NFL training camps are just two weeks away, with rookies potentially able to report as early as next Sunday, July 19th. That marks the start of a tough process for the team as they attempt to whittle down a 90-man group into what will become their final roster heading into what promises to be a very interesting 2020 NFL season.
With COVID-19 operating as a total wild card around the country, teams will be doing things quite differently than they have in past years. How teams come out of their pre-season programs and into the season will have a lot to do with how organized and prepared their front offices are, as well as how innovative they can be.
For our purposes, we are going to assume that COVID-19 doesn’t throw a total wrench in the works and that the NFL season proceeds as normal. If that is the case, here is a look at the potential 55-man roster.
Offense – 26
Quarterback – 3
The Colts quarterback room is a dramatic improvement over last 2019’s. Despite the organization’s repeated profession that Jacoby Brissett is a guy they love and believe is a starter, their offseason actions said something different. Now at the top of the group is borderline Hall of Fame talent Philip Rivers. Many expect him to be a middle-of-the-road starter, but given the protection the offensive line can afford and Frank Reich’s play-calling ability, it could be a very good year for Rivers.
Behind him, Brissett will work as an overpaid backup, and rookie Jacob Eason will get a chance to learn behind one of the best while he tries to prove he is more than just a big arm.
Missed the cut: Chad Kelly
Running Back – 4
The Colts have a great running back room for 2020, and that’s good, because the team plans to run the ball early and often behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. The real question will be whether rookie Jonathan Taylor can unseat Marlon Mack as the top guy by year’s end.
With Nyheim Hines finishing 2019 as a big-time return threat on special teams as well as bringing in a QB in Rivers who loves to dump the ball to a pass catching running back, his spot is all but assured. The interesting guy will be Jordan Wilkins, who has been underutilized despite being very effective when he has seen the field. The Colts should feel great about this group.
Missed the cut: Darius Jackson, Bruce Anderson
Tight End – 4
Frank Reich loves to use tight ends in the passing game, and Rivers loves to target them. Those factors combined could be enough to have everyone in the mind of the production the Colts got from their tight ends back in 2018.
Jack Doyle remains one of the leagues most balanced tight ends, able to be a reliable and efficient receiver, and an excellent blocker. Even if this group doesn’t make as big an impact in the passing game as in 2018, expect them to be a big factor in breaking open big plays on the ground.
*I lumped Roosevelt Nix into this group rather than with the running backs, because it seems likely he’ll be used in the H-back role that has been a key part of the Colts offense under Frank Reich.
Missed the cut: Matt Lengel, Farrod Green, Xavier Grimble, Ian Bunting
Wide Receiver – 6
The wide receiver room might be the biggest question mark on the team. They have a ton of unknown potential that will likely remain an unknown until the season is underway. With a healthy season, Parris Campbell could be primed to break out. If Michael Pittman Jr. is as good as many believe, he could become a favorite target of Philip Rivers. Even standout veteran T.Y. Hilton comes with questions. With dramatic improvement at quarterback, Hilton should be set for another great season in a career that has had many of them, but will he be able to stay healthy?
The bottom of this group should be especially interesting. Reece Fountain was one of the most exciting players at camp in 2019 before he suffered a broken and dislocated ankle on the last day of camp. If he can pick up where he left off, he could edge out guys like Ashton Dulin and Marcus Johnson for a spot on the team.
Michael Pittman Jr.
Missed the cut: Marcus Johnson, Ashton Dulin, Scott Artavis, Chad Williams, De’Michael Harris, Rodney Adams, Malik Henry
Offensive Line – 9
The engine that makes this offense go is its offensive line. They are the best unit on the team, and the starting 5 are set. With an expanded roster, I believe they’ll keep 9 in this unit. Ultimately one of those backup roles is likely to be someone who is cut ahead of the regular season. If any of the starters are lost for an extended amount of time, it will be a problem, because the depth behind them is not great.
