As we wrap up the 2018 season, it is time to take a look at the season as a whole and declare some winners and losers. There are quite a few of them, so we will start on the offensive side of the ball and tackle the defensive side tomorrow.
There are a lot of players who could be considered winners this season, but above them all is Andrew Luck. Luck had a phenomenal season, despite ending it on a rather awful note. He meshed really well in Frank Reich’s offense and made the most of the weapons he was given. There was never going to be a way to fix all the Colts’ problems in one offseason, and the weakness at receiver was pretty apparent throughout this season, but even still, Luck finished the year with one of his best seasons as a pro.
Simply coming back from injury would have been encouraging enough for Luck, but doing so with such a strong showing and re-establishing himself as a top tier quarterback in the NFL was a major win for Luck and a beacon of hope for this team moving forward. Add to that the fact that he will get the opportunity to play in the same offense again next year, and 2018 was a big win for Luck.
Despite missing 2 games and playing hurt for the last several games of the season, T.Y. Hilton still delivered his 3rd most productive season. The only year where he had a higher yards per reception average was his rookie season where he played deep threat alongside Reggie Wayne in Bruce Arians’ big play offense.
More than the numbers, T.Y. Hilton represented a toughness and unbending resolve that this young team needed to see. He stepped up for the team when they needed him the most, and his effort through serious pain was simply incredible. Showing up to the Texans game in the Wild Card in a clown mask was iconic, spawning copycats throughout the rest of the playoffs. This was a great year for Hilton and if the Colts can get some additional weapons to complement him in the offseason there is no reason he can’t keep doing it.
This was a breakout year for Marlon Mack. Down the stretch he showed himself to be a capable back who can carry the load for this team and maintains a big play ability that is unmatched in the Colts’ backfield. He missed 4 games this season, starting in just 10 total, but still managed to amass 908 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 4.7 yards per carry on the season. With a full season, Mack almost certainly breaks 1000 yards rushing and does so as a part of a committee. The arrow is pointing up for Mack in a big way as we will get another year of this offensive line together to get better still. 2019 could be an even bigger year for Mack.
Perhaps no one but Andrew Luck won bigger this season than Eric Ebron. Once considered a bust, Ebron found his form with the Colts, proving himself to be a guy the fans and players loved alike. His 13 receiving touchdowns were incredible, and he was the Colts’ unquestioned most dangerous red zone threat.
The shadow of the old Ebron, one who dropped passes in big moments was still around. However, his contribution to the team allowed him to step out of that shadow and still be a major value. With Jack Doyle back to health and the relegation of Ebron to a situational threat, he is likely to thrive going forward.
One of Chris Ballard’s best midseason acquisitions, Dontrelle Inman came in with previous experience working with Frank Reich. He seamlessly integrated into a wide receiver room that needed veteran presence and solid production. Fortunately, he brought both and became a big factor for the Colts down the stretch, becoming a reliable 3rd down option and making some big plays down the stretch for a team that needed someone to step up opposite T.Y. Hilton. Whether Inman is re-signed or not, he certainly made himself some money this season.
What more can be said about Nelson that hasn’t been already? You know you’re having a great rookie year when you are named to the Pro Bowl and as an AP First-Team All-Pro. We’ll never really be able to quantify Nelson’s exact impact on this line, but he has been a big part of its development and growth and will only improve. Usually you expect big steps forward for linemen as they get familiar with the NFL, and if that is the case for Nelson, this line will be terrifying to play against.
It is a testament to how good this draft class is that more isn’t said about Braden Smith. The guy is drafted in the second round as a guard, has to step up and fill in the right tackle spot after injuries, and by the end of the season is handling guys like J.J. Watt. In any normal year this would be a guy we couldn’t stop talking about. Instead he gets lost in the shuffle, which is how many offensive linemen prefer it. Still, the same is true for Smith as Nelson. If he sees a major jump in his second season, it will mean big things for this offensive line.
This was the season where we saw Kelly take his biggest step forward. If not for injuries, he had an All-Pro type of season as the Colts center. It is clear that the addition of solid guards on either side of him had an impact on his play. The best football for Ryan Kelly seems to be ahead of him, and that bodes well for the Colts’ offense.
It was telling that Castonzo’s return marked a massive difference in the offense’s ability to effectively execute their game plans. After missing him for the first 5 weeks, the line looked like a whole different group with him on the field. If you want to point to his value, little more than the results after his return need to be pointed to. The Colts will need to be thinking about his eventual replacement, but his play this season showed why that is not an imminent need just yet.
Reich proved himself a worthy head coach and his staff did a great job preparing this team each week. He turned an offense around and made them highly efficient, scheming his players open and moving the ball well despite below average wide receivers and the loss of his top tight end. There is certainly room for Reich to improve, but as a first year head coach who took his team from 4 wins to the playoffs, this was a major win for Reich.
Honorable Mentions: Mark Glowinski, Nyheim Hines
The Colts were in desperate need of help at the wide receiver position this season, which gave a huge opening to anyone looking to make a name for themself. Chris Ballard brought Grant in on a 1-year $5M deal to be the number 2 wide receiver to T.Y. Hilton. Grant simply did not live up to the billing. While his production through the first five games of the season wasn’t awful, it was also unspectacular. After week five, he never recorded more than 2 receptions in a game. This was a majorly disappointing season from him, especially since he had been slated to sign with the Ravens on a 4-year, $29M deal before it fell through because of a failed physical/buyer’s remorse.
While he certainly improved his play down the stretch, Rogers did very little to solidify his chances as a future starter in the wide receiver room for the Colts. Like Grant, Rogers was faced with an opportunity to establish himself without great competition surrounding him. Instead, he was never really able to break away from the pack.
It is true that down the stretch he began to carve out a niche for himself as a guy who could move the ball on bubble screens and make some things happen after the catch. However, based on this season, hoping for anything more than a role as a special teamer and receiver depth is unlikely for “Chester from Grambling.”
Few players on the Colts have been viewed as being quite as dependable as Jack Doyle. He was Andrew Luck’s favorite target on third downs and had a great season in 2017 as well. Unfortunately for Doyle, he got hit with the injury bug in 2018 and was unable to contribute in any significant way.
Perhaps Doyle’s most notable play came against the Cincinnati Bengals as the Colts were driving to win the game. He coughed up a truly awful fumble that ended the Colts’ hopes for a win. With a contract year coming up Doyle now has a lot of pressure on him to have a solid year, because this is probably his last chance to etch a big contract. He certainly has what it takes, but it would have been much better to get to enter a contract year after adding another solid season to his resume than one spent in the training room.
Despite being viewed as a basketball player who could turn tight end for the Colts, Swoope just hasn’t seemed able to make that transition into a long-term option for the team. He isn’t out of the running entirely having landed on the Colts’ practice squad, but he lost out on his spot to Mo-Alie Cox, a guy with a similar skill set and background to his. Given the loss of Doyle, you would have hoped to have Swoope take advantage and earn himself a spot.
Seriously. How many times was this poor guy sent packing just to be re-signed?