Colts training camp is ramping up this week as they begin their first fully padded practices of the 2020 season. Unlike in years past, the COVID-19 precautions taken by NFL teams significantly limits our access to camp, but the hope is that those limitations mean we get to see the football season take place.
There won’t be preseason games to prepare for, and the loss of those contests means fewer opportunities for guys to win out in their individual camp battles. It will also mean a tougher road onto the final roster for those guys at the bottom.
Despite the many hurdles, the team is gearing up for real action, and with that in mind, let’s take a look at three players who are going under the radar ahead of the 2020 season.
The Colts drafted Khari Willis at safety in the fourth round in 2019. He entered the season behind Clayton Geathers for reps at strong safety, but maximized his opportunities, and by the season’s end, had convinced the team that they could let Geathers walk because they had their new starter.
Khari Willis was 12th in the NFL last year in stops while playing half as many snaps as every other player in the Top 15. He is already one of the best run defending SS in the league and only getting better.— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) August 14, 2020
Other great choices: Chuck Clark, Jordan Poyer, Ceedy Duce https://t.co/NF9DE82qLm
Despite this, Willis is somewhat overlooked on a defense with Justin Houston, Kenny Moore, and Darius Leonard. The addition of DeForest Buckner and Xavier Rhodes have gotten plenty of attention, but the second year for such a quality player as Willis could be just as critical a part of this defense’s development. Behind a very talented defensive line and linebacker corps, the secondary should flourish.
We could be primed to have a very good season out of Khari Willis, and if Malik Hooker plays up to his potential in pursuit of a new deal, the Colts could be fielding one of the better safety tandems in the NFL.
Rookie receivers don’t typically make a lot of noise. That is especially true when they spend that rookie season primarily in the training room. Add an underachieving quarterback to the mix and it is just about impossible to expect a big impact from a guy like Parris Campbell. Fortunately, the 2019 season is in his rear-view mirror and there are a lot of reasons to think that he could be a major factor where he wasn’t in 2019.
His health was the primary issue in 2019, but it wasn’t one lingering issue that sidelined him. He had what felt like a career’s worth of injuries compacted all down into one season, suffering a hamstring injury, a sports hernia, a broken hand, and a broken foot. Entering 2020, he is healthy and ready to get on track. If he can stay that way, he naturally has a bigger opportunity to succeed.
With Rivers under center, the passing game has new life, and Rivers has proven to be a savvy passer who likes to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers. T.Y. Hilton will catch a lot of passes. Hopefully rookie Michael Pittman Jr. plays a significant role as well. It would be foolish to forget about how important the tight ends will be in the passing game, too.
However, with a second year under his belt and the pressure off to be “the” guy to bear the load of being across from Hilton, Campbell should be able to make a big impact. With his history working out of the slot, on crossers and drag routes, and put in position to utilize his size and speed in the open field, we should expect Frank Reich to get him involved on offense in a big way in 2020.
There has been a fair amount of excitement about the Colts running back tandem of Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor, and that’s understandable. The two represent what should be a dominant force on the ground for the team in 2020. However, to overlook the impact that Nyheim Hines should have in 2020 is a big mistake.
First, Hines represents a receiving talent that neither Mack nor Taylor brings to the table. He can line up in the slot or make plays catching the ball out of the backfield, and with a QB in Rivers who loves to dump the ball to his backs, you should absolutely expect that he’ll get put to work in that way. One of the fastest guys on the team, getting the ball into Hines’ hands in the second level means the opportunity for big plays, and the Colts have been looking for those wherever they can find them.
His impact doesn’t end with the passing game either. Hines took over punt return duties toward the end of 2019, and the results were pretty impressive. He returned two punts for touchdowns against the Carolina Panthers, setting a franchise record with 195 punt return yards. That kind of electric performance can be game-altering, and that’s what he is bringing to the table in 2020. With a defense that seems primed to force a lot of punts, having a serious weapon back to receive them is a big deal. Don’t sleep on Nyheim Hines.
Who is your pick for the Colts top under the radar player?