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Revisiting: 7 Colts players to watch this season

Revisiting my 7 Colts to watch in 2018 predictions from the preseason

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts are 3-5 heading into their bye week coming off of back to back wins against the Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders. Those aren’t the most marketable wins ever but are a great momentum builder as the Colts prepare for the second half of the season. Despite the below average record, there has been a lot to be happy about halfway through the season.

Prior to the season, I wrote a piece where I highlighted which players I thought would fit into certain superlatives. The categories were Breakout Player, Comeback Player, Rising Star, Remember Me Player, Needs to Bounce Back, Darkhorse Player, and Under the Radar. Some of these predictions I hit the nail on the head. Others..... Well not so much.

In this piece I will look back on some of my picks in the first article all the way back from August and make some predictions going forward for the rest of the season. Hopefully my hit rate is a little bit higher going forward than it was the first time around, I feel as though I have a better understanding of this team now under Head Coach Frank Reich.

Breakout Player

Preseason Selection: Quincy Wilson

Wilson has been a tad disappointing this season. After a very up and down offseason where Wilson’s effort was questioned by coaches and media members, Wilson started the year behind cornerbacks Nate Hairston, Kenny Moore, and Pierre Desir on the depth chart. He was fairly average in his first few games of the year where he flashed a couple of solid plays. He was in the concussion protocol from weeks 3-5, missing three games in the process.

Since returning from his concussion, Wilson has played a bit more at sub safety and spent less time at cornerback. He has looked much more comfortable in that role and has made a few more impact plays in that spot. For the season, Wilson has tallied 5 tackles and a fumble recovery in limited playing time.

Midseason Selection: Braden Smith

I could have gone with so many players for this selection. Quenton Nelson, Margus Hunt, and Eric Ebron all deserve honorable mentions but Braden Smith is my choice for Breakout Player. Smith entered the season as the backup right guard behind veteran Matt Slauson and now looks to be the team’s future starter at right tackle. The turn around from guard to tackle in just a few weeks is astonishing.

To further hype up how well Smith has played, his only sack that he has allowed all season came back in week one when he subbed in for an injured player. Since being named the starter at right tackle, Smith has allowed 0 sacks and is currently a top 20 overall tackle in the NFL this season according to Pro Football Focus. Smith has definitely broken out this season and the future looks bright with him at right tackle.

Comeback Player

Preseason Selection: Andrew Luck

Perhaps the easiest selection in this entire piece back in the preseason was Andrew Luck for Comeback Player. The former number one overall pick was prolific before his injury that cost him an entire season of his playing career. With a new head coach, offensive line, and skill position players since the last time he played, Luck has been incredible this season. On the year, Luck has completed 65.8% of his passes for 2187 yards with 23 touchdowns— second most in the NFL— and 8 interceptions through just 8 games. Not much more to say about it, Luck is most certainly back.

Midseason Selection: Anthony Castonzo

It has not been the greatest start to the 2018 season for left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Castonzo was sidelined for most of the offseason with a hamstring injury. After missing the first game due to the injury, Castonzo attempted to come back in week two against the Washington Redskins. As a result, he reaggravated the injury, causing him to miss more time.

Castonzo was finally able to return to action in week 6 against the New York Jets and has looked great since. Although he was hampered early in the year, Castonzo looks like the same player that we’ve seen his entire career. I expect a very strong finish to the season for Castonzo if he can stay healthy.

Rising Star

Preseason Selection: Jabaal Sheard

Sheard has been solid this year, but has not been the rising star that I anticipated. In 2017, Sheard finished second in the NFL in pressure percentage at 14.6% and also was 9th in the league in pressures at 67. I expected Sheard to improve upon those numbers heading into 2018 with a better defense and defensive coordinator at the helm. From my viewings this year, Sheard has been a stellar run defender and has mixed in well as a pass rusher. On the season, Sheard has tallied 23 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks, and 3 pass deflections. Very solid season, just not necessarily the rising star I expected.

Midseason Selection: Darius Leonard

I feel like the comments section would have destroyed me if I didn’t select Leonard as the team’s Rising Star— and for good reason. Leonard has been sensational this season and has already outplayed his second round draft selection. “Maniac” has been a one man wrecking ball on defense and is continually getting better each and every week. This past game against the Raiders, Leonard forced a key fumble late that helped the Colts secure the victory. Against the Bills, he tallied 17 total tackles and a fumble recovery.

Leonard has been an absolute star his year and shows no signs of slowing down. For the season, he has 88 total tackles— by far and away the most in the NFL— along with 7 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 pass deflections. Leonard just may be the fourth player in NFL history with a 200 tackle season by the end of the season. “Maniac” is putting together an insane season and looks like a Pro Bowler in his rookie campaign.

