Despite missing the playoffs, the Indianapolis Colts arguably have one of the league’s better rosters—as there’s clear talent on both sides of the ball.
That being said, it’s still a squad that could withstand to add elite playmakers and big play ability in all facets of the game—while also shoring up an inconsistent secondary defensively in particular.
Therefore, let’s take a look at the Top 5 positional areas of need for Colts general manager Chris Ballard to address this early offseason—which is unofficially already underway for Indy.
The depth of the Colts cornerback room was tested from the onset, as the team lost (and later released) projected starting cornerback Isaiah Rodgers for violating the league’s gambling policy in the offseason, only to then lose his replacement, Dallis Flowers, to an unfortunate season-ending Achilles injury during Week 4 of 2023.
With promising 2nd round pick Julius Brents battling through injuries during his rookie campaign (*and limited to 9 games), this meant that fellow rookie, 7th round pick Jaylon Jones, as well as first-year pro Darrell Baker Jr. were thrust into prominent roles, out of mere necessity, throughout the 2023 campaign at outside cornerback.
Along with Brents, both Flowers and Jones have shown some promise as long-term pieces, but Flowers is coming off a significant season-ending injury, while Jones may be better served as rotational depth, rather than as a weekly starter for an elite defense bigger picture.
Given his length, athleticism, and physicality—as a more than willing tackler, Brents looks like the eventual ‘real deal’ at starting cornerback, so it’s a matter of whether the Colts can find a ‘clone’ like him or the Seattle Seahawks Tariq Woolen’ to start on the other side of Brents that could literally take this starting secondary to the next level in time.
Colts pending free agent, Julian Blackmon, had a breakout season of sorts, as along with his 4 total interceptions, he also limited opposing passers to just a 55.8 rate when targeted in coverage, per PFF.
That’s why it was a significant blow to the Colts season (and playoff hopes), when Blackmon was lost late to a significant shoulder injury. Fellow safety Rodney Thomas clearly regressed from his rookie campaign, while 2022 third round pick Nick Cross still looks raw out there.
The Colts may have missed veteran safety Rodney McLeod this year, who signed with the Cleveland Browns as a free agent and appeared in 10 games (making 5 starts) during 2023.
The Colts would assuredly like to re-sign Blackmon, assuming the price is right, but it’s a fair question of who should be starting alongside him at safety next season. This is a Colts secondary that could withstand to upgrade on the backend and in the event they don’t re-sign Blackmon, could be overhauled entirely this offseason.
3. Wide Receiver
The biggest internal free agent for the Colts this offseason is clearly Michael Pittman Jr., who led the team in receptions (109), receiving yards (1,152), and touchdown receptions (4), and whose long-term retention figures to be critical for the continued development of soon-to-be 2nd-year quarterback Anthony Richardson going forward.
Pittman Jr. should command a lucrative multi-year contract, which should put him in line with some of the NFL’s most highly paid players at his position. That being said, he’s closer to say Tee Higgins, than he is Ja’Marr Chase. So, if there’s the opportunity for the Colts to get an explosive, big play playmaker to pair next to their big bodied possession receiver
(Pittman Jr.), that would be a significant step for this offense to make the next jump.
This year’s wide receiver draft class is truly loaded, and while such an early round pick could be considered a bit of a luxury, with 3rd-year wideout Alec Pierce already projected on the other side of Pittman Jr. next year, this offense needs more explosive playmakers entirely. It doesn’t necessarily matter where they get it from.
Ballard says the #Colts need to increase explosive plays on both sides of the ball. Offense was top 10 in that category when Richardson was healthy.— George Bremer (@gmbremer) January 11, 2024
4. Tight End
The Colts’ tight end room is potentially crowded with veteran Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson, Drew Ogletree (*pending his legal outcome), 2nd-year pro Will Mallory, and lastly, don’t forget, Jelani Woods, who ultimately missed all of the 2023 season with significant hamstring injuries.
Woods is really the ‘wild card’ of the group, as he has unique sheer size at 6’7”, 253 pounds, with some speed (4.61 forty) that simply cannot be taught, but did not play this season after suffering a setback to his other hamstring during rehab.
However, Mo Alie-Cox is a potential salary cap casualty ($5.41M), while it’s a fair question of whether Ogletree (*currently on the commissioner’s exempt list) may not play another snap for Indy given the disturbing nature of his recent legal allegations. Granson has made some solid plays here and there for the Colts, but it hasn’t been nearly consistent enough, while Mallory showed some flashes late as a rookie receiver.
While this group is passable right now, it lacks an elite playmaker, and a lot rides on Woods’ health and recovery, as well as Mallory’s ongoing development in the receiving game.
So again, if say Georgia tight end Brock Bowers is available at 15th overall or even a little earlier (*for a possible slight Colts’ trade up), it looks to me like it’s worth Indy striking on such an elite tight end prospect—who could provide a sure-handed playmaker for Richardson over the middle of the field and rare mismatch for opposing secondaries.
5. Edge Rush
The Colts finished with 51.0 total sacks this past year, which set an Indianapolis all-time franchise record, so why is edge rush listed here?
Both edge rusher Samson Ebukam (9.5 sacks) and Kwity Paye (8.5 sacks) almost had double-digit sacks, so what gives?
Well, the Colts lack a true ‘alpha-dog’ edge pass rusher as the success of their pass rush in 2023 was more as a result of the sum of their collective parts.
Ebukum proved to be an impact free agent signing for Ballard during his debut campaign, improving the Colts’ run defense and being a nice complementary pass rusher off the edge. However, the Colts still lack a premier sackmaster off the edge, and it showed against the Houston Texans’ C.J. Stroud in the regular season finale, when their defensive line, aside from DeForest Buckner inside, couldn’t generate consistent pass pressure.
Former first rounder Kwity Paye has shown more prowess setting the edge and as an impact defensive end against the run, than he’s shown as a pure pass rusher—where he’s solid but remains unspectacular.
Unfortunately for the Colts though, elite pass rushers don’t grow on trees—especially in today’s passing league where they’re held at a premium, but that doesn’t mean Indianapolis can’t be vigilant should the right opportunity soon present itself this offseason.