The Indianapolis Colts continued to rely heavily on young players to put away the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on Sunday night. It was a great opportunity for the young Colts to get recognized on a big stage and many of the first- and second-year players made the most of their chances.
We will take a look at contributions on both sides of the ball, along with season totals for each player.
Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith remain stalwarts on the Colts offensive line. Both took every offensive snap. Neither allowed a sack. They helped the Colts rush for 158 yards and put up 33 points on the 3rd ranked scoring defense in the NFL. Nelson even gathered a tackle.
Nelson finished the season having played every snap and allowed only 4 quarterback hits and 2 sacks as a rookie. He became the first guard in NFL history be named Offensive Player of the Month and is the first Colts rookie lineman named to the Pro Bowl since Colts Ring of Honor member Chris Hinton did so in 1983. Hinton went on to receive 7 Pro Bowl invitations and was named an All-Pro 7 times.
Running back Jordan Wilkins finally had an opportunity to make an on-field impact, tallying 3 carries for 18 yards and adding 1 catch for 5 yards. Another catch and would-be touchdown was negated by a penalty flag. Wilkins spelled Mack and played on a total of 16% of the offensive plays.
Wilkins finished his rookie season with 60 carries for 336 yards, a team-leading 5.6 yards per carry average, and added one rushing touchdown. He also caught 16 passes for 85 yards and had an impressive 94.1% catch percentage. Unfortunately, he led the team with 2 fumbles and both resulted in turnovers.
Rookie back Nyheim Hines took his only carry for 4 yards but added 3 receptions for 25 yards. His role was heavier earlier than the game than it was late as he saw the field for only 18% of the offensive opportunities.
On the season, Hines carried the ball 85 times for 314 yards, a team-worst 3.7 yards per carry average, and added two rushing touchdowns. He shined most as a receiver, catching 63 passes for 425 yards and another two touchdowns, with a 77.8% catch percentage. His 63 receptions was third best on the team behind only T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron, and he gathered the third highest reception total for a rookie in Colts history, behind only Marvin Harrison and Bill Brooks.
Second-year rusher Marlon Mack toted the ball 25 times for 119 yards and a touchdown. He also caught 3 passes for a total of -1 yards and saw the field for 67% of the offensive snaps.
For the season, Mack gathered 908 yards on 195 carries, a 4.7 yards per carry average, and carried the ball for 10 touchdowns. He had four games with over 100 rushing yards, including back-to-back performances with more than 120 yards. The last Colts running back to have four games of 100 yards or more was Joseph Addai in 2007. Mack added 17 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown, and had a 65.4% catch percentage.
Sophomore tight end Mo Alie-Cox had 1 catch for 21 yards against the Titans and saw the field for 49% of the offensive opportunities. He finished the season with 7 receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns, with a catch percentage of 53.8%. Perhaps his biggest impact has been filling in as one of the team’s primary blocking tight ends, particularly after Jack Doyle was lost for the season to injury.
Second-year receiver Zach Pascal saw the field for 54% of the offensive snaps but was not targeted. His season concluded with 27 receptions for 268 yards and 2 touchdowns, with a catch percentage of 58.7%. He returned 14 kickoffs for 297 yards, a 21.2 yards per return average.
Darius Leonard tied for the team lead with 8 tackles, 1 interception and 2 passes defensed. His interception sealed the game and allowed Andrew Luck to kneel down to close things out. He played on 100% of the defensive snaps.
Leonard had one of the most productive defensive seasons in NFL history. He finished with 163 tackles (1st in the NFL), 7 sacks (2nd on the team), 12 tackles for a loss, 8 quarterback hits, 2 interceptions, 8 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. He broke the Colts record for tackles in a season and is a front runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Undrafted free agent safety George Odum collected 5 tackles and one pass defensed on 53% of defensive downs played. For the season, Odum tallied 28 defensive tackles, 8 special teams tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 interception and 2 passes defensed. With injuries suffered by Clayton Geathers, Matthias Farley and Mike Mitchell at different times during the season, Odum stepped in to take on a significant role in the nickel defense.
Seventh round rookie linebacker Zaire Franklin generated 3 tackles on 12% of the defensive snaps. He finished with 25 defensive tackles, 4 special teams tackles and a pass defensed. He was used primarily in a rotational role when the Colts starting linebackers were sidelined. His biggest contribution came against the New England Patriots in Week 5, where he tallied 11 of his 25 defensive tackles.