Remember Me Player

Preseason Selection: Clayton Geathers

Geathers has been very solid this season on the back end with Malik Hooker. Geathers started the year a bit slow but started playing really well after a couple games. His tackling ability and ability to stop the run were very important in the Colts’ “bend don’t break defense” early in the season. Geathers has struggled with injuries lately though, as he missed two games due to injury. On the year though, Geathers has tallied 41 tackles, 1 pass deflection, and 1 forced fumble.

Midseason Selection: Jack Doyle

Jack Doyle appears to be an afterthought to many Colts’ fans due to the emergence of Eric Ebron and because Doyle has missed most of the season due to injury. Doyle started the year rather poorly as the often reliable tight end fumbled late against the Bengals which cost the Colts a chance to win the game. After that, Doyle missed most of the season with a hip injury, finally returning to action this past Sunday against the Raiders.

Doyle is one of Luck’s top targets when healthy and I expect him to be heavily involved in the offense going forward. The former Pro Bowler showed his worth this past Sunday with a monster performance. He reeled in 6 catches for 70 yards and a touchdown in the win. Doyle is going to be a big part of this offense going forward. Don’t forget about this guy down the stretch.

Needs To Bounce Back

Preseason Selection: Ryan Kelly

Ryan Kelly has been solid his entire career for the Colts, but he struggled mightily with injuries last season. Last year, he missed the first four games with a broken foot and then was shut down later in the year with a concussion after inconsistent play, after only 7 games. This year though has been a completely different story. With better players around him and his quarterback back under center, Kelly has put together a borderline pro bowl season to this point. He has allowed just 0.5 sacks on the year thorough 8 games. Kelly has been one main standout this year and has certainly bounced back from a rough 2017.

Midseason Selection: TY Hilton

Before you crucify me for this, hear me out. Hilton has been very good this season and is easily the Colts’ top receiver and playmaker on offense. I just want to see more down the stretch than what we have seen to this point. Hilton is doing a great job of getting open in the redzone and making plays in that area of the field for Luck. Where I want to see improvement in the second half of the year is on downfield plays.

Obviously Hilton isn’t entirely to blame for this. Reich’s offense is a very quick hitting scheme so downfield shots aren’t a big part of the game plan. Still though, Hilton hasn’t capitalized on some of his opportunities down the field. I’m not too worried about him going forward— as he is one of the top receivers in football— but the Colts definitely need more from Hilton down the stretch if they want to make the playoffs.

Darkhorse Player

Preseason Selection: Jordan Wilkins

Wilkins has been quietly productive this year despite not living up to the preseason social media hype train he received from fans (I mostly blame myself for that hype train). Wilkins started the year as the lead back with Marlon Mack out with injury. Going against some top defensive lines and behind a battered offensive line, Wilkins struggled in those starts. Since the return of Mack and Nyheim Hines getting more snaps, Wilkins has been much more efficient with his touches. He has 52 carries for 235 yards on the season with an average of 4.5 yards per carry.

Midseason Selection: Kemoko Turay

Now I don’t think that Turay is underrated by Colts fans, but the rest of the league should start talking about this rookie. Another heavily scrutinized second round pick by Chris Ballard, Turay has surprised every draft evaluator that said that Ballard reached for him— which is becoming quite a trend this season. Turay has been quietly very good this year, even if all of his contributions don;t necessarily show up on the stat sheet.

Pro Football Focus has credited Turay with 17 hurries and 4 QB hits, both of which are second on the team behind Jabaal Sheard. What is more impressive though is that Turay is second on the team despite playing half as many snaps as Sheard this year. For the year, the impressive rookie has accumulated 13 tackles, 3 sacks, and forced fumble. I expect a huge second half of the season for this guy.

Under The Radar Player

Preseason Selection: Nate Hairston

Hairston has been a bit underwhelming to say the least this season. After initially starting at corner at the beginning of the year, Hairston has seen his playing time shrink and shrink as the the year has gone on. After only playing in only 9 snaps this past Sunday, he appears to be fully replaced on the outside by Pierre Desir. On the year, Hairston has 28 tackles and 1 pass deflection in 8 games played.

Midseason Selection: Kenny Moore II

Now here is a player who I think Colts’ fans are sleeping on. Kenny Moore has been very good this season in DC Matt Eberflus’ scheme. He is an excellent zone corner as he is uber aggressive and a very stout tackler. The zone scheme perfectly hides his athletic weaknesses that led to him being an undrafted free agent years ago.

Although he struggles still in man coverage and will likely never be more than a depth corner, Moore is proving this year that he needs to be a part of this team going forward. He fits the scheme well, is a leader in the lockerroom, and plays with his heart on his sleeve every single down. For a guy who many—including myself— counted out prior to the year, Moore has truly put together a very good season that we need to talk more about.