The NFL drought is in full effect. There are faint rumblings of thunder far off in the distance, but the clouds are moving slowly and the rains won’t fall for some time yet. While we wait impatiently for that time to come, I wanted to take a look ahead at the season and make some predictions about some individual Colts and how I believe their seasons may go. Be sure to drop your own predictions in the comments.
Breakout Player: Kemoko Turay
Kemoko Turay had flashes of real brilliance in his rookie season. There were times that it was completely apparent why Turay was selected in the second round of the draft, with his explosive speed off the line on full display. Early in the season he looked like he could be primed to be the next impact player for the team.
His season ended in more disappointing fashion, with him slowly losing out on snaps to others, and the coaching staff stating in pretty clear terms that his effort in practice needed to be better if he wanted to see the field. It seems he has taken that to heart in the offseason, spending a couple days each week working with former Colts great Robert Mathis to hone his game and staying in Indy to work on keeping himself in top shape.
After an already impressive rookie campaign, returning to the same defensive scheme and making himself stand out in a crowded defensive line group will be priority one for Turay. He will be lining up across from Justin Houston at times, which should create opportunities for him to have a major impact in the coming season. If he can do so, this defense should be scary in a way they haven’t since the days of Freeney and Mathis.
Rising Star: Kenny Moore
While some players get a big paycheck and relax a bit, that just isn’t how Kenny Moore is. He had his best year in the league in his second season, and there is reason to believe that year three will be his best one yet. In part, this is because the Colts look to have bolstered their defensive line group with better pass rushers, which should increase pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
A second year in the system with Matt Eberflus will certainly help Moore take another step forward developing as a player as well. He is the kind of hard-nosed corner who isn’t afraid to mix it up and make a tough tackle, or lay out for a pass breakup. With an improving group around him, Moore looks to be entering a place where he can be a star of this defense alongside the well-known and established names like Justin Houston, Darius Leonard, and Jabaal Sheard. Pierre Desir had a great 2018 and should still be very good for the Colts, but this should be the year of Kenny Moore.
Don’t Forget About: Malik Hooker
With the addition of players like Rock Ya-Sin and the growth of Quincy Wilson to flesh out the cornerback room, the potential for the Colts’ defense to play in more frequent press-man looks throughout the 2019 season is very apparent. Matt Eberflus has already talked this offseason about how this allows the defense to match up specifically against the strengths and weaknesses of opponents they face in a more versatile way.
That is good news for Malik Hooker, whose strength really is in his rangy ability to play the center field role of a single high safety. With his ACL tear of 2017 further in the rearview, Hooker is due for a major step forward in his play. The scheme didn’t highlight his strengths last season and left some questioning his impact, however, he had a solid year doing what he was asked.
This year, with an emphasis on being able to be a multiple look kind of defense depending on the matchup, Hooker is due for a big jump in his productivity. As one of the less experienced players at his position entering the league, this year will be a big one in demonstrating the kind of player we expect Hooker to become in the coming years, and a standout season for him will be a major key to the defense making the leap from acceptable to good.
Needs To Rebound: Jack Doyle
It was a rough season for Doyle in 2018. Injuries robbed him of most of his season, and it was clear that he wasn’t himself when he was on the field. His most influential play in a game last season was the fumble that cost the Colts a chance to get a week 1 win against the Bengals, and that is not the way anyone wants to remember their season.
As he enters a contract year, it will be critical for Doyle to remind coaches and fans alike why he has been such a favorite target of Andrew Luck. His consistent play both in blocking and as a receiver have made him one of the most reliable offensive players on the team, and if he wants to see more days as a Colt, he’ll need to bring that back. In a crowded and ever-younger offense, Doyle needs to have a big year.
Dark Horse MVP: T.Y. Hilton
Somehow despite all he does for the team, T.Y. gets overshadowed. Andrew Luck, Quenton Nelson, and Darius Leonard have been talked about ad nauseam, and deservedly so. However, the season T.Y. Hilton put together in 2018 was one of the most impressive by a Colts receiver in my memory.
He caught 76 balls for 1,270 yards and 6 touchdowns-a feat which is pretty impressive in its own right. It is made far more impressive when provided the knowledge that he did it while playing with myriad injuries, including both a high and low ankle sprain that kept him out of practice, but not out of games, for the last 6 weeks of the Colts’ season (including the playoffs). No one can doubt Hilton’s toughness, and with struggling receiving weapons and the loss of TE Jack Doyle, he was a critical part of the team’s success. While Andrew Luck will always be the team’s primary MVP, T.Y. Hilton is a very close second.
Under The Radar: Marlon Mack
2018 was a good year for Marlon Mack. While he finished 2018 ranked 16th among running backs in total rushing yards with 908, his yards per game were good for 7th, averaging 75.7. A lingering hamstring injury that limited his participation in the first part of the season held him out of that top group of backs.
2019 figures to be an even better year for Mack, as he has the chance to enter the new season with another year in the same offense, a fully returning offensive line in front of him, and a head coach who has already stated that they need to make the running game a bigger priority this season.
Even if Mack did nothing more than pick up where he left off in 2018, he should be primed for a 1,200 yard, 10 touchdown season. If he manages to take his game to the next level, he could be one of the best backs in football in 2019.
Top Rookie: Parris Campbell
What do you get when you pair blazing speed, solid hands, and a strong work ethic with an elite quarterback and an innovative offensive minded head coach? How about a prime rookie of the year candidate? That’s the ceiling for Parris Campbell in the Colts’ offensive in 2019.
The former Buckeye was limited in his role at the college level as he largely operated as a gadget guy and out of the slot. Opposite threats like T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron, Campbell will be provided an excellent opportunity to prove he has what it takes to take the league by storm. He’ll never face the best corner on the field as long as Hilton is around, and Frank Reich will be looking to get him into mismatches early and often to utilize his unique skill set.
Look for Campbell to be effective early and often in the coming season, because if there is one thing the Colts proved capable of under Frank Reich, it was to get the ball in the hands of their play makers with consistency.
Surprise Impact Player: Jihad Ward
With the exception of Deon Cain, few injuries bummed me out as hard as that of Jihad Ward’s last season. Ward was signed to the Colts’ practice squad after cutdowns in 2018 and worked his way to the active roster just over a week later.
He worked primarily as a rotational pass rusher, and averaged just 24 snaps per game before going down with injury. Despite that limited usage, he still had 6 QB hits and 3 sacks over the 6 games he played in. Ward’s affinity for Matt Eberflus’ scheme was apparent when watching him last season, and working another year in it should help him be even better.
If the Colts can get that level or better production from a rotational backup, they will be far better off in terms of pass rush in 2019. All they need from Ward is for him to stay healthy and keep grinding.