2017 Preview – Indianapolis Colts

When franchises move on from a toxic General Manager, it often takes a couple of years for them to right themselves. It’s often some combination of: salary cap woe from overpaying veterans; abysmal drafting record; players brought in not being scheme fits. The Indianapolis Colts booted GM Ryan Grigson this offseason, following years specifically affected by 2 and 3. But there’s a wrinkle here, too. The poor personnel decisions Grigson has made have basically endangered the career of Andrew Luck. And then having the sheer gall to suggest his egregious incompetence is Luck’s fault! Such a pantomime villain. Luck may miss the first third or so of the season due to lingering injuries hanging over from the Grigson era.

It’s easy to blame Grigson, who is in all honesty one of the worst general managers of the 2010s. But head coach Chuck Pagano drew up an unimaginative playbook and failed to get the best out of players as Indy stumbled to an 8-8 record in 2016. Poor play came from the pass rush, the offensive line, wide receivers not named T.Y. Hilton and the secondary. So, pretty much the whole team. The younger areas (especially the offensive line) showed green shoots late, but this didn’t look like an 8-8 team by any stretch.

 

Offense

So, six games without Luck at a guess. Who’s next in line? Well, it’s either the drummer from New Order or Scott Guffing Tolzien. Right here is a franchise that, were it not for ownership and fans’ broken psyche, would benefit from Colin Kaepernick. Anyway, this is bleak until Luck gets back. Yes, Luck could play less like a linebacker and avoid contact, but he shouldn’t have to put up with anywhere near as much pressure as he does. Go to hell, Grigson! (Audience hisses).

(Photo Source: USA TODAY Sports/ Getty Images)

Frank Gore has eleven consecutive seasons with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. That is amazing, but it’s a neat indication of how old he is, when running backs generally are not. He was marginally better in 2016 than 2015, though he’s more a reliable, unexciting plodder these days. Don’t expect much from the Colts run game. All the known backs on the roster are fairly poor, rookie Marlon Mack is an unknown.

People are surprised by this, but it was T.Y. Hilton, not Julio Jones, Odell Beckham or Mike Evans who led the league in receiving yards last year. Of course, beyond him is shakier. Donte Moncrief struggled with shoulder and hamstring issues last year and was ineffective. Phillip Dorsett struggled with being Phillip Dorsett and was ineffective. The next option is Kamar Aiken, who was good a couple of years ago in Baltimore when they had literally no other receivers. Jack Doyle is a bang-average tight end.

And so to the offensive line, which finally showed potential late last year. Indianapolis rotated three rookies, comprising the right three-fifths of the line in 2016. Of those, center Ryan Kelly definitely looks like a keeper. The jury’s still out on guard Joe Haeg and – especially – tackle Le’Raven Clark, who struggled mightily in pass protection but looks a serviceable run blocker. The line should take another step forward, but it’s hard to envisage it springing huge running seasons or ultra-clean pockets.

 

Defense

Making big-money moves in free agency is risky business. But the Indianapolis Colts will be happy with the $27m/3 year contract given to nose tackle Jonathan Hankins. Hankins was a star in New York, and is now the third-highest paid NT in the league. The remainder of their 3-4 line is a question mark. Henry Anderson was a half-season star in his rookie year, but has struggled with injuries since. Role players Margus Hunt and Hassan Ridgeway will contribute while presumed starter Kendall Langford sits on the PUP list.

End of an era this offseason, as Robert Mathis called time on his 14-year career. How to replace him at OLB? Well, another free agency risk is bringing in star rotational players to start. Indy have two pass rushers, in Jabaal Sheard and John Simon, recruited to do that. Sheard was fairly good in New England; Simon in Houston. Going from good defensive coordinators and talented rotations, it might be a rude awakenening. Inside, free agent recruit Sean Spence will play alongside sophomore Antonio Morrison.

For years, Indy have had one star and a bunch of scrubs at cornerback. Vontae Davis veers between “good” and “elite”, generally depending on health, but elsewhere is a mess. Step forward second round pick Quincy Wilson, who will likely start. Wilson could have easily gone in the first in this deep class, and possesses fantastic instincts and ball-tracking skills. He’ll get beaten off the line of scrimmage occasionally as he adjusts, but he looks a fantastic bargain pick.

(Photo Source: Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of bargain picks, with the 15th pick in the draft, Indy picked up the #2 overall player on my board, Malik Hooker. As a football player, Hooker is the platonic ideal of a free safety. He offers fantastic coverage, rangy athleticism, and incredible instincts. He’s also had two consecutive offseason surgeries and survived a hamstring scare on his conditioning test. Hooker will partner with Darius Butler, who has improved in coverage as his career goes on and fits the “wily veteran” prototype to a T. Also on the roster is someone called “Lee Hightower”, who I bring up solely because that is BLATANTLY a Football Manager-style newgen name, not a real person.

 

Players To Watch

I’m so excited to watch Malik Hooker this season. His college tape was utterly dreamy. Okay, he’s not the sort of hard-hitting college safety that people get misty-eyed over (unlike, say, Jamal Adams). But what he is, is a complete natural. Hooker has only one season as a starter. Instincts and understanding of how quarterbacks pass the ball are not easy things to pick up. For Hooker, it was child’s play. I hope he can spend this year drifting into view, making sudden, unexpected interceptions.

It’s a make-or-break year for Donte Moncrief, who Indy desperately need to show his 2015 form and more in order to give T.Y. Hilton some relief. In 2015 Moncrief showed route-running nous, speed, good hands…all the things you want in a wide receiver. Then 2016 and injuries struck. Fully healthy, this is an athletically-talented competitor who could put up a surprising 1,000 yard season.

(Photo Source: R. Brent Smith/ Associated Press)

Okay, I know this is about players, but there aren’t many coaches on as hot a seat as Chuck Pagano. After two disappointing seasons, he now has a new General Manager to play for. For the uninitiated, GMs tend to want their “own man” in at head coach, whom Pagano is assuredly not. If the Indianapolis Colts start slowly (spoiler: they will), look for lingering shots of Pagano’s anguished expression as he realises time is running out.

Schedule

W1 @ Rams // W2 vs Cardinals // W3 vs Browns // W4 @ Seahawks // W5 vs 49ers // W6 @ Titans // W7 vs Jaguars // W8 @ Bengals // W9 @ Texans // W10 vs Steelers // W11 BYE

W12 vs Titans // W13 @ Jaguars // W14 @ Bills // W15 vs Broncos // W16 @ Ravens // W17 vs Texans

 

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