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Indianapolis Colts June Scouting Report
Hey there Coltsâ€™ fans! Here are my thoughts for this month as the Colts just finished two weeks of OTAs and a brief mandatory minicamp:
The biggest story of the month has happened just this week as stud LB Darius Leonard sat out all the activities and recently underwent back surgery. It is surprising and disconcerting that it happened so late after the 2021 season had ended â€“ and even more disconcerting was the apparent disconnect between he and the team regarding the nature of the injury. Maybe this is a lot of kerfuffle and some misinterpreted social media posts, but when a star player so integral to your defense and team persona has a June back surgery, that alone is cause for alarm. As of the moment there is no statement that the team expects this to linger into minicamp in late July or into the regular season, but every Coltsâ€™ fan and IDP fantasy player is surely keeping a keen eye on the rehabilitation process of The Maniac.
Another key defensive player that was mostly missing in action was CB Kenny Moore, who was rumored to be holding out for a better contract than the two remaining years on his current 4-year deal. While much was made (perhaps unnecessarily so) of Mooreâ€™s absence from the OTAs â€“ remember that the "O" in "OTA" stands for "optional" -- he did show up for the mandatory portion but was nursing a mild injury so did not really participate on the field. There are rumblings of his displeasure, but the reality is that he has little leverage with 2 years left on a contract that in 2020 overpaid him and with other megastars on this team who will be due for extensions first like Leonard and OG Quentin Nelson. I really do not think he will hold out; rather I think he will be motivated to have another ProBowl caliber season and cash in on a big extension in the final year of his deal in 2023.
On the field, the big story has been the big acquisition in the offseason of starting QB Matt Ryan. Not only has his leadership been tremendous and apparent right from the moment of signing, but on the field he has been crisp, effective, in control and definitely not afraid to take an underperforming teammate to task. While I think Carson Wentz was unfairly graded and unappreciated by everyone in Indianapolis, I also have to say that Ryan is unambiguously a huge step up in maturity, skill and leadership. That is no knock on Wentz to be "less than Ryan" -- seriously, if not for a blown 28-3 Superbowl lead, I think Ryan is a shoo-in HOFer. He is commanding the huddle and the locker room, and extremely accurate at all levels of the passing game. Like crazy accurate. This is going to make the whole team on both sides of the ball much better, even if the fantasy stats might not be significantly different from those of Wentz in 2021.Of course there was a collective sigh of relief and a lot of "its about time!" comments as the Colts also signed a proven veteran backup in QB Nick Foles to make sure that an unexpected injury to Matt Ryan does not derail what has the potential to be a deep playoff run.
As to the rest of the offense, surely the team is going to focus on getting RB Jonathan Taylor the ball early and often, but the intriguing fantasy news is the continued expansion of the role for RB Nyheim Hines in the passing game. He has been seen mostly working with the receivers when not handling the punt return duties, and has looked really good doing so. There had been talk of making him into a slot receiver, but they have been lining him up all over the field including outside as a receiver and using him in the entire route tree. This last week he had a play where he lined up wide and looked to be running a simple crossing pattern; Ryan pump faked it to him and he ran a sluggo route for a straight bomb. There has even been talk that he might lead the team in receptions this year â€“ which is astounding when you consider the rising star of WR Michael Pittman as well. While he wonâ€™t have the goal line and TD potential of a Cordarelle Patterson, I can see him getting a lot of similar touches and being a huge PPR asset as a bench receiver (especially in best-ball formats). Coach Reich said you should draft Hines for your fantasy team this year, and I believe it from what I have seen thus far. Donâ€™t underestimate the importance of signing RB Philip Lindsay and RB Tyâ€™son Williams to backup roles, potentially freeing up Hines to spend more full-speed snaps as a receiver and on special teams without worrying about being unable to have a guy that can spell Taylor as a true running back.
The questions on the team mostly revolve around the state of the receiving corps and whether or not the team has provided Matt Ryan with enough weapons. Rookie WR Alec Pierce looks smooth and instinctive and mature for a rookie, and might not have the usual rookie jitters and learning curve. So with these two developments and explosive WR Parris Campbell not (yet) hurt, the team has eschewed signing WR TY Hilton or any other veteran #2 guy as they wait to see how the rest of this relatively unproven receiving corps can develop with Matt Ryan. And the upside at receiver is good, as the young tight ends have really struggled with their hands as rookie TE Jelani Woods and second year TE Kylen Granson have each had a bad case of the drops so far.
On defense, LB EJ Speed is getting a ton of reps with the starters in Leonardâ€™s absence, and in his contract year he has looked like he is going to be able to be an invaluable asset as a depth player or a spot starter if needed. Coming off a tremendously improved 2021. He looks poised to take the next step forward as a contributor and stylistically is a similar type of player to Leonard so they wonâ€™t have to change the defense if he has to step in again. Athletic S Julian Blackmon is no longer restricted as he rapidly has recovered from his Achilles injury, showing himself to be a physical freak of nature as he looks to build on an impactful but injury-marred start to his career. With him running with the starters and the energy provided by rookie S Nick Cross, there could be enough depth in the back end of the defense for a change as well. Veteran CB Stephon Gilmore looks to be the real deal as a leader in the secondary as he has definitely shown that he is still a top end corner and he has helped the younger guys on the sidelines as well. Another lesser acquisition was CB Brendan Facyson, and he has looked way more impactful than I had expected so far in camp as well while young CB Isaiah Rodgers has continued to show up as a playmaker at the position to help this unit really be improved in 2022.
The other lingering question is who will be the kicker for this team as camp breaks and they head into the regular season. Frank Reich has repeatedly said that PK Rodrigo Blankenship is the incumbent and it is his job as long as he is healthy. However, it is hard to forget that a healthy Blankenship did not immediately get his job back in 201 when he was recovered from injury as PK Mike Badgley was solid for the final 13 weeks of the regular season. They only have another unproven kicker on the roster right now (PK Jake Verity missed his rookie year with an ACL tear), but Badgley and several other proven veteran kickers are still sitting on the waiver wire and could step in immediately with pro experience. The big concern with Hot Rod is that he does not have a long leg, so they rarely give him chances outside 45 yards and he rarely made those chances. To be fair though, Badgley also did not hit from outside 46 yards in 2021, but he has done it in his career.
That is all for now from the Crossroads of America. The Colts are on their own until training camp opens up in late July. Until then friendsâ€¦.stay safe and enjoy your summer!
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