In the doldrums of the NFL off-season every NFL writer is scratching for story ideas. It appears that goes for ESPN as well. In an attempt to manufacture traffic, last week ESPN allowed the ever unreliable PFF to put out a click bait article ranking the NFL rosters as they stand at the end of June from best to worst.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Colts ended up 30th on the list, or third worst, only above the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns. However, the manner in which PFF made these rankings are suspect at best as there is no reliable way to explain the rankings. Regardless, let’s break down what they said.
Biggest strength: Most Colts fans have been disappointed with the overall play of the team, especially the defense, but Indianapolis has several promising players, with Jabaal Sheard coming off an elite 91.3-graded season despite registering just five sacks. Sheard was able to generate 66 pressures with a pass-rush productivity of 11.6. Considering the value of pressuring the QB and that pressures are more predictive of future success than sacks alone, Sheard should continue to be a force off the edge for Indianapolis.
Let’s think about this for a second. PFF is saying the Colts biggest strength going into 2018, based off PFF grades from 2017, is their pass rush. I mean, at least they didn’t wait to destroy their credibility when discussing the Colts. To say the pass rush is the biggest strength after grading on stats from last season is laughable as pass rush was arguably the Colts biggest weakness last season.
PFF lists the Colts as a 4-3 defense but touts Sheard’s ability in the 3-4. Don’t get me wrong, Sheard could excel in the new defense. He’s reportedly looked great in camp so it could be the Colts biggest strength. In the end, the emergence of Tarell Basham and Kemoko Turay at the DE opposite Sheard are likely to have a larger impact on how the Colts pass rush looks.
PFF may be right, the pass rush may be the Colts biggest strength next season, but to use data from last year — when the Colts ran a 3-4 — to project how good a roster is this year, in a 4-3, is questionable at best. To not even mention Basham and his transition back to the 4-3 where he excelled or the addition of Kemoko Turay is just non-sense. However, this is not unexpected as PFF seems to frequently miss these types of connections.
If PFF actually did a little bit of leg work and delved into the Colts roster, they would pretty easily see QB, TE, DL or OL each could be argued as their biggest strength. With a healthy Andrew Luck, the QB position is undoubtedly the Colts biggest strength. As this article was published after the pending National Holiday, “Andrew Luck Throws the Duke” Day, celebrated on June 12, it’s a bit careless to not consider Luck at all.
Biggest weakness: While the Colts’ offensive line as a whole struggled in 2017, GM Chris Ballard made moves to improve the unit and should see an uptick. Where the Colts have a glaring weakness is at the inside linebacker position, with Antonio Morrison coming off a season in which he graded at 35.8, struggling in coverage and run defense. Quarterbacks have had success when targeting Morrison in coverage the past two seasons, as his 119.0 passer rating allowed highlights his struggles.
Here’s where PFF definitely got it right, but for the wrong reasons. The ILB position is likely the biggest question mark on the Colts roster. Interestingly enough, PFF focuses their entire blurb on Antonio Morrison and his struggles. However, they list Morrison as an OLB in the Colts new defense and don’t mention Anthony Walker at all.
Hmm... it’s tough to take PFF seriously when they can’t even get their own article straight. Regardless, Morrison’s only shot to make the Colts roster this season is at the Sam (Strong Side OLB), not the Mike (Middle LB).
PFF lists Anthony Walker at ILB but doesn’t mention him at all. There are still plenty of questions as to whether Walker can step up and take hold of the Mike. If Walker gets back to his playing weight from 2015 when he was a consensus First Team All Big 10 and All-American honeree at ILB, he could more than take care of the Mike position. Walker excelled in coverage at his lower weight. He’s smart, instinctive and can cover. That’s exactly what you want at the Mike in a Tampa style 4-3.
Regardless, PFF gets it right to list ILB as the Colts biggest weakness going into 2018. They could have just said LB in general was the biggest prospective weakness as each of the LB positions are filled with unproven players.
By the numbers: Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton experienced his worst season since his rookie year, with 1.74 yards per route, and he forced just two missed tackles. Hilton was sure-handed when targeted, though, dropping just four passes, the second-lowest drop rate of his career.
Well this is misleading, but not inaccurate. Hilton did have his worst season statistically since his rookie year. However, as we all know, his QB was Jacoby Brissett, OC was Rob Chudzinski and the OL was a mess. Add on he was the focus of most defenses and it is easy to see why Hilton was less productive last year as compared to years past.
TY should be back to his old self terrorizing defense this season with the new offense and Luck under center, especially if the dramatically improved OL gives Luck time to throw.
To wrap up, take what PFF says with a grain of salt. They use their own highly questionable grading system to rank teams based on last year’s player grades. They do not take into account coaching or scheme changes. They do not take into account players coming back from injuries in their projections. They do not take the time to actually look at the roster or consider other variables.
While PFF can be a useful tool in certain situations, ranking rosters based on their subjective grading without taking into account any variables or extenuating circumstances is not one of them.
Again, in the end, PFF may be right. The pass rush may be the Colts’ biggest strength. The MLB may be the biggest weakness. However, it won’t be for the reasons PFF mentions as they neglected to address the players that will actually make a difference in those positions.