight end job. The Indianapolis native ended up becoming Andrew Luck's security blanket and a great threat in the red-zone. TY Hilton will not be open on every play, so Doyle's ability to get open and make important catches will be crucial to Andrew Luck's success, especially on third downs, when teams specifically look to shut down a player like Hilton. He was the #2 target for Luck last season and should look to be a #2/#3 option (depending on the play and situation) with Donte Moncrief.
He is a valuable player because of his consistency in the passing game as a reliable receiver and as a great in-line blocker who can also line up in the backfield. A versatile tight end is quite rare in today's NFL, so having Doyle is important for the Colts' offense and for Andrew Luck's production.
8. Jabaal Sheard
Pass rushers have always been important, but in today's NFL, they are the 2nd most important position/group on a team. Sheard is a new face, but will most likely inherit the main pass rusher role on the Colts and their defense will expect him to generate the most pressure and sacks.
There is a strong correlation between a good pass rush and a strong pass defense. If the pass rush is strong and they're able to pressure the quarterback, that will lead to more rushed and poor decisions from the quarterback which will lead to more incompletions and turnovers. If the quarterback has a ton of time (3+ seconds) in the pocket, then he will be able to go through his reads without any pressure and pick apart the defense, which is a sight Colts fans are used to seeing.
If the Colts intend on being strong against the pass, they'll need their number 1 pass rusher in 2017 to be on his game.
7. Jack Mewhort
Mewhort has developed into the Colts' best offensive lineman. While Ryan Kelly is right on his tail in terms of talent, it's obvious that Mewhort possesses the most ability right now and is the most consistent offensive lineman. We've been hearing for years that the Colts cannot protect Andrew Luck and while that's true, it's not because of Mewhort. The pass protection issues have always stemmed from the right side of the offensive line and before Ryan Kelly, the center spot as well. The left side of the line has been steady the past few seasons.
In order for the Colts to protect Andrew Luck and to increase the productivity of the offense, a sturdy, strong offensive line is needed. If you look at the top offenses in the NFL, you'll see strong offensive lines leading the way (Cowboys, Raiders and Falcons being the best examples in 2015-16).
Mewhort's health and production along the offensive line will be important as he is the link between Ryan Kelly and Anthony Castonzo, two players occupying the two most important positions on the offensive line.
6. Jonathan Hankins
Every great 3-4 defense needs a great nose tackle and Hankins could end up becoming one of the best nose tackles in the league. Putting it simply, a defense can be broken down into two main components: run defense and pass defense. Hankins' value comes as a run defender, although he can occasionally provide some value as a pass rusher.
If the Colts intend on having a legitimate run defense that ranks in the top half of the NFL, Hankins will need to be effective and healthy. Adding players like John Simon and having Clayton Geathers healthy in the second half of the season will make a big difference, but at the end of the day, it's the play of Hankins that will determine how effective the Colts' run defense is. He is crucial for the front seven.