It’s always fun to think about how your team will improve during the offseason — coaching changes, free agency, the draft; change can be exciting. This is especially true for Indianapolis Colts fans this offseason.
With Chuck Pagano out the door as head coach and Super Bowl winner Frank Riech in it, that brings along a lot of hope — especially after the spectacular wreck that was the Josh McDaniels situation last week.
Over the next few months, Reich and general manager Chris Ballard have about $77 million in cap space and the No. 3 overall draft (plus, six other picks) to help get this roster back into the playoffs.
If 2017 was the step in which Ballard helped pick the beaten Colts franchise up out of the dirt, then 2018 is brushing that dirt off and moving forward again.
From now until September when the regular season starts, we’ll take a monthly look at the Colts roster and see how it’s changed and how it could still improve.
NFL free agency starts in a month, and then the 2018 NFL Draft is a month and a half after that. Here is the February analysis of the current Colts roster, excluding its impending free agents.
Quarterback: Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Brad Kaaya, Phillip Walker
Running Back: Marlon Mack, Robert Turbin, Matt Jones, Josh Ferguson
Wide Receiver: TY Hilton, Chester Rogers, K.J. Brent, Krishawn Hogan, DeAndre Smelter, Rodney Adams, Dres Anderson, Kolby Listenbee, James Wright, Justice Liggins, Seantavius Jones
Tight End: Jack Doyle, Darrell Daniels, Ross Travis, Jason Vander Laan, Mo Alie-Cox
Offensive Tackle: Anthony Castonzo, Denzelle Good, Tyreek Burwell
Offensive Guard: Joe Haeg, Le’Raven Clark, Mark Glowinski, Isaiah Williams
Center: Ryan Kelly, Deyshawn Bond, Anthony Fabiano
QB — The most critical area of the Colts offense right now is their quarterback situation. With Luck progressing through rehab and getting closer to throwing footballs, there is a “wait and see” approach. Right now, Luck is the quarterback unless his shoulder indicates otherwise down the line.
RB — We’re likely going to see changes at running back. Mack is a keeper, and Ballard will probably want to hold onto Turbin as well, but Jones and Ferguson are totally expendable. If impending free agent Frank Gore has played his last days in Indianapolis, you can bet someone else will be brought in to compete for major snaps with Mack and Turbin.
WR — I imagine we’ll see a lot of change at wide receiver also. Hilton’s spot goes without saying, but no other receiver on the roster is safe. Rogers has his moments, but was far from impressive last year (not all his fault). While I think a couple of the other nine receivers could make a serious run at a roster spot, it makes sense for the Colts to bring in a few others who are safer bets. That means casting a net for established free agent receivers like Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins or Marqise Lee as well as some mid-level guys with potential like Donte Moncrief (re-sign to as cheap of a deal as he’ll take), Paul Richardson or Albert Wilson. This also includes using a draft pick between Rounds 3-5 on a guy who seems likely to be a hit.
TE — The Colts already have a pretty decent group of tight ends, but there should be some players available this offseason that could upgrade the position. Tyler Eifert, Trey Burton and Austin Seferian-Jenkins could all fit, and all should command reasonable price tags as free agents. Of course, the Colts should also look to re-sign Erik Swoope, especially since he is just an ERFA. In the draft, guys like Mark Andrews, Dallas Goedert, Mike Gesicki and Hayden Hurst could complement Doyle well.
OL — Here comes the annual discussion on how to fix the line. The Colts are actually in good position to get it on the right track this offseason. Offensive line is a group that can be bought in free agency, and the Colts have the funds to do it. They also have early draft picks in each round. Most of us want to see the Colts make a run at the top free agent lineman, Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell. If Jack Mewhort is also re-signed to a “prove it” deal, he could provide at least average play. Overall, it wouldn’t hurt the Colts to sign/draft at least three capable linemen. The offensive playcalling will probably make the line look better, as the ball should be getting out of the quarterback’s hands quicker.
