Indianapolis Colts February Scouting Report
Hey there Colts fans! It’s time to recap the 2018 season and start to look forward to the 2019 one.
While the 2018 season started with a great deal of change, expectations were not high for this franchise. Indeed, most pundits had them pegged as the #32 team in 2018 and the early favorite for the overall top draft slot in 2019. They lost their perceived "franchise-defining young coach" after just a few hours when Josh McDaniels flaked out, and they "settled" for a backup choice in Frank Reich. Then the Colts traded down with the Jets, and many people thought they would miss out on one of the four cornerstone players that they needed in the #3 spot by dropping back to #6. Then the roster was gutted and filled with rookies and low-level free agents while the team seemingly refused to spend their huge salary cap space in the free agent period. Finally, there was the colossal uncertainty over the health status of franchise QB Andrew Luck, and whether or not he would ever play again, let alone play at a high level.
Well, Frank Reich excelled as a rookie coach, building this team’s psyche play by play and game by game; you could have made a cogent argument for him as the NFL Coach of the Year as he did so much with so little. The top three draft picks were stellar as first rounder LG Quentin Nelson and 2nd rounder LB Darius Leonard (Also easily led the NFL in tackles and was a runaway defensive ROY pick) each made first team All-Pro, and another 2nd rounder OL Brendan Smith was an All-Rookie performer at right tackle. After a slow start, the no-name roster gelled more and more each week into a top 5 offense and defense. And Luck was stellar, finishing in the top 5 in most passing categories and being a nearly unanimous Comeback Player of the Year as he returned to his Pro Bowl form. After starting 1-4 (and barely losing 3 of those 4 games)….they finished 10-6 and managed to win a playoff game on the road as well. All in all, there is a lot of reason for a great deal of hope going forward in this team, the coaching staff and the front office.
To be fair, not all was perfect. The biggest free agent signing of the offseason was WR Ryan Grant, who was a total nonfactor and surely will not be with the team in 2019. The young players at the position as well as in-season veteran signee WR Dontrelle Inman, plus a deeper draft class will make Grant expendable. The resurrection of the O-line was overseen by o-line coach Dave DeGuglielmo and assistant Bobby Johnson, but both were let go immediately after the season, raising some eyebrows. And one can still question not getting a veteran piece or two when they were so far under the salary cap, which would not have precluded them from basically still "building from within". Which led to perhaps the most intriguing signing this offseason as the Colts have brought back O-line coach Howard Mudd who spent 12 years in Indy during the Manning era and is renowned for his coaching skill; this may actually be the most talented group he has worked with yet, so it will be great to see if Mudd can continue the growth of this line as a unit and keep them elite.
So what has happened so far since the season ended in January. The biggest signing as the return of future HOFer PK Adam Vinatieri for his 15th season as a Colt and his 24th overall. This stability on and off the field is invaluable for a team trying to build a culture of champions. The team is projected to be around $120 million under the cap in 2019, so the team can be very active in free agency. They do have a bunch of their own to resign, but thankfully none are likely to command a lot on the open market as they are worth more to Indy than they are to others. Perhaps the big one is wrapping up OC Ryan Kelly before he hits his rookie option year, and while he is coming off two sub-par health season; a healthy Kelly will be huge as a free agent and they can extend him now for a fraction of that cost. They did re-sign OL Mark Glowinski to a 3-year $18 million extension. Glowinski stepped in and started the last 9 games at right guard this season and was super, actually grading out as the best pass-blocking guard in the NFL last season! Inman will surely be resigned, as will veteran LB Najee Goode who helped stabilize a young linebacking corps above and beyond what his stats indicated. Oft-injured S Clayton Geathers has huge potential when on the field, but his health history will likely scare off big-money suitors. And long CB Pierre Desir showed himself to be a top corner option when pushed into action last season, and merits a raise…but they won’t overpay with two other young guys also on the roster they like (Moore, Wilson) and a decent crop in the draft.
Rumors have abounded that cap space and the win-now hope might make the Colts a major player in the market for RB LeVeon Bell. And while he would be an excellent fit for the offense and a true game breaker….I can’t see this franchise administration going that route based on their statements and actions. RB Marlon Mack also showed he could be a stud once he got over his hamstring injury early, leading the NFL in rushing and TDs in the second half of the season. And the two rookies filled the role of pass catcher and backup at a fraction of the cost of a LeVeon Bell (and without the drama). That being said…Bell is a transformational player that could test this GM’s resolve and become an exception to the plan. If they make a play for a big-name skill player, I think it is more likely at receiver where a possession guy like Golden Tate or a downfield threat and big target like Tyrell Williams makes more sense. I would not rule out a splash play for a younger stud like Giants’ safety Landon Collins if the G-men decide not to franchise tag him.
Looking ahead to the draft, Executive of the Year Chris Ballard has a lot to live up to after his ludicrously good draft as a rookie last year. Besides the studs already mentioned, he picked up several running backs that had an impact on the offense, and several role players that filled needs. And if DL Tyquan Lewis had not been hurt most of the year, his pass rushing prowess might have made a huge impact on the defense; he looked promising in his limited healthy stint. Clearly there is a need for some more pass rushing skill, and this is certainly likely to be a focus during the draft. With the loss of a stabilizing presence on the O-line in veteranOL Matt Slauson (retired this week due to a spinal fracture) as well as two years of poor health for OC Ryan Kelly, an interior lineman could be on the horizon to make this offensive line truly elite. And a playmaker at receiver is needed if the two promising rookies can’t be that guy immediately.
That’s all for this month from the snowy Crossroads of America. Until next month…stay warm and start planning for that 2019 draft!!
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