QB Quinn Gray, QB Jared Lorenzen, RB Dominic Rhodes.
RB Mike Hart, WR Pierre Garcon, H-Back Jacob Tamme, TE Tom Santi, C/G Mike Pollak, C/G Jamey Richard, C Steve Justice, DE Marcus Howard, ILB Philip Wheeler.
RB Clifton Dawson, FB Luke Lawton, WR Aaron Moorehead, TE Ben Utecht, TE Bryan Fletcher, TE Mike Seidman, G Jake Scott, C Dylan Gandy, DT Anthony McFarland, DT Dan Klecko, DT Quinn Pitcock, OLB Rocky Boiman, OLB Rob Morris, CB Michael Coe.
2008 Indianapolis Colts Offense:
It's usually a safe bet to pencil in the Colts as having one of the top five offenses in the NFL. They were ranked third last year, thanks to Peyton Manning, and their terrific skill-position players and dominant offensive line.
Most of Indianapolis' superstars are pretty renown, so let's go through them quickly. Manning, who has never missed a start, threw for 4,040 yards and 31 touchdowns in what was a pretty average season for him. Manning, who has career numbers of 41,626 yards and 306 touchdowns, is going to break Brett Favre's all-time records of 61,655 yards and 442 touchdowns, barring a major injury or unceremonious early retirement. Manning needs about five years to eclipse both marks, so he'll be 37 when that happens.
Marvin Harrison missed 11 games with an injury last year - we'll get to this later - so Reggie Wayne stepped up in his absence, recording career highs in both catches (104) and yards (1,510). Dallas Clark also recorded superior numbers (58 catches, 616 yards, 11 touchdowns). Both Wayne and Clark are in the prime of their careers, so I'm expecting similar performances from them in 2008.
Someone just entering his prime is Joseph Addai. Despite being hampered by an injury in the middle of the year and getting no carries toward the end when Indianapolis' games were meaningless, Addai still totaled 1,072 rushing yards, 364 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns. However, Addai wore down as the season progressed; following a 112-yard effort against the Patriots in Week 9, he failed to eclipse 72 yards and a 3.4-rush average in any game in which he had more than 10 carries. It was clear Addai was exhausted toward the end of his first season of being a full-time starter.
Addai was able to manage 4.1 yards per attempt (a solid amount considering how much he struggled in November and December) because of a prolific offensive front. Jeff Saturday is a Pro Bowl center; Tony Ugoh was exceptional at left tackle despite being a rookie; left guard Ryan Lilja just received $19 million over five years from the team in February; while Ryan Diem does a great job on the right side. Indianapolis lost right guard Jake Scott to the Titans, but the team has lost linemen before and replenished instantly. Remember the scare that the loss of Tarik Glenn brought to all the fans? I'd say Ugoh is working out pretty well for a group that surrendered only 23 sacks in 2007.
There are two things I'm concerned regarding the Colts' scoring attack. Less important is the backup running back situation. Kenton Keith filled in remarkably when Addai needed rest last year. Keith actually had a higher rushing average (4.4) than Addai, thanks in part to a 121-yard, two-touchdown performance in his only start. Unfortunately, Keith was arrested this offseason and may soon be cut. Indianapolis signed Dominic Rhodes and drafted Mike Hart to take Keith's spot. Rhodes is an Oakland Raiders reject who did nothing last season. Hart, meanwhile, is unproven. I trust Bill Polian's judgement with Hart, but it's impossible to nail every draft pick.
My biggest issue with the team's offense is Harrison's status. Forget the fact that Harrison turns 36 in August and is coming off an injury that caused him to miss 11 games in 2007; Harrison may have been involved in a shooting this spring. I want to believe Harrison will be fine legally, but no one really knows what happened. What we do know is that this has to be distracting Harrison from his perennial offseason routine. If he were 26, I wouldn't think it was such a huge deal. But at 36? For Harrison to succeed at this age, he needs to be in pristine shape. I can't be confident that he is.
How much of an impact will Harrison's offseason problems have on the Colts? Well, they averaged 24.7 points per game (excludes Week 17 when no starters played) without him in the lineup, which was much less than the 32.8 figure they maintained in the first five contests of the year. The Colts will be fine, but their offense will be slightly less explosive if I'm right about Harrison being unfocused and/or unavailable.
2008 Indianapolis Colts Defense:
It seems like the Colts lose defensive personnel every year but find some way to retool, similarly to a top-tier college football program. For example, they lost three starters - Cato June, Nick Harper and Jason David - last spring. Did they struggle in 2007? Hardly - Indianapolis' defense was ranked first in the entire league.
If Tony Dungy's stop unit can reload despite losing three starters, what's going to happen with everyone coming back? Indianapolis' greatest loss this spring was Rocky Boiman, who started only seven games. Rob Morris was next with two starts. Something tells me the Colts are going to have one of the NFL's top-rated defenses once again in 2008.
It all starts with Bob Sanders, last year's Defensive Player of the Year. Sanders is unquestionably the top defensive back in the NFL. He had four sacks and two picks in 2007; the latter number being so low because quarterbacks are afraid of him. But maybe they should start fearing the other members of the Colts' secondary as well. Corners Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden became stars in Dungy's Tampa-2 scheme. Meanwhile, free safety Antoine Bethea emerged as a top-tier defensive back last season, qualifying for the Pro Bowl with four interceptions. It's no wonder Indianapolis was ranked second versus the pass.
