The regular season is so close we can practically taste it, and with each week we have gotten a little bit clearer picture of what to expect from this Colts team. Yesterday we went through and ranked the defensive position groups from what I felt was the best to the worst. Today we are looking at the offensive positions.
This is a group that has looked rough so far in the preseason and fostered a lot of questions. With a young and inexperienced defense, the team will need their offense to put up points, and lots of them. So how do they stack up? Let’s take a look.
The unquestioned strongest position on the offense, and indeed the roster, is quarterback. Andrew Luck is a top five player when he is playing at his peak, and I believe we will get that version of him by the midpoint of the season once he has shaken off whatever remaining rust there is and developed a greater comfort with the offense and his many new weapons.
While Luck’s prodigious talent raises this group immensely, Jacoby Brissett is what makes it such a strong one. In a league fraught with awful backups, Brissett is one of the few that would have a very legitimate shot at winning the starting job with several teams. He is not necessarily a game-changing passer, but he does a lot of things well, and has shown growth and development from last season. It would not be at all surprising to see him traded away for a nice haul after this season ends.
The Colts’ tight end group is actually sneakily good. Jack Doyle has been the picture of consistency, proving himself a reliable target for Andrew Luck with a career 77% catch rate. His production paid off last year, sending Doyle to his first Pro Bowl. The hometown favorite may not be a game breaker, but he is a chain mover, and the Colts need that.
That brings us to Eric Ebron. Where Jack Doyle functions as the guy who can move the sticks, Ebron is the guy who can slash defenses for the splash plays. Ebron was the Lions’ 10th overall pick in 2014, and he never seemed to able to live up to the hype that came with that high of a pick. To say that he struggled would be unfair, because his numbers were still very good. However, drops and concentration issues were key in alienating him with the Lions fanbase.
Cautious optimism with regard to Ebron is warranted, but he is paired with a head coach who knows how to use tight ends, and he no longer has to be the guy with all the pressure. Doyle is Batman in this tight end room, and Robin just gets to destroy bad guys and deliver one liners without all that pressure he felt in Detroit.
Behind these two are likely to be Erik Swoope and Ross Travis or Darrell Daniels. Whatever combination of these guys ends up on the final roster, they all have more than enough talent to contribute to the team and bolster this unit.
Despite some of the struggles early, this unit is better than it has appeared. There aren’t many teams whose offensive line can look good in the absence of their starting left tackle. We would love for the line to be totally settled, but in reality, the fact that there has been competition at several spots is a good thing. Penciling in guys as locks to start at every spot has gone poorly for the Colts in years past, and letting the best guys earn their spots means a better group as a whole.
We still don’t know who the right tackle will be, but assuming that Anthony Castonzo comes back healthy, the left side of the line is set and looks solid. Braden Smith and Matt Slauson have both looked passable at the right guard spot, and the Colts may opt to keep Slauson there and move Smith to right tackle where he has done reasonably well. This is not a long term solution, and they’ll need to scheme help for that right side, but it is a far cry from the sieve of a line that has been typical of the Andrew Luck-era Colts. This is a group on the rise.
I am decidedly not in the “sky is falling” camp when it comes to this group of running backs. I have maintained since the beginning of camp that Marlon Mack is going to break out this season in Frank Reich’s offense. His injury sidelined that showing for the preseason, but it hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for him. Mack is a perfect fit for what the Colts want to do, and I think it will be clear quickly how much his injured shoulder hampered his success last year.
Because of Reich’s tendency toward using a slew of backs, I think we can expect that Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines will play significant roles in the offense as well. Hines has shown ball security issues through the preseason and has some history of it in his past, which is a definite question. However, used as a slot receiver and change of pace back he could make things interesting.
Wilkins has seemed like a very well balanced back who has the patience and balance to go up the middle and get positive yards with consistency, though he lacks the game-breaking acceleration and flash of Mack. I expect he will get the bulk of the carries early on while Mack is recovering and Turbin is suspended.
When Robert Turbin returns from suspension, he will undoubtedly contribute as well, having been a consistent short yardage threat in his time with the Colts. As a whole, I think this running back group behind a bolstered offensive line can be effective and one of the better ones we’ve seen in Indianapolis in a long time, but they still have to prove a lot.
This is a tough group. T.Y. Hilton is one of the best receivers in football and is consistently good for a 1,000+ yard season when he has Luck under center. When he gets double teamed and schemed out of the offense, Hilton can struggle, so he needs weapons to be able to generate production and keep defenses from keying on him.
Behind him, however, there are mostly questions. Chester Rogers has shown some ability but is largely unproven and seemed unable to do much without Luck last season. Ryan Grant hasn’t shown anything spectacular, dropping passes and having no real chemistry or timing develop with Luck over the course of the offseason.
After these three are a group of guys who are best suited for special teams work and development. While it is possible that someone like Zach Pascal or Reece Fountain can develop into a contributor, they are largely just guys right now. This is where the loss of a player like Deon Cain hurt. Cain was showing that he might have the ability to make a valuable second target on the offense before he tore his ACL. The Colts will likely be looking at waiver options to strengthen this group once cuts are made.