The 2016 draft is over and the next phase for the Colts is approaching in the form of mini-camps starting soon. With that in play, what (if anything) do we know about the 2016 version of the Indianapolis Colts based on information from the past? That is what the fans of this team are now trying to figure out before the team ultimately hits the 53 man roster cut off date. Will the team right the ship from last season’s frustrating season that ultimately fell just short of the AFC South Crown or will it continue a decent in the division standings?
What We Know (Well, What I Think):
The Colts finished second in the AFC South last year at 8-8. Just one game behind the division winning Houston Texans. Andrew Luck took such a beating behind one of the worst lines the team has ever produced (and that’s saying something) so Irsay tasked the front office with not letting that happen again. To say that the team went into the draft without some type of plan would be an understatement. The Colts went after offensive linemen heavily in the draft starting with their first round pick C Ryan Kelly – Alabama. They followed that up with a 3rd round pick – OT/G LeRaven Clark – Texas Tech, 5th round pick -OT Joe Haeg out of North Dakota St, and a 7th round pick in C Austin Blythe – Iowa. That’s quite a haul and as you can see that was half of the draft picks the Colts had (after trading back in the second for additional 5th and 7th round picks) being spent on offensive line. Will they turn out to be the answer to the problem that has plagued this team for so long? Time will tell, but it seems out of this bunch, Kelly and Clark will factor into the revamped line along with players returning starters in Anthony Costonza, Jack Mewhort, Hugh Thorton, Denzelle Good, and Joe Reitz.
Here is what I see being the new line next season.
C-Ryan Kelly (R)
RT-LeRaven Clark (R)
This line on paper looks to be much improved over last year revolving door. The biggest factor that looks to be much improved is obviously at the center position. Kelly was lauded for his play in Alabama and proved to be solid in protecting the quarterback which the Colts have had issues with other centers trying to do for him. Kelly has a chance to become that player who will be tied together with his quarterback and create a long lasting tandem. Dallas went through a similar change when they drafted Travis Frederick to stabilize their line and that turned out pretty well for them as they went from a middle of the road line to being considered the league’s best. The Colts will also be looking to improve their running game to accentuate running back, Frank Gore. Gore made statements last season that indicated that the line was very bad to try to run behind. Hopefully he will be ecstatic to see the team is trying to correct the problem. Again, this lineup looks to be much improved, but the players will have to come together and show that team’s decision to focus so much on this aspect was worth it. A tough assignment for new offensive line coach, Joe Philbin.
The Offense should again prove to be explosive providing that Luck can stay healthy/return to form. Last season he took too many hits, actually since coming into the league he’s taken the second most hits (Ryan Tannehill was hit slightly more). Luck, being the competitive player that he is, often refused to slide way too often when circumstances should have allowed him to. That will always be part of his game and that’s what also makes him special. He has seen what effect his missing games has on the team, so it is probably more than likely that he will start to rethink that approach. The team parted ways with TE Coby Fleener after he left for the “Big Easy” to play for the Saints and Drew Brees. The team opted to keep Dwayne Allen because he fits in with Offensive Coordinator Rod Chudzinski’s scheme. Allen has much to prove as he has shown flashes but has been the recipient of the injury bug while being a Colt too often, hopefully he can shake that. T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, along with last year’s 1st round pick Phillip Dorsett look to improve the team’s already stacked wide receiving corps along with Quan Bray looking for a bigger role this year. The team should have no shortage when it comes to offensive firepower, but as always injuries play a crucial role to just how far they can go.
That leaves the defense. One which has much to prove this season after losing some pieces along with trying to finally solve the answer at DT. Second year player Henry Anderson proved to be one of the gems in the 2015 draft. Anderson was off to a great start until his season ended early due to and ACL injury, but his playing time on the field proved the team may have found their answer and arguably one of the best players on the team. Anderson is still recovering from his injury and may not be able to return at the beginning of the season so someone will have to step up in his absence such as rookie Hassan Ridgeway or a healthy Art Jones.
Besides Anderson, the Colts defensive secondary will be undergoing a transformation as well. Greg Toler was the team’s starting cornerback opposite of Vontae Davis and is now gone. Thankfully. The team brought in Patrick Robinson to be his replacement. Similarly, the secondary lost Dwight Lowery to the San Diego Chargers and the team is looking internally at Clayton Geathers, last year’s 4th round pick, to fill that massive void. They also selected T.J. Green in the 2nd round of this year’s draft, so he might be in line to compete. Green could also shift over to cornerback, which gives the team some options.
That leaves the biggest area of concern (in my opinion):
How will the team improve their pressure via the pass rush. Robert Mathis came back after sitting out the 2014 season due to suspension and injury, but still produced 7 sacks. Mathis is 35 years old and many who follow the team wonder how much he has left in the tank, but Mathis always seems to find a way to help the team, and this year should be no different. The team brought in Trent Cole last season who added 3 sacks, but the biggest addition turned out to be Kendall Langford who added 7 sacks on the edge. The big question is where will the rest come from? Erik Walden added 3 sacks, down from. Jonathan Newsome who had 7 sack in 2014 & 2015 and 2013 first round pick, Bjoern Werner who had just 6.5 sacks in three season with the team are no longer on the squad. Werner never panned out with the team and was a costly first round pick, now the team is in a predicament that they were trying to avoid. The team also relied on blitzes from Jerrell Freeman (Gone to Chicago) and Dwight Lowery (Gone to San Diego) for extra pressure. The team will most likely struggle in this area, but if some players surpass expectations then they might be good enough to get by this season.
Vegas is expecting a bounce back season for the Colts putting them at 20-to-1 odds in making it to the Super Bowl. I don’t know if this team is ready to make the jump to that, but I would obviously be happy to see them back in contention for the AFC title. If the offensive line improves enough with the additions of the draftees and the running game can start clicking, this team could become a serious contender. The defense should be improved in the secondary or slightly improved thanks to Robinson, but the biggest question there will be if Mike Adams‘ age will catch up to him and if there is enough depth at the safety positions if someone goes down. Again, the biggest issue this team will have to deal with is the pass rush, or rather a lack of one. They need to provide some type of pressure along with the defensive line in order to keep some of the better quarterbacks from picking the team apart. I didn’t mention the special teams, but they have done well sans the occasional breakdown in the returns. Quan Bray seemed to provide a spark in the return game for the team around mid-season last year, if he can continue, this could be a strength for team as opposed to the weakness fans have grown accustomed to.