Defensive End: Jabaal Sheard, Henry Anderson, Tarell Basham, Margus Hunt, Anthony Johnson, Arthur Miley, Johnathan Calvin
Defensive Tackle: Johnathan Hankins, Al Woods, Hassan Ridgeway, Grover Stewart, Joey Mbu, Caraun Reid
Off-ball Linebacker: John Simon, Anthony Walker Jr., Antonio Morrison, Jeremiah George, Darnell Sankey, Jermaine Grace, Joshua Perry
Cornerback: Quincy Wilson, Kenny Moore, Nate Hairston, Chris Milton, D.J. White
Safety: Malik Hooker, Clayton Geathers, Matthias Farley, T.J. Green, Ronald Martin
DL — Although the Colts are switching to a four-man front, the defensive line is arguably still the group I’m most comfortable with. The Colts have players with all sorts of skill sets that can move around the line situationally. If Anderson kicks out to be more of a strong side end, it keeps Hankins and Woods as the starting core of the line. Ridgeway is a good-looking backup three-technique while Stewart continues training behind Woods.
ED — While the Colts’ pass rushers will be a part of of the line in the new scheme, we’ve still got to talk about them separately. It makes sense for Sheard to take over the primary pass-rushing end spot for now. Where it will get interesting is if the Colts do take a blue-chip pass rusher like Bradley Chubb in the draft. Does he start over Anderson opposite of Sheard? This new 4-3 scheme makes things very interesting to follow over the next several months.
LB — This group is going to get a big-time makeover. The only player I can confidently see with a starting role is Simon. Walker was just a rookie last year, but will still need to impress to get his way into the starting lineup. I don’t see a starting role for Morrison at all, especially with all of the space he’s going to be in under defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. Dallas Cowboys free agent linebacker Anthony Hitchens is a name to watch landing in Indianapolis. He could be what Eberflus wants as his captain on defense to make the calls. The word is that the Colts want to add up to three new linebackers this offseason, and between free agency and the draft, this offseason will be ripe with them.
CB — Looking at the Colts’ current group of corners, you can see a starting role for Wilson, Hairston continuing in the nickel, and some sort of role for Moore. However, that’s where it stops. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Colts add another two or three quality corners. They have a couple of their own impending free agents to decide on with Rashaan Melvin and Pierre Desir. It would be wise to bring back at least one of them, if not both. This isn’t a great cornerback class in the draft, so if they’re going to draft any, it should be by the end of the fourth round.
S — Health permitting, this group is in pretty good shape. Hooker and Geathers should be the starting duo, with Farley on deck. While he is a great athlete, Green is definitely going to have to earn his way onto this roster in 2018. He improved as a sophomore in 2017 after a lowly rookie year in 2016, but there’s still much to be done. The good news is that this front office and new coaching staff is dedicated to teaching and developing players. With Green’s God-given athletic ability, they may be able to turn him into a pretty good player. One other factor to keep an eye on is Geathers. I think it’s worth exploring throwing him into the linebacker group as the WILL, opposite of Simon at SAM, with someone like Hitchens as the MIKE. The Colts want to get faster and tougher on defense, and that’s one way they can do it.
SPECIAL TEAMS (1)
Punter: Rigoberto Sanchez
Long Snapper: N/A
Holder: Rigoberto Sanchez
Kickoff Specialist: Rigoberto Sanchez
Kickoff Returner: Rodney Adams, Josh Ferguson, Marlon Mack, Chester Rogers
Punt Returner: Chester Rogers
There’s not much to worry about here; the Colts just need to get their guys back. Luke Rhodes is their long snapper, but he’s going to be an ERFA. There’s no reason for them not to bring him back. Kicker Adam Vinatieri is the wild card. There was some uncertainty as to whether he would come back given his age, the trajectory of the Colts and the coaching changes that were made. However, Vinatieri is still kicking like he’s in his 30’s, and the Colts’ situation is looking up after hiring Reich.