We have officially entered Chris Ballard’s third year as Colts General Manager. This means that Indianapolis is comprised very heavily of players who were signed or drafted by Ballard, while nearly every player who was on the Ryan Grigson managed roster is elsewhere or out of football.
We’ll track the statistical performance of players from each of the last three off-season classes, draft picks and free agent/waiver wire snags included but focus only on those players who are in the first three seasons of their NFL careers. The emphasis over time will be on determining how much the roster relies upon rookies for on-field production in games.
Arguably, the snap counts and production will drop for rookies as the roster fills out with talent. If the roster continues to rely heavily on rookies, something is panning out for players drafted or signed by Ballard long-term.
Wide receiver Parris Campbell was the only active offensive rookie on Sunday afternoon. He missed much of training camp with a hamstring issue and it was speculated that the Colts would plan to ease him into action. He saw the field for 18 of 63 snaps, or 29%, and tallied one rush for seven yards and a reception on one target for one yard.
While Campbell didn’t play a large role in the offense in his first NFL action, the unfortunate collar bone injury to Devin Funchess will likely increase his role in a hurry.
Second-year offensive players were led by Quenton Nelson, who appeared to have another very solid day. He took the field for every offensive snap — as did the entire starting offensive line.
Sophomore running back Nyheim Hines saw the field on 17 of 63 snaps, or 27%. He carried the ball four times for 13 yards (3.3 YPC) and added four receptions on four targets for four yards. Outside of a 6 yard run on a draw play, Hines was rendered pretty ineffective. The speed of the Chargers defense made it particularly challenging to get the ball outside and most of Hines’ target as a receiver were at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Technically entering his second season, Deon Cain saw the field on 11 of 63 snaps, or 17%. He made the most of his opportunity by gathering two receptions on his two targets for 35 yards (17.5 YP Catch). Cain is another player who will likely see increased attention with Devin Funchess heading to injured reserve.
The junior class was led by running back Marlon Mack who set a career high in rushing yards. He saw the field for 48 of 63 snaps, or 76%, which is about as bell-cow as things get in the modern NFL. It will be worth monitoring how the healthy return of Jonathan Williams and/or Jordan Wilkins changes this work load. Mack carried the ball 25 times for 174 yards and scored 1 TD (7 YPC). Mack was not targeted in the passing game.
Third-year tight end Mo Alie-Cox took the field for 13 of 63 snaps, or 21%. He caught one pass on one target for three yards. The tight ends were surprisingly quiet in the passing game in Los Angeles.
Wide receiver Zach Pascal saw the field for 23 of 63 snaps, or 37%. He was never targeted on offense and was utilized more as a blocker. He did collect one special teams tackle.
It should be unsurprising that the defensive side of the ball is far more heavily represented by rookie contributors. Chris Ballard spent a lot of draft capital on addressing Matt Eberflus’ defense and he put those pieces to work right away.
Rookie cornerback Rock Ya-Sin saw the field for 43 of 64 snaps, or 67%. He gathered two tackles and gave up a touchdown to Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen. It is fair to say that Ya-Sin went through some growing pains in his first action. It is also fair to say that Eberflus put a lot of faith on him by matching him up one-on-one against such a dominant NFL receiver in his first game.
With Jabaal Sheard out of the game, rookie defensive end Ben Banogu was a healthy part of the defensive line rotation. He took the field for 28 of 64 snaps, or 44%. He tallied one assisted tackle and a half sack. He will need to continue developing and getting strong if he plans to hold the edge against NFL competition on the ground.
Rookie safety Khari Willis saw the field on 16 of 64 snaps, or 25%. He collected two tackles. Interestingly, second-year safety George Odum did not see the field at all.
Finally, rookie linebacker Bobby Okereke rotated in for 15 of 64 snaps, or 23%. He tallied an assisted tackle.
All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard took the field for 63 of 64 snaps, or 98%. He tied with Anthony Walker for a team leading seven combined tackles and added a pass defensed. It wasn’t the start the Colts defense wanted this season and Leonard was primarily responsible for a missed tackle that led to a long touchdown run for Austin Ekeler.
Sometimes it’s best to focus more on the tackle and less on punching the ball.
Strong side linebacker Matthew Adams saw the field for 21 of 64 snaps, or 33%. He gathered two total tackles. It is worth noting that rookie E.J. Speed was inactive on Sunday afternoon.
Sophomore defensive end Kemoko Turay continues to show signs of development as an edge rusher. He saw 24 of 64, or 38% and gathered two tackles total tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. Another sack earlier in the game was taken away due to a suspect off-sides call on Justin Houston. This is a hot start for Turay and something he should look to build on against another backup left tackle in Tennessee.
Third-year safety Malik Hooker saw the field for 55 of 64 snaps, or 86%. He gathered five total tackles and made the defensive play of the day by picking off Philip Rivers in the end zone. His one-handed pick is definitely highlight reel material and is the kind of play fans were hoping to see more of after a hot start to his rookie season.
Junior linebacker Anthony Walker took the field for 36 of 64 snaps, or 56%. He tied for the team lead with seven total tackles and added one tackle for loss. He continues to be the primary option next to Darius Leonard in the second season under Matt Eberflus.
Kenny Moore signed a new contract this off-season, establishing his role on the Colts defense for years to come. His usage reflected how much the Colts plan to utilize his skill-set. He took every defensive snap and tallied four tackles. Though I don’t have the numbers to support it, perhaps the most encouraging note to make regarding Moore’s contributions is that it didn’t appear Rivers threw his way often.
With Jabaal Sheard unable to start, third-year defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad took 39 of 64 snaps, or 61%. He gathered two tackles, a sack, and two QB Hits. Given that Muhammad has often been utilized primarily as an edge setting end, in the Sheard mold, it was an impressive day generating pressure.
Former second round cornerback Quincy Wilson saw the field for 16 of 64 snaps, or 25%. He gathered two tackles. It is clear, based upon the snap counts, the Wilson is the fourth corner and is being utilized in two specific situations. One, as a dime defensive back and two, as man-to-man cover assignment on tight ends. We will see how that usage fluctuates throughout the regular season.
Lastly, third-year defensive tackle Grover Stewart saw the field for 13 of 64 snaps, or 20%. He only tallied an assisted tackle on the day. It’s fair to say that the Colts are featuring a very small and quick defensive interior in 2019. More so even than last year. Hopefully the end result from that isn’t a string of games where opponents run the ball at will.