The Indianapolis Colts entered the season asking a lot from their first- and second-year players. The team has gone from the oldest in the NFL to one of the youngest very quickly under Chris Ballard and the plan to develop “home grown” players internally has been in full effect. Some of these young players have played so much this season that it almost doesn’t feel like it is fair to call them rookies. They’re slowly progressing into NFL veterans and the first- or second-year jitters seem mostly played out of their systems.
The only concern now is if the team starts to see young players hit that rookie wall. The NFL season is demanding and a significant transition from a college schedule. This doesn’t hit everyone the same but is common enough to keep an eye on it. For now, it appears that none of the young players are slowing down.
Rookies Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith continue to play pretty much every offensive snap. They have played an important role in keeping Andrew Luck clean in the pocket, allowing zero sacks in the last four games. It is hard to quantify just how important both players have been to an offensive explosion in recent weeks.
Rookie rushers Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins continue to play an active role on offense. They are taking a backseat to second-year back Marlon Mack, but prior to the game Chris Ballard and the Colts released Robert Turbin, which should tell you about all you need to know about his confidence in the rookies.
Hines played on 36% of the offensive snaps and carried the ball three times for three yards, with 3 receptions for 19 yards. He had a big drop that could have gone for a long gain in the second half that he will need to not repeat if he wants to stay in favor. Wilkins was only on the field for 5 offensive snaps but carried the ball on one of those snaps for 53 yards.
Mack has been lighting the world on fire for the last two and a half games but came down to earth. He carried the ball 12 times for 29 yards, a 2.4 yards per carry average. He also caught 2 passes for 9 yards.
Second-year tight end Mo Alie-Cox has also stepped forward after going undrafted in 2017. He was on the field for 41% of the offensive snaps — 2 snaps more than Eric Ebron — and caught 2 passes for 28 yards and a touchdown. He also had a huge drop that was deflected into the air off of his chest and into the hands of Telvin Smith for an interception.
While rookie linebacker Darius Leonard spent much of the day relatively quiet, it is hard to complain when “quiet” is 8 tackles and one tackle for a loss. It wasn’t quite up to his expectations, to be sure, but he still was on the field for 99% of defensive snaps.
Rookie defensive end Kemoko Turay missed the game with a neck injury. Naturally, the Colts activated rookie Tyquan Lewis to take his place. In his first NFL game, Lewis saw the field for 71% of the defensive snaps and tallied 3 tackles, one tackle for a loss, and a pass defensed that arguably saved the game. Not a horrible way to start your NFL career.
Rookie linebackers Matthew Adams, Skai Moore, and Zaire Franklin all saw the field on defense. Adams led the way with 15 snaps, Moore had 14, and Franklin saw the field for 10 plays. Only Adams tallied a defensive stat, with one tackle.
Rookie safety George Odum added 2 offensive snaps and one tackle.
Second-year safety Malik Hooker was also on the field for 99% of the defense snaps, tallying four tackles and a game-sealing fumble recovery. He also missed a tackle in the first quarter against former Colts receive Donte Moncrief, who went on to score a touchdown. Hooker was joined by Kenny Moore who played on 96% of the defensive opportunities. Moore was the best Colts defensive player to take the field, generating 6 tackles, a tackle for a loss, two passes defensed, and the game-sealing forced fumble late in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore cornerback Quincy Wilson played on 67% of the defensive snaps, tallying 6 tackles. He had a dismal game overall, looking lost and out of place and being personally responsible for a number of plays in his direction. Linebacker Anthony Walker, on the other hand, played on 59% of the defensive snaps and led the team with 10 tackles and 1 tackle for a loss. In terms of the front seven, Walker was all over the field shutting things down and pestering Jaguars ball carriers on the ground.
Second-year defensive lineman Grover Stewart played on 30% of the defensive snaps and added 3 tackles with one tackle for a loss. He was banged up during the game but is expected to recover and be ready to go against the Titans.