18. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
The Colts were able to rejuvenate Eric Ebron’s career, and he combined with Jack Doyle to form one of the most productive duos in the league over the past two years. With Ebron moving on to Pittsburgh, Doyle is once again the top option at tight end. He’s a solid, sure-handed option who caught a career-high 80 passes in 2017, his last season as the No. 1 tight end. Doyle is also one of the better run blockers in the league, ranking 11th with a 68.2 grade last season.
The Colts brought in Trey Burton this offseason — a player who is two years removed from a career-high 569 yards and six touchdowns. If healthy, Burton is a fine No. 2 option who can move around the formation. Mo Alie-Cox and Matt Lengel round out the depth chart with 15 and five career receptions, respectively.
The Colts won’t be winning in the pass game through their tight ends, but Doyle and Burton are a solid pair who should create a good safety net for Philip Rivers underneath.
Pro Bowler Jack Doyle is the Colts’ undisputed TE1, as a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ player who can do a little bit of everything that helps a team win—including blocking and catching at a high level. Doyle is also remarkably consistent and a leader in the Colts locker room.
While Doyle isn’t necessarily a dynamic big play threat at tight end, he’s rock solid—if unsexy, and he figures to be a savvy, sure-handed target for veteran quarterback Philip Rivers over the middle of the field in 2020:
“Not to get into too many of those things, but he just has such a good feel of football, his film study, understanding what’s going to happen,” Colts tight ends coach Jason Michael said on Doyle’s success via Colts.com’s Andrew Walker. “And then as a route runner, like you’re getting into, just the physical (nature), of understanding how to set up routes, being able to use the weakness of the defense.”
“. . . In terms of the details of not giving away things, being able to make all of his routes look the same, the top of his routes of being friendly for the quarterback, being in a position for the quarterback to give him a chance to catch the football and not allow the DB to make a play on it, or if it does, it’s a broken-up pass and not an interception. And it’s just that trust of knowing he’s going to be in the right place at the right time, and then handle it the right way for the guy throwing him the football.”
The biggest question for the Colts will be how they can replace Eric Ebron as a mismatch both split out and in the red zone—as the former Pro Bowler had 13 touchdown receptions in 2018 before injuries (and the loss of Andrew Luck) limited his effectiveness this past season.
On paper, Trey Burton figures to be a suitable replacement for Ebron—especially given his familiarity with Colts head coach Frank Reich’s system from their time together with the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles—and his overall offensive versatility.
Burton is more of a pure receiving tight end than either Doyle or Mo Alie-Cox—both of whom will be featured more as in line blockers. He figures to be split out much like Ebron often was for the Colts near the slot. However, it’s just a matter of whether his health holds up—as he’s coming off offseason hip surgery and a lingering groin injury in 2019:
“I had a chance to spend a lot of time and watch Trey that year, and (he) ended up going to Chicago,” Michael said on Burton’s overall skill-set. “But I think Trey is a very skilled route runner. He has some natural ability and a natural feel as a route runner, and that’s what he has done. But I think if you go back just the things that he can bring all around, and in the tight end room, you’re trying to find those different roles, and the more roles a guy has, the more opportunities he’s going to get in terms of being able to do different things.”
Lastly, the Colts have Mo Alie-Cox—who figures to not only be prominently featured as an in line blocker but is also a developing pass catcher—as the former converted college basketball standout forward is still learning the game of football all together:
“The sky’s the limit with Mo in my opinion, in terms of what he can do,” said Michael on Alie-Cox. “Obviously, people look at him, and he kind of gets that label of that wide tight end, of being the big physical blocker. And he’s continuing to grow in all areas of the game, but that’s kind of where his role has been . . . .”
With their talented tight end trio, the Colts don’t have a dynamic George Kittle or Travis Kelce type All-Pro (not many teams actually do), but their unit does have three solid contributors to dictate matchups and for critical depth at the position:
“But I just think with having three different types of guys with Mo, that — and again, you don’t want to put labels because there’s other things they can do — but in that wide position as an inline player, Jack has a little bit more of that, hey, all-around utility knife, can do a little bit of anything, and Trey is kind of that way too, but he’s probably leaning a little bit more to the pass side of things as a route runner from the things that he’s done in the past,” Michael noted on the Colts tight end room. “Now, he’s good. There’s going to be times when he’s going to be in a position to block and do those things, but I think Trey just brings that element of that matchup guy that allows us . . . I think in football these days, there’s a couple of positions that give you a chance to create matchups and dictate to the defense, and tight end is one of them, to where, hey, if you have a guy like Jack, a guy like Trey, that you can put two or three different tight ends out there, how are they going to play? Are you spread out? Are you in tight sets?”
It’s a pretty talented group that should benefit from having Rivers throwing them the football—who has historically loved utilizing his tight ends whether it was future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates or more recently, Hunter Henry with the Chargers franchise.
Most importantly, the unit has great versatility—with the ability to give opposing defenses differing looks as each Colts’ tight end brings their own individual strengths to the table.
If Burton stays healthy and Alie-Cox can take a few steps forward in his development, the Colts should improve upon this ranking—especially if Doyle continues his rock solid play.