There is no lack of interest in the Indianapolis Colts 2018 season. From Andrew Luck returning to a complete focus on youth, athleticism and speed on both sides of the ball, Colts fans are now legitimately looking at long-term sustainability instead of wild inconsistency for the first time in awhile.
This isn’t for the lack of hope for a breakout year from the right players, mixed with a young roster molded around Luck holding the reins and overachieving. It’s just that Chris Ballard has changed a lot of the expectations for the future of the organization. This, for my money, is when teams are the most interesting.
Every year about this time I put up 3 projections for the season ahead and last year I was one-for-three. The Colts held their opponents to less than 4 yards per carry which was the only one I nailed down. Though my other two projections were complete failures, that was the first time the Colts allowed less than 4 YPC since 2007 — so I take some pride in that one.
This year, my projections are designed to put the Colts in the top 10 of the league at the end of the season in one of these categories. I have to believe that if at least one of these are achieved, a driven Andrew Luck can be the difference in a playoff berth.
Let’s get started.
Colts Feature Three 700-yard Receivers
This may seem like trivial numbers for a receiver corps. But, for the Colts, it would almost certainly mean that a rookie exploded onto the scene. Having three 700-yard receivers has happened only twice since 2012 (2012, 2014).
Typically I’m pretty laid back about rookie production/expectations, especially on the offensive side of the ball. But, I really like the potential of Deon Cain and Daurice Fountain — especially Cain. T.Y. Hilton is a lock to get 1,000 yards throughout a 16-game season, but the Colts have also added a more dynamic tight end in Eric Ebron, Chester Rogers and Ryan Grant will be battling for targets while Jack Doyle will remain that security blanket for Luck.
I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see another unknown receiver become a real contributor either. K.J. Brent, Krishawn Hogan and Kasen Williams are all real possibilities to make the roster and become one of Luck’s favorite big-bodied possession targets. Hilton and Rogers are in the 185-pound range, and the rest of the camp competition is going to be centered around receivers who are predominantly 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and larger.
In 2012 there was an additional 500-yard receiver, while in 2014 there were two quality supplemental receivers who put up 400 yards apiece. Either would work, and I think this unit has the potential to surprise a lot of people in the league. This output would be a tremendous boost to the Colts’ season and would put them in the company of that team that went to the AFC Championship Game and Luck’s rookie year where they really found lightening in a bottle at points in the season.
That is going to win some games.
Colts Defense Racks Up 45 Sacks/Offense Allows < 30
To be perfectly honest, I believe I’ve given past offensive line units WAY too much credit before the season kicks off. However, This year I think we’re talking real potential, and depth up front as opposed to just hoping somebody finally gets it together.
So, it looks like I’ve fallen in yet again.
Additional to this projection, I’m doubling down on the Colts’ new schemes and tying the team’s pass rush to it. In short, the Colts have not accrued 45 sacks since 2005. They put 42 up in 2013, but that was an extraordinary year from Robert Mathis. Meeting that 45-sack goal would require at least two defenders to get into — or very near — double digits with a very active complementary group around them.
It is lofty, I know. But, I’m completely on board with the Colts’ new attacking 4-man front being the perfect move to challenge that threshold.
Jabaal Sheard earned 5.5 sacks last year being held back by doubling as a run defender quite a bit. He’s more than capable of hitting that 10-sack mark. Now I have to get the return out of Tarell Basham after talking him up post-draft only to watch him struggle most of the season in a 3-4. Basham is back in his comfort zone and has a year of learning and losing under his belt.
I also see the additions of Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis as critical to the Colts pass rush. While also lofty, my expectations from Turay are similar to how Yannik Ngakoue was used as he entered the league. Turay is a couple inches bigger, a few pounds heavier and ultimately will be turned loose in passing situations. Same, goes for Lewis, save for the comparison and where he’ll be hunting from.
While Turay may get some disruption up the middle via stunts, the interior will be Lewis’ home if I had to guess. With a very interesting defensive tackle group to battle opposing lines, and a more apt linebacker corps I like what the Colts’ potential holds for creating pressure in 2018.
Now, as for the Colts offensive line, Quenton Nelson makes a massive difference right away. With Anthony Castonzo and Ryan Kelly to each side of him, you can’t help but see a massive improvement already. I like Jack Mewhort, but let’s say Matt Slauson for now at right guard and Austin Howard at right tackle for argument’s sake.
Mewhort gives the team more upside than Slauson, but Howard is likely to be better than anything the Colts have started at right tackle in several seasons. It’s reasonable to assume that’s the next target for Chris Ballard for next year, but there’s real depth this year too.
Denzelle Good, La’Raven Clark, Joe Haeg and Braden Smith is a nice backup plan whereas all three of those veterans have started in the very recent past. Allowing less than 30 sacks for this unit wouldn’t be something that’s necessarily unheard of, but it’d be a massive improvement over the past two seasons.
The Colts allowed 32 in 2013 and only 29 sacks in 2014, and getting that number under 30 in 2018 would likely put the team in top 10 in the league, or darn close to it anyhow. After allowing 100 sacks over the past two seasons, seeing Luck upright and dealing is something every Colts’ fan wants to get used to again.
This unit feels different, and for everyone’s sanity I sincerely hope it is.
Colts Rush for 1,800 yards
Here’s another situation the Colts haven’t found themselves in for quite awhile — since 2004 to be exact. That is a long time to be without a respectable running game. Many of the years with Peyton Manning under center realized that, but Luck isn’t having much more... well, luck.
Without some semblance of a running game the Colts’ offense will struggle mightily. Rob Chudzinski showed to be too predictable with his play-calling, but Frank Reich wasn’t exactly killing it when running the San Diego Chargers’ offense in 2014-15.
The Colts have a very fun and young backfield after adding Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins through the draft. With the hopes that Marlon Mack can establish himself into an all-around back, this combination of explosiveness and patience should be fun to watch in the coming weeks.
The Colts have vastly improved their offensive line, though, and that’ll play a large role in helping them find space to run to. Reich did not run the ball a ton in San Diego, but the Philadelphia Eagles ran the ball over 900 times over the past two seasons.
How much of that does Reich implement into the Colts offense? And how much will he bring with him from his Chargers days in this regard? Ideally, the Colts also want to be over 4 yards per carry, and probably closer to 4.5 in order to complement Luck appropriately.
This, too, would be a threshold that would likely put the Colts in the top-10 range in the league. The Colts backfield — like most other positions — is a position with a lot of questions, though.
Does Robert Turbin remain on the team? Can any of the other backs at least perform as if they’re the lead back? Reich has stated many times over that the by-committee approach is how the backs will be used. However, my guess is that that is what a coach says when he doesn’t know who the best of the group is. If one proves to be an every down back, he’ll get used as such.
Someone has to come out on top of this bunch, but they’ll need two or more capable runners this year if they want to hit this benchmark.