According to PFF, the Indianapolis Colts have the NFL’s fourth worst ‘early roster’ at this juncture of the offseason—and looking towards the 2023 campaign:
29. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Biggest strength in 2023: Offensive Line
Almost every member of the Colts’ offensive line had a down year in 2022, but given the talent of Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly, expect a bounceback in 2023 to aid Anthony Richardson’s development.
Biggest weakness in 2023: Pass-Catching Options
Outside of Michael Pittman Jr., there’s a lot to be desired regarding pass catchers in this Colts offense. Neither Alec Pierce nor Jelani Woods made big impacts as rookies, though there is plenty of room for development and a reasonable expectation of improved performance in 2023.
X-Factor for 2023: QB Anthony Richardson
Richardson is about as “boom or bust” of a prospect as we’ve seen since Patrick Mahomes. And considering the only other quarterbacks on the Colts’ roster are Gardner Minshew and Sam Ehlinger, Richardson will likely be starting sooner rather than later. If he defies rookie expectations and plays well, the Colts could be a dark-horse playoff candidate in a weak AFC South.
Rookie to watch: WR Josh Downs
The Colts used a third-round pick on the rookie out of North Carolina, and he will have an opportunity to contribute right away given the lack of depth at receiver. Downs earned a 90.6 receiving grade out of the slot in college and could wind up being a great complementary piece to Pittman.
Over/Under 6.5 win total: Under
A lot of the Colts’ success in 2023 is going to hinge on the development of Anthony Richardson. While new head coach Shane Steichen has a track record of developing raw quarterback prospects, expect some growing pains in year one.
Now, I have a few particular beefs with this analysis.
One, I don’t understand how PFF can mention the pass-catching options, but fail to mention Josh Downs until later on. Two, both Alec Pierce and Jelani Woods did make initial impacts as rookies when they were actually targeted and prominently featured within the offense.
The problem was ‘twilight of his playing career’ veteran quarterback Matt Ryan’s diminished arm couldn’t consistently get the ball downfield to Pierce to utilize his deep speed and special ability to highpoint the football. Meanwhile, Woods was actually ‘a beast’ when targeted—especially in the red zone, catching 25 of 36 targets (69.4% completion rate) for 312 receiving yards and 3 touchdown receptions collectively, but his inexperience as a blocker kept him off the field a lot, compared to the Colts other options at the position.
(It’s also weird to me that there was no mention of former NFL All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard’s uncertain recovery and timetable for his return. He’s a huge wild card right now).
I think we saw firsthand last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who went from 3-14 to 9-8 and were surprising AFC South Champions, just how much improved starting quarterback play and a head coaching upgrade can make a difference in just one lone year’s time.
While no team finished the 2022 regular season worse than the Colts, the Horseshoe wasn’t as bad as their overall record indicated. The franchise just had poor starting quarterback play, a subpar performing offensive line, and a wholly inexperienced interim head coach.
If PFF wants to say it’s a ‘middle of the pack or average league roster,’ that seems totally fair.
The Colts will need their young wide receivers to step up beyond Michael Pittman Jr., and their offensive line to at least return to being an above average starting unit again—which means Ryan Kelly will have to regain his old Pro Bowl form and they’ll have to find a starting caliber right guard alongside him (along with the continued development and growth of left tackle Bernhard Raimann—who showed much improvement down last season’s stretch).
That being said, this seems like a rather low ranking for Indianapolis—and seems like it’s just cherry picking from their lousy record last season. This team is more talented than it showed in the standings last season—and the changes at both starting quarterback and at head coach should help bring that back out again.
It’s a Colts roster that could still win 7-9 games overall, if things go right—particularly if top rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson immediately clicks within new head coach Shane Steichen’s offense right way. However, initial patience with the very young quarterback will be required, as there will be growing pains—particularly in the passing game.
Can the Colts ultimately prove this rather low ranking wrong?