13. Indianapolis Colts
Biggest strength: An offensive line that was heavily scrutinized for the beating quarterback Andrew Luck took for much of his career has become arguably the Colts’ biggest strength. Quenton Nelson — the NFL’s highest-graded guard since being drafted by Indianapolis in 2018 — has quickly become the leader of the group, but the Colts have gotten strong play across the entirety of their line. Their offensive line ranked second as a unit in PFF grade to only the Eagles in 2019.
Biggest weakness: Xavier Rhodes is penciled in to start outside at cornerback for the Colts in 2020, and if his recent career trajectory is anything to go by, that isn’t a good thing. After a career-worst 55.1 grade in coverage in 2018, Rhodes allowed 84% of the passes into his coverage to be completed last season. His 45.3 coverage grade ranked 99th out of 105 cornerbacks with 250 or more coverage snaps. He has a long road to get back to being even an average starting option at the position.
X factor for 2020: Parris Campbell was hit with just about everything the universe could throw at him as a rookie last season, battling hamstring, sports hernia and broken hand/foot injuries throughout the year. Now healthy heading into Year 2, Campbell will get the chance to show why Indianapolis took the wide receiver in the second round in the 2019 draft. If nothing else, he’ll bring an added element of speed to that offense — something he showcased with 10.1 yards after the catch per reception in his final two seasons with the Buckeyes.
Of course, the Colts had some significant offseason additions with veteran starting quarterback Philip Rivers and All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner being among the biggest for Indianapolis.
The Colts coupled those moves with a handful of veteran pickups: former All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes and veteran tight end Trey Burton among them.
Not to mention, the Colts also added two young dynamic offensive playmakers: wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and running back Jonathan Taylor early on in the draft to hopefully help generate more big plays this upcoming season.
The hope is that Rivers, by passing behind a strong Colts offensive line and by being reunited with head coach Frank Reich, can regain his 2018 form where he threw for 32 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions with the Los Angeles Chargers—after a down 2019 campaign.
The 38 year old will be able to lean heavily on a Colts’ power running game that features both last year’s 1,000 yard rusher Marlon Mack and now Taylor as a ‘1-1 punch’. This should help set up play-action for the passing game and open up the ability to take calculated shots downfield (including to T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, and new weapon Pittman Jr.).
On defense, Colts general manager Chris Ballard has repeatedly stated, ‘the three-technique really drives this thing’, and Buckner is one of the best in the business at defensive tackle. With 19.5 combined sacks over the past two seasons, Buckner should provide much needed interior pass pressure and consistently command double teams, which should help free up the Colts’ linebackers and cornerbacks to better make plays (or mitigate their time playing coverage).
Also returning for the Colts is promising young pass rusher Kemoko Turay, who missed 12 games last season with a season-ending ankle injury—after a red-hot start to the season.
The Colts do not have the NFL’s best roster right now, but they do have a young nucleus of building blocks such as Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore, Braden Smith, Ryan Kelly, Bobby Okereke, Rock Ya-Sin, Kemoko Turay, Malik Hooker, etc. (with some added veteran stars like Justin Houston, Anthony Castonzo, and Rivers into the mix)—and a lot of continued salary cap flexibility going forward.
So far this offseason, the Colts have been a popular pick to become one of the top teams in the AFC and return to the playoffs in 2020.