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Colts Position Upgrade Guide: Safety

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
Malik Hooker will be in Indy next year and starting but who will be starting next to him?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Stampede Blue continues its dive into each potential position of need, giving a detailed look at the current state of each position and avenues and targets in which to upgrade. Up next is the safety position.

2018 Colts Safeties

The back end of the Colts defense made a pretty dramatic shift last offseason with Matt Eberflus bringing his Tampa-2 defense to town. The Colts secondary went from using primarily man coverage to a zone heavy scheme. The defense often relied upon Cover-2 or Cover-3 shells with a “bend don’t break” mentality.

In this system, the safeties are tasked with eliminating big plays. It appears the group had some success in this area. The Colts defense limited opponents to 61 chunk plays on the season, good for fourth best in the league. This was due in part to Colts 2017 first round pick Malik Hooker.

Hooker was outstanding coming off a rookie year which was cut short due to an ACL injury, which landed him on injured reserve. While his stats don’t jump off of the page — 44 tackles, 4 passes defended and 2 interceptions — Hooker’s role in the defense is partially responsible for the results. Hooker was asked to man the deep zone and didn’t have a lot of opportunities to make plays on the ball. Colts’ opponents only attempted 44 deep passes on the season, the fewest for any team in the NFL.

Hooker was joined in the secondary by fellow starter Clayton Geathers. Geathers regularly played well in a role that was similar to the one he filled in previous years. He split time on the field as a typical safety and as a dime linebacker to help clog up running lanes in the box. Arguably, he recorded his best season, statistically speaking. He tallied 89 tackles and 3 passes defended. Despite his level of play, Geathers couldn’t manage to stay on the field. He was regularly spotted on the injury report and limited in practices leading up to games.

Geathers wasn’t the only safety to be hit with the injury bug, as fellow safety Matthias Farley played in only 5 games before landing on injured reserve. Even mid-season addition Mike Mitchell, who was signed in part due to Farley’s injury, ended up on injured reserve.

Pending Free Agents

The Colts have decisions to make on numerous pending free agents.

Clayton Geathers is at the end of his rookie contract and had provided Indianapolis with a downhill thumper — one the team has missed since Bob Sanders blew up running backs. As with Sanders, Geathers’ primary concern is the ability to stay healthy. He has already missed 24 games in four years. Geathers should be offered a 2 year contract to see if he kick the injury bug.

Matthias Farley is scheduled to become a restricted free agent and will be more than likely tendered or signed to a new contract. Farley has excelled in his backup role since he was claimed off of waivers from the Arizona Cardinals. He has filled in admirably when teammates have gone down to injury and there hasn’t been notable drop-off when he has been asked to play.

Mike Mitchell was signed mid-season. Based upon Chris Ballard’s practice of targeting young players in free agency, Mitchell may have to look for an opportunity elsewhere. His impact on second-year corner Quincy Wilson’s develop is notable and could earn him a non-guaranteed contract to return.

Upgrades Via Free Agency

One way the Colts could choose to upgrade the safety position is through free agency. The Colts are sitting on approximately $102 million in cap space, after recently resigning Mark Glowinski, Margus Hunt and Adam Vinatieri, which is more than enough to upgrade the safety position.

Landon Collins

Chicago Bears v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Landon Collins is a name that a lot of Colts fans have mentioned as a free agent target. Collins was drafted out of Alabama in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Colts fans are particularly familiar with Colllins as he was the fan favorite to be drafted in the first round by former GM Ryan Grigson. Grigson drafted wide receiver Phillip Dorsett who was ultimately traded by Chris Ballard to the New England Patriots for quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

Collins rookie season was a slight disappointment as he didn’t have as big of a first-year impacts as some anticipated. However, he has developed nicely since his rookie season. Since his rookie year, Collins has been in the top 5 of all safeties for most defensive stops in the league. He is exactly the type of player that Ballard and Eberflus would covet, with the versatility to have an impacts in the box and cover deep zones.

Collins would be an upgrade over Geathers on the field play and from an injury perspective. He is scheduled to his free agency because the Giants did not franchise tag him. He could demand a contract worth $9 million dollars or more per year. That is a hefty price and if we know anything about Chris Ballard it is that he isn’t quick to put up big money in free agency. If that hefty price tag upgrades a major position of need will Ballard bite?

Tre Boston

Chicago Bears v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Tre Boston may not immediately come to mind for the Colts, but he could make sense. He was drafted out of North Carolina by the the Carolina Panthers in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. After managing only 6 starts in his first two seasons, he burst onto the scenes with the Chargers in 2017, producing 79 tackles, 5 interceptions and 8 passes defended. He signed with the Cardinals last offseason and continued his solid play with 79 tackles, 3 interceptions and 9 passes defensed.

Boston strikes me as a under the radar version of Landon Collins who may not get the attention due to playing on a bad team. He would bring exactly what the Colts need, a rounded defensive back who can impacts the game in numerous ways.

Note that Chris Ballard brought Boston in for a visit last year. Perhaps the interest remains?

Adrian Amos

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Adrian Amos is an under the radar safety who many pass over when looking for Colts upgrades. Part of the reason he is overlooked is that he played on an impressive Bears defense with names like Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and fellow safety Eddie Jackson.

Amos was drafted out of Penn State in the fifth round by the Chicago Bears in 2015 NFL draft. He started his rookie year and has held down his spot since. His first few seasons were relatively quite but he exploded last year on one of the best defenses in football. He produced 73 tackles, 2 interceptions and 9 passes defended, which were all career highs.

Amos seems to be an ideal fit for the Colts. He is a prototypical Cover-2 safety, and is capable of playing deep zones or coming downhill against the run. Projecting a price is difficult as he’s arguably not in the top tier of players to hit the free agent market. However, he won’t come cheap.

Upgrades Via Draft

Chris Ballard has preached building the team through the draft, has nine draft picks in the upcoming NFL draft, and his first three picks are projected to fall in the top 60. This gives him ample draft resources to upgrade the safety group.

Johnathan Abram, from Mississippi State, is one of the top safeties in the 2019 NFL Draft. Abram, 6 feet tall and 210lbs, provides the hard hitting, tone setting style of safety play that teams love to see. He adds short zone coverage and man coverage match up ability against tight ends to his repertoire and is the kind of players an up and coming athletic defense could use.

Taylor Rapp, from Washington, is another of the top safeties in the 2019 NFL Draft. Rapp, 6 feet tall and 211lbs, is smart and does an excellent job of reading, identifying and reacting to plays on the ground and through the air. Rapp amassed 168 tackles, 6 sacks, 7 interceptions and 6 passes defensed in his college career. He would fit perfectly in the Colts secondary.

Will Harris, from Boston College, is another possible target. He is 6 feet 1 inch and 207lbs and can do it all. He produced 225 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 5 interceptions and 7 passes defensed in his collegiate career. Harris’ athletic ability and versatility earned him a conversation with the Colts at the Senior Bowl. Is this a sign of things to come?