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Bill Barnwell Ranks the Colts as 25th Best ‘Offensive Arsenal’ Ahead of 2023 Campaign

The Colts actually improved in offensive arsenal from 2022 despite limited offseason moves at offensive skill positions.

NFL: JUN 07 Indianapolis Colts OTA Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

According to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell (subscription), the Indianapolis Colts rank 25th best in total offensive arsenal ahead of the 2023 campaign—when factoring in their overall running back, wide receiver, and tight end talent:

25. Indianapolis Colts

2022 rank: 20 | 2021 rank: 28

Just about everybody involved with the Colts would like to write off 2022 as a bad dream, and it’s easy to understand why. Beyond the disasters they endured at quarterback and with their coaching staff, the players they relied upon as building blocks either took a step backward or weren’t around. Offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly had their worst NFL seasons. Linebacker Shaq Leonard was limited to 74 defensive snaps because of back surgery and a concussion.

The wasted year extended to skill position talent. Running back Jonathan Taylor, coming off an All-Pro season, missed six games and most of a seventh with ankle injuries. His underlying numbers were still impressive, as he generated 0.7 rushing yards over expected per carry behind a disappointing line, but he dropped from 20 touchdowns in 2021 to four. He’ll regress back toward the mean in terms of scoring this season.

Likewise, receiver Michael Pittman Jr.’s breakout 2021 season was followed by a frustrating junior campaign. He caught a career-high 99 passes but averaged 9.3 yards per reception. If you catch 75 or more passes but fail to average 10 yards, you’re usually either a running back, an exclusive slot receiver, very old or some combination of those three. Pittman averaged just 1.4 yards per route run lining up outside a year ago, down from 2.2 the prior season. The quarterback play was partly to blame, but Pittman has to do better with his chances this season.

If those guys return to their 2021 form, things will be fine in Indianapolis. Hoping that happens is fine, but counting on it is dangerous, and the Colts are going to struggle mightily if that plan doesn’t work out. Rookie wideout Alec Pierce caught just over 53% of the passes in his direction and averaged 1.3 yards per route run, while receiver Ashton Dulin failed to live up to preseason hype. Tight end Jelani Woods flashed during his rookie season, but the third-rounder also had one game with more than 45 receiving yards. The only significant addition to the depth chart is another fellow third-round pick in wideout Josh Downs, who will take over Parris Campbell’s role in the slot.

The Colts are young, and they’ll be better coached on offense in 2023 than they were over the final two months of 2022, but there’s no guarantee the players they need to get back on track will be stars again.

On paper, the Colts appear to have solid offensive weapons all-around.

If fully healthy and recovered from offseason ankle surgery, workhorse Jonathan Taylor headlines this group—as he’s the lone elite player at his respective position. Taylor’s lingering ankle injury limited him throughout this past season before he was finally forced to shut it down late in the year, but he has the chance to have a rebound, monstrous year—especially with rookie QB Anthony Richardson complementing him in the RPO game.

Otherwise, the Colts have some quality dudes out there.

Michael Pittman Jr.

Alec Pierce.

Jelani Woods.

Even rookie Josh Downs.

The problem is, the receiving corps collectively lacks an elite playmaker. For all his consistency and generally rock solid play, Pittman Jr. may be ideally a top second receiver (think Cincinnati’s Tee Higgins) on a truly prolific league offense. We’ll see...

Meanwhile, Alec Pierce showed flashes as a rookie with his downfield playmaking and ability to high point the football and make contested, acrobatic catches. While his overall route running needs polish, he, along with Pittman, should benefit with a much stronger armed Richardson behind center—compared to his aged predecessor Matt Ryan.

Jelani Woods may be the wildcard of the group at a massive 6’7”, 253 pounds. In surprisingly limited usage as a rookie in 2022 (likely due to his inexperience in-line blocking), Woods thrived as a red zone target when called upon—and has the deceptive speed for such a big body to stretch the seam a bit for the Colts at the tight end position. He’s a physical mismatch for opposing defenses and should cause a lot of problems in coverage.

Lastly, Downs showed the ability to consistently separate and make contested catches collegiately. He should really thrive as a short game safety valve and occasional field stretcher for Richardson from the slot—as the rookie duo already showed initial chemistry during mini-camp.

This overall ranking seems fair for the time being. If some of the Colts young receivers can take another step forward, this ranking should only elevate. That being said, at least on the receiving end, there isn’t a Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill type in special talent and ability to consistently take over football games and command double teams. The Colts right now are a sum of their collective parts in the receiving game—and that limits them a bit here.