According to PFF, the Indianapolis Colts are predicted to land the following top free agents: Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, and Dallas Cowboys cornerback Chidobe Awuzie:
5. WR WILL FULLER V
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts — five years, $87.5 million ($25 million guaranteed)
The Will Fuller-to-Green Bay story has been around for many months now, but with Emmanuel Sanders officially a cap casualty, I’d expect the Packers to go the cheaper route with Sanders.
Fuller is a prime candidate to go back to Indiana, where he played in college for the Fighting Irish. He is a genuine speedster who has proven to be one of the most dangerous deep threats at the position when healthy. Over 26% of Fuller’s targets since 2018 have resulted in a 15-plus-yard gain, the eighth-highest percentage among wide receivers over that span. Despite missing significant time in each of those three seasons, Fuller came in at No. 8 in total receiving yards on vertical targets where he had separation on his coverage defender.
23. T ALEJANDRO VILLANUEVA
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts — three years, $45 million ($30 million guaranteed)
With the retirement of Anthony Castonzo, the Colts require a new left tackle and could opt to bring in veteran Alejandro Villanueva to man that spot and perhaps mentor a young Day 2 pick from the 2021 NFL Draft. Over the last three years, Villanueva ranks 12th among all left tackles in pass-block grade and has routinely done his job in the ground game with a negatively graded run-block rate that sits in the 82nd percentile at the position.
32. CB CHIDOBE AWUZIE
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts — three years, $27 million ($15.5 million guaranteed)
Awuzie is a pure zone corner by nature, which means he’s not necessarily a fit for new Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. He has ties to Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, as they were both with the Cowboys in Awuzie’s rookie 2017 campaign. Plus, Indianapolis is in the market for a zone corner because 2019 second-rounder Rock Ya-Sin hasn’t shown the requisite growth. They aren’t going to completely abandon Ya-Sin, as he still has some time to right the ship, but starting him would be a risky bet.
Eberflus’ zone coverage usage this past season was the second-highest in the NFL, behind only Brandon Staley’s Los Angeles Rams, at 76.6%. We pegged Awuzie as a great fit for a zone-heavy scheme coming out of college, and his NFL numbers back that up. Since entering the NFL, he ranks 48th of 70 cornerbacks in coverage grade when in single coverage. In zone, he jumps all the way to 19th.
All three players would fill immediate holes for the Colts.
Regarding Fuller, the former 2016 first rounder of the Houston Texans has become one of the game’s most dangerous deep threats when he actually plays—but has had lingering durability concerns, as he’s never started for all 16 games of a season. Specifically, he’s missed 27 games over his 5 year career—including 6 games last season because of a league imposed suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.
Still, when he did play, Fuller caught 53 receptions for 879 receiving yards (16.6 ypr. avg.) and 8 touchdown receptions during 11 starts before the suspension in 2020. He would theoretically replace veteran free agent T.Y. Hilton as the Colts’ big play, downfield threat.
Colts fans may remember Fuller fondly from his collegiate career with the Fighting Irish, but it’s a fair question given the durability issues, lingering PED concerns, and his sometimes questionable hands, that he is ultimately Indianapolis’ ‘best bang for their buck’ going forward—even still only 26 years old.
Meanwhile, Villanueva is a 6’9”, 320 pound offensive tackle for the Steelers, who’s earned two Pro Bowls and has made 80 career starts over the past five seasons—as one of the league’s better starting left tackles. He would slide right into the vacated blindside spot by Anthony Castonzo and provide solid starting left tackle play from the get-go.
The former 2010 undrafted free agent from Army has carved out one heck of an NFL career so far, but given the expected price tag and the age (32), the Colts might be better off simply selecting a top rookie offensive tackle early on in the NFL Draft—especially in what’s been regarded as a deep positional class.
Lastly, there’s Awuzie, who was selected by the Cowboys in the 2nd round of the 2017 NFL Draft—when Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was still a Dallas defensive assistant.
Awuzie recorded 38 tackles (29 solo), 5 passes defensed, and an interception during 8 games (6 starts) this past season—missing time with a hamstring injury.
At 6’0”, 203 pounds, with 30 5/8” arms, Awuzie has smaller reach than the Colts typically covet at cornerback, but given his familiarity in zone coverage and as a willing tackler, he might make sense for the Colts on a prove it deal—given that both veterans Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie are free agents along the outside.
Overall, all three free agents help fill major needs positionally for the Colts, but given the surrounding circumstances, I am not sure any of them are truly an ideal pairing for Indianapolis—when considering the other available reasonable options.