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Colts’ ‘a little after midseason’ and bye week 2023 season awards

Who earns the coveted hardware for the Colts so far this season?

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts season, sitting at 5-5, hasn’t gone quite as expected—as the team lost tantalizing rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson after just 4 starts.

Still, led by the new leadership of Indy head coach Shane Steichen, who’s helped weather the storm after the loss of his starting quarterback, as well as during Jonathan Taylor’s tumultuous contract situation and 4-game absence, the Colts have largely righted the ship (*particularly when you consider the team should have a winning record if the refs hadn’t severely botched the ending of that surefire win against the Cleveland Browns in Week 7 with two very egregious defensive penalties late).

Thought to be one of the worst teams in the league entering the season, the Colts are no worse than respectable right now—even if they ultimately fall short of an AFC playoff berth.

So who are some of the key Colts players that are a big reason as to why as we enter the second half of the season—and Indianapolis’ only bye during Week 11.

Well, let’s hand out some coveted awards, drum roll please...

Indianapolis Colts v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Most Valuable Player: DeForest Buckner

In my opinion, Buckner has been consistently the Colts defense’s best player over the past few seasons (especially in light of Shaquille Leonard’s back/lower leg nerve issues). This season though, he’s consistently been the team’s best and most valuable player overall.

On the season, Buckner has 44 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 29 total QB pressures, 7 QB hits, 3 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery (including a return for a touchdown) during all 10 games (9 starts).

Per PFF, his pass rushing grade of +86.5 is the 5th best at his position so far this season.

He has the potential to record a double-digit sack year at defensive tackle, and when he’s out there and wreaking havoc, he elevates the entire play of the remaining defensive line. There’s no player that means more to the defense than Buckner right now (although I’m willing to at least listen with Grover Stewart’s absence in run defense).

Indianapolis Colts v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Offensive Player of the Year: Michael Pittman Jr.

While I could get cute and pick one of the Colts stud offensive linemen, I’ll stick to the traditional spirit of this award and pick the Indianapolis player putting up the most gaudy offensive numbers to help his team consistently win football games on a weekly basis.

That player right now is Michael Pittman Jr.

Near the middle of a contract year, the 4th-year wideout has 66 receptions for 677 receiving yards (10.3 ypr. avg.) and 3 touchdown receptions during all 10 starts. Pittman’s 66 receptions rank 9th most in the league and his 677 receiving yards rank in the Top 15.

Rookie wideout Josh Downs was also under consideration until a lingering knee injury has limited him a bit in recent weeks, as was running back Zack Moss—who remains Top 5 in total league rushing yards but has seen his role reduced with the return of Jonathan Taylor.

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

Defensive Player of the Year: Zaire Franklin

With Buckner having already obtained some hardware here, Franklin is a no brainer call for the Colts defense—as he’s been one of the unit’s best players amidst the 2023 campaign.

Franklin’s 117 total tackles (76 solo) currently lead the league.

The 6th-year linebacker has a knack for making plays and finding the football, and right now, he’s the best player at his position in Indianapolis.

Franklin as a defensive captain and locker room leader for the Colts is line for his first career Pro Bowl nod—which shows how far he’s come as a 2018 7th round pick and once a core special teams player and backup linebacker.

Before the game New England Patriots - Indianapolis Colts Photo by Jürgen Kessler/picture alliance via Getty Images

Most Improved Player: Bernhard Raimann

There’s a lot of players that I really liked here including starting right guard Will Fries and defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo, so this was a tough decision.

However, despite Fries turning into a respectable (and very physical) starting offensive guard and Dayo’s surprising 6.0 sacks on the season, there can be only one (*just ignore my waffling below).

I’ve got to go with the player that currently ranks Top 5 at his position via PFF:

Per PFF (subscription), Raimann is currently ranked as their 5th best offensive tackle with a +82.8 overall grade—featuring a +80.8 pass blocking grade.

In 341 total pass blocking snaps, Raimann has allowed 2.0 sacks, 4 QB Hits, and 17 total pass pressures during 2023, meaning he’s been every bit of a rock solid standout left tackle.

Indianapolis Colts v Carolina Panthers Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

Offensive Comeback Player of the Year: Ryan Kelly

After roughly two down seasons and the tragic loss of his infant daughter, the former All-Pro and Pro Bowl center for the Colts has had a career revival this season—despite an offseason even filled with potential trade speculation.

Perhaps inspired by the new additions to his growing family or having found himself again under a new Colts offensive line coaching staff, Kelly has regained his old standout form.

Kelly currently ranks as PFF’s 2nd best graded center overall, behind only the Philadelphia Eagles Jason Kelce, with a +81.2 overall grade during 8 starts. Specifically, in 301 total pass blocking snaps, he’s allowed 0 sacks and just 3 total QB pressures.

Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots Photo by Ralf Ibing - firo sportphoto/Getty Images

Defensive Comeback Player of the Year: Kenny Moore II

In the thick of a contract year, the veteran cornerback has recommitted himself to football and is letting his stellar play on the field do the future contract negotiating for him—as the former Pro Bowler is inline for a lucrative multi-year deal (and hopefully from the Colts).

It’s a stark contrast to the prior season, where Moore’s unhappiness with his contract situation clearly impacted his play on the field—as did the transition to then new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s defensive scheme.

Moore looks a lot more comfortable now, and he’s been elite again as a slot cornerback for the Colts with 67 tackles, 3 interceptions (including two for touchdowns), 5 passes defensed, and 1.5 sacks during all 10 starts.

He’s currently graded as ‘NFL Next Gen Stats’ top ranked slot cornerback, and needless to say, he’s in line for another Pro Bowl appearance—and someone the Colts would assuredly like to re-sign as a defensive captain and one of their defense’s best core players.

Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots Photo by Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Rookie of the Year: Josh Downs

Anthony Richardson may have well been on his way here, but instead this award goes to the Colts’ rookie third round pick who even with a lingering knee injury, has been balling out.

Downs has 43 receptions for 523 receiving yards and 2 touchdown receptions for the Colts during his debut campaign. It’s not a prolific Colts passing game by any stretch with Gardner Minshew starting, but he already ranks 2nd on the Colts in receptions, targets, receiving yards, and touchdowns receptions respectively behind only Michael Pittman Jr.

Despite his smaller stature at 5’9”, 171 pounds, Downs has shown tremendous instincts, route running, hands, and the ability to make highly acrobatic contested catches.

He should be a good Colt for a long time, as the rookie wideout’s future is really bright.