Fellow seventh round rookie linebacker Matthews Adams had 2 tackles on 29% of the defensive snaps against the Titans. He finished the season with 26 defensive tackles, 7 special teams tackles, 5 tackles for a loss, 2 quarterback hits and a fumble recovery. It took him over half of the season to really start making a consistent impact as he worked his way into the “starting” strong side linebacker role. His largest impact has been felt against mobile quarterbacks where he helps to set the edge and contain the pocket.
Second round defensive end Tyquan Lewis played on 43% of the defensive snaps against the Titans but did not register a defensive stat. For the season, which started on Week 10 for him after he was placed on injured reserve to start the year, Lewis gathered 13 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, 8 quarterback hits and a pass defensed. He notably took away almost all of Kemoko Turay’s defensive snaps when he returned from injury and clearly earned the trust of Indy’s defensive coaches as a three-down defender.
Speaking of Turay, he saw the field on 24% of the defensive snaps against the Titans but was unable to record a defensive stat. His rookie season started with promising signs but fizzled out in the back half of the season. He totaled 15 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 tackle for a loss, tied for the team lead with 13 quarterback hits and forced a fumble. It will be interesting to follow Turay’s development over the off-season after such a strange progression in his rookie season.
Kenny Moore II has been one of the biggest surprises for the Colts secondary in 2018. He started by flashing his potential in training camp as the best defensive back on the team and consistently displayed his skill set throughout the season. Against the Titans, he was on the field for every defensive snap and registered 4 tackles, a back-breaking interception and 2 passes defensed. For the season, Moore tallied 76 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback hits, 3 interceptions, 11 passes defensed and a forced fumble.
Former first round safety Malik Hooker saw the field in his sophomore season as much as any second-year player. He had to transition into a new defensive role and was still within the one-year mark from his ACL/MCL surgeries from the mid-year mark in 2017, but he started to make his presence felt late in the season. In Nashville, he took every defensive snap and gathered 3 tackles and pass defensed. For the season, Hooker generated 44 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 passes defensed and a fumble recovery.
Early in the season, Chris Ballard added defensive lineman Al-Quadin Muhammad off of waivers from the New Orleans Saints. He has received a heavy work load as a rotational lineman throughout the year. In Tennessee, Muhammad registered 3 tackles on 43% of the defensive snaps. For the season, he recorded 28 tackles 5 tackles for a loss, 2 quarterback hits, 1 pass defensed and a fumble recovery.
Second-year linebacker Anthony Walker was unable to work his way into a meaningful role in his rookie season. That changed when Matt Eberflus brought a speed-based, Tampa 2 defense to Indianapolis that allowed Walker to drop weight and simplify his assignments. After missing the Week 16 game against the New York Giants, Walker tallied 2 tackles on 76% of the defensive snaps against Tennessee. He concluded the season with 104 tackles (2nd on the team), 1 sack, 10 tackles for a loss, 2 quarterback hits, 1 interception, 4 passes defensed and a fumble recovery.
Small school prospect Grover Stewart was drafted in 2017 due to freakish quickness for a man his size. He has served in a rotational role in his first two NFL seasons but has developed a habit of getting drawn off-sides that will need to be corrected. Against the Titans, Stewart registered 1 tackle and a tackle for a loss on 12% of the defensive snaps. He finished the season with 17 tackles and 2 tackles for a loss.
Former second round pick Quincy Wilson has had a roller coaster experience since he arrived in Indianapolis. He spent much of his rookie season in Chuck Pagano’s dog house and then found himself back in that spot for Frank Reich and Matt Eberflus. He credits veteran safety Mike Mitchell for helping to turn his season around. Once Mitchell arrived, Wilson started to earn more opportunities. He collected 1 tackle on 59% of the defensive snaps in Tennessee. His season included 27 tackles, 1 interception, 2 passes defensed and a fumble recovery.
It has been an impressive season for first- and second-year Colts players. If Chris Ballard was truly intent on building a team identity and foundation based upon homegrown players, 2018 has been a very productive season in that effort. Numerous players seem to have their arrows pointing up and appear to have benefited considerably from coaching staff and defensive scheme changes.
Ballard should have considerable flexibility in how he wants to approach the 2019 off-season due to all of the young and developing talent that is already filling the locker room.