The Colts did really rave about rookie Danny Pinter, so it will be interesting to see how he looks in camp and the preseason to determine what kind of backup he might be.
Missed the cut: Javon Patterson, Cedrick Lang, Andrew Donnal, Brandon Hitner
Defense – 26
Defensive Tackle – 4
The defensive tackle position saw a huge upgrade with the addition of DeForest Buckner. His presence should positively impact the rest of the defense, and it’ll certainly help those lining up beside him as much as anyone. The interior of the Colts defensive line should be far better in 2020.
Missed the cut: Robert Windsor, Iseoluwapo Jegede, Kameron Cline, Chris Williams
Defensive End – 5
The Colts situation on the edge is similar to that of their wide receivers. Lots of potential but nothing guaranteed. Kemoko Turay looked fantastic before he got hurt last season. Ben Banogu showed flashes but hadn’t put everything together as a rookie and could take a big step in year two. Veteran Justin Houston looked great, but how long should the Colts expect that production to last for an aging player?
This is a position I could see being bolstered by outside free agents as the preseason draws to a close, but it is one to watch closely with a couple young players primed to blow up. What will be a key for this unit is how they replace Jabaal Sheard.
Missed the cut: Kendall Coleman
Linebacker – 5
The Colts talent at linebacker is excellent. They tend to use packages that feature only two linebackers on the field, and they may have to find ways to get 3 on the field more often in 2020 to maximize the use of their talent. Darius Leonard is the unquestioned leader of the unit, with Anthony Walker as the previous starter opposite him.
Second year player Bobby Okereke will have something to say about that, however, and could certainly take Walker’s job. Behind them are developmental players like E.J. Speed, Skai Moore, and rookie Jordan Glasgow who are looking for a way to stick. This group should be interesting to watch in camp.
Missed the cut: Gerri Green, Zaire Franklin, Skai Moore, Jordan Glasgow, Brandon Wellington
Cornerback – 7
The Colts are still in need of improvement at the cornerback position, and are undoubtedly hoping that their young players take big steps forward in play as well as that they will see a far better pass rush which should alleviate pressure on the group as well.
They brought in veterans in Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie this offseason to bolster the group, and that maturity will undoubtedly help. The question is, can Rhodes still play at a high level? He’ll need to prove that his past couple of seasons were more a fluke than a “new normal.”
Kenny Moore is the best cornerback on the roster, and one of the best players overall. His presence as a major playmaker is critical to the team’s success on defense. Rock Ya-Sin played the most defensive snaps on the roster as a rookie, and as a second-year player, should take big steps forward. If he does, this defense looks very different.
I fully expect the bottom of this room to be churned for talent by Ballard as they search for high quality depth.
Marvell Tell III
Missed the cut: Picasso Nelson Jr., Lafayette Pitts, Travis Reed,
Safety – 5
The Colts love using their safeties. They used a variety of defensive packages that put multiple safeties on the field at a time last season, and that is likely to continue. With the team declining to pick up Malik Hooker’s 5th year option, they have thrown down the gauntlet for the talented player. He hasn’t lived up to potential since being drafted in the first round back in 2017, and he’ll need to prove he deserves consideration to stick with the team beyond this season.
Khari Willis played surprisingly well as a rookie, and essentially took Clayton Geathers’ starting job over. Third round pick Julian Blackmon is one to watch as the season goes on. He is rehabbing an ACL injury that means he likely isn’t a major factor early, but his versatility likely gets him on the field once he’s healthy.
Missed the cut: Donald Rutledge
Special Teams – 3
For the first time in a while, the Colts will have a legitimate kicker competition. Chase McLaughlin looked good in his time with the team in 2019 and is just 24, but rookie Rodrigo Blankenship will be solid competition for the job, boasting impressive college production. The kicking game was a major factor in their 2019 struggles, so this decision will be important.
Kicker – Rodrigo Blankenship
Punter – Rigoberto Sanchez
Long Snapper – Luke Rhodes
Missed the cut: Chase McLaughlin