This season was a blast to be a Colts fan, taking us on a ride down the stretch that most could not have expected. In many ways, good coaching and game planning alleviated the need to have top talent in many areas, and allowed the Colts to succeed despite some holes in the roster.
With the offseason at hand, it is time for the team to begin the postmortem of this season, looking deeply at all the places they failed or performed below expectations. The front office will then set to work identifying ways to improve on their areas of need both in free agency and the draft. With the right additions, this team could be really good in the coming season.
Here are the top team needs for the 2019 season:
The Colts got the opportunity to see first-hand how big an impact an elite group of skill position players can make an offense in their road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. While they have a top receiving threat in T.Y. Hilton, they really have very little behind him both in terms of talent, and also in general in terms of bodies under contract. Ryan Grant and Dontrelle Inman will be unrestricted free agents this offseason, and I would expect to see Grant walk after a disappointing season.
With Deon Cain set to return from an ACL tear, there is hope that he could step into a role as the number 2 wide receiver to T.Y. Hilton, but it would be foolish to assume that he can. While he looked incredible during training camp, he didn’t see real game action outside of his brief preseason play before injury, and he’ll be coming back from a significant injury which will likely hamper him to some degree.
The Colts will be likely to address the receiver position both in free agency and the draft. It would also make sense for them to attempt to re-sign Dontrelle Inman, who really came on late in the season as a reliable weapon. If they manage to hit on a pickup and have Cain be as good as he looked to start the offseason last year, all the better.
While the Colts had a stout front seven against the run, they’ll be losing a couple key players and will need to look at replacements. Both Margus Hunt and Al Woods will be free agents this offseason, and with both men at 32 years old, it is tough to see Chris Ballard re-signing them. If there is one thing you can count on, it is that Ballard will continue to invest in the defensive and offensive lines, as he has repeatedly talked about the importance of winning in the trenches.
There is always speculation about getting someone like DeMarcus Lawrence through free agency, but in a league where pass rush is at a premium, it is tough to see Dallas letting him go. Much of the rest of the free agent class of defensive linemen are on the back end of their career, meaning that Ballard will likely look to the draft to replenish talent while possibly signing another Denico Autry, a role player who is a good fit for the Colts’ scheme. Additionally, Jihad Ward, who played 6 games for the Colts before heading to IR, is a free agent and it would not be surprising to see the Colts re-sign him.
We should expect both the edge rusher and interior defensive linemen to be a major draft priority for the Colts this offseason.
Malik Hooker, George Odum, and Ahmad Thomas are the Colts’ only safeties who will be under contract to start the 2019 season at present. That means there are going to be some tough decisions ahead for them. Clayton Geathers and Matthias Farley are strong locker room leaders and are still relatively young, both are 27, but neither is a standout safety.
There are some intriguing prospects on the market in free agency at the safety position, including Eric Reid, Kenny Vaccaro, and most notably, Landon Collins. It is my opinion that if Landon Collins actually hits free agency, the Colts should do whatever they can to bring him in. Pairing Collins and Hooker in the Colts safety room would make it one of the nastiest safety tandems in the NFL. Were I Chris Ballard, I would then go ahead and re-sign Geathers and Farley to be an incredibly talented backup duo. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a player picked up in the middle rounds of the draft to fill a safety position either.
At the beginning of the 2018 season, many might have put this position at the very top of the list as the Colts’ most prominent need. While it is still definitely a position in need of significant upgrade, the breakout season for Kenny Moore and an incredible back half of the season for Pierre Desir has alleviated the pressure to upgrade immediately at corner. Additionally, Quincy Wilson came on as the season progressed, and showed that there might yet be hope for him as a starter in this defense.
Having said all that, there is certainly a need to add blue chip talent to this cornerback group. Pierre Desir will be a free agent, and while they’d like to retain him, at 28, they need to be considering adding new young players who can grow and develop in this system. There isn’t really an all-star cornerback who will be a big draw in free agency, so I’d look for them to re-sign Desir and invest in a player through the draft to fill out this room in the long term.
Seeing the tight end group listed here might be a bit of a surprise. Jack Doyle will likely return healthy, and Eric Ebron had a career year. Mo-Alie Cox really came on as a blocker toward the end of the season and is still a very raw prospect as well. The position looks like a relative strength for the team.
However, Jack Doyle will be entering a contract year, and will be 29 to start the season. He very well could be re-signed and play for several more years, but the Colts would be wise to be looking for his long-term replacement. Eric Ebron proved that while he is a deadly red zone weapon, he simply will never be a dominant tight end in the way that someone like Travis Kelce or Rob Gronkowski are able to be.
Getting Doyle back to pair with Eric Ebron will make this group a dynamic one, but given Frank Reich’s tendency to use lots of heavy packages and multiple tight ends, it would be almost surprising not to see the team draft one.
The good news for the Colts is that their areas of need line up really well with strengths of this year’s draft class. That is GM Chris Ballard’s preferred means of roster replenishment, and it seems as though the talent is going to be there for him to pull from. In fact, according to The Draft Network, interior defensive line, edge defender, and wide receiver are the deepest positions in this draft. That is great news for the Colts, and if they can have another draft class like the one they had in 2018, we can expect another really fun year.