It's scary that the Colts' defense was ranked so high when you consider that starting outside linebackers Freddie Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler missed nine combined games. Both first-year starters, Keiaho and Hagler played extremely well in relief of June and Morris when they were in the lineup. Manning the middle of the linebacking corps is Gary Brackett, a solid player who will have to fight off third-round rookie Philip Wheeler. Based on Polian's talent as a draft expert, I'd be scared if I were Brackett, especially if the lingering injuries return.
If the Colts have a weakness on defense, it's against the run; they're really small at defensive tackle, which is actually intentional; the presence of Raheem Brock (275 pounds) and Ed Johnson (295 pounds) at defensive tackle indicates that pressuring the quarterback is more of a priority for Dungy. And that's where I'm confused. Dwight Freeney, considered one of the best defensive ends in the NFL, had four sacks before suffering a season-ending injury in the ninth game of the year. The Colts struggled to put pressure on opposing signal callers, and things only got worse when the other starting end, Robert Mathis, also got hurt.
I'm just shocked that Indianapolis didn't pursue depth at defensive end via free agency. The only thing they did was draft Marcus Howard in the fifth round. I trust Polian and everything, but Howard is only 235 pounds. I don't care what scheme you're in; that's really small for a defensive end. I know Robert Mathis is just 245, but those 10 pounds are a big deal. Besides, rookie ends always seem to struggle in the NFL. Even if Howard emerges as a great player, history says it's very unlikely he'll be a major contributor in 2008.
2008 Indianapolis Colts Schedule and Intangibles:
Adam Vinatieri missed every field goal he attempted from beyond 40 yards last year. Is he getting old? Well, he's 35, but that's not the reason for his struggles; Vinatieri had a leg injury in 2007. Still, he's obviously not the kicker he once was.
It seems silly to mention Indianapolis' punter, seeing as how he doesn't get much playing time, but Hunter Smith had one of the worst seasons of his career last year. Smith maintained a pedestrian 41.9 average and nailed only 18 inside the opponents' 20.
T.J. Rushing did a solid job returning the ball in 2007, scoring a touchdown on a punt. However, the Colts surrendered a whopping four returns last year. Was this a fluke? Definitely not - they allowed three in 2006. Something must be done about this, and losing a solid special-teamer like Rocky Boiman won't help.
Let's take a look at the non-divisional opponents that will give the Colts a bit of trouble: Minnesota (road), Green Bay (road), New England, Pittsburgh (road), San Diego (road) and Cleveland (road) will all be tough. Don't forget that the Colts have to play the Jaguars twice.
2008 Indianapolis Colts Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2008 Indianapolis Colts Analysis: The Colts are easily still one of the best teams in the league, but I have concerns with Marvin Harrison's focus, Joseph Addai's ability to stay fresh for 16 games and the lack of depth at defensive end.
With the Harrison situation really making things difficult, I have to believe the gap between Indianapolis and Jacksonville has closed quite a bit. The race for the AFC South crown should be interesting and entertaining.
Projection: 12-4 (2nd in AFC South)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Peyton Manning: Despite losing Marvin Harrison for 11 games, Peyton Manning was still able to maintain elite production, throwing for 4,040 yards and 31 touchdowns. He may not be king of the fantasy quarterbacks any longer, but that makes him a better value pick.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 4,250 passing yards. 31 passing TDs. 0 rushing yards. 3 rushing TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 417.
Joseph Addai: Joseph Addai fell way short of my 2007 fantasy projection (1,525 rushing yards, 550 receiving yards) because of injury and late-season durability issues. Now in his second full season as a starter, I expect Addai to be more effective down the stretch. I was dead on regarding his touchdown total (15), a figure that should remain about the same, given that Peyton Manning heavily depends on him inside the red zone.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,325 rushing yards. 375 receiving yards. 15 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 259.
Dallas Clark: Last year, I mentioned Dallas Clark was a household name although he had yet to register more than 500 receiving yards in a single season. Well, that changed. Thanks to Marvin Harrison's injury, Clark became a greater factor in the offense, catching 58 passes for 616 yards and 11 touchdowns - all of which were career-highs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 550 receiving yards. 7 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 97.
Reggie Wayne: Wow... Talk about stepping up when needed most. With Marvin Harrison out, it was obvious Peyton Manning would need to depend on Reggie Wayne. Wayne didn't disappoint, registering Randy Moss-like numbers (104 catches, 1,510 yards). The sick thing is, Wayne didn't really get going until Week 7, as he put up pretty pedestrian numbers Weeks 2-5. Given that Harrison is facing injury problems and gun charges, Wayne should be in for another terrific campaign.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,450 receiving yards. 10 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 205.
Marvin Harrison: As discussed earlier, not only is Marvin Harrison coming off a huge injury at 36, he's also facing gun charges that could deter his offseason routine, which is extremely important for someone his age. I really have no idea what to expect here, so caveat emptor.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 700 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 106.
Anthony Gonzalez: While Anthony Gonzalez finished with just 576 yards and three touchdowns, it's important to note that he didn't really do much until Week 5. He also missed two contests in the middle of the season. No longer a rookie, Gonzalez's numbers will improve.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 800 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 102.
Adam Vinatieri: Mr. Clutch had a leg injury last year and consequently failed to nail a kick from beyond 40 yards. I have to believe he'll be back in 2008, though I wouldn't draft him until really late.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 23-28 FG (0-1 50+). 47 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 122.
Indianapolis Defense: The best time to start Indianapolis' defense in the past was against a team with no offense. The Colts would usually establish a huge lead and then garner tons of turnovers from a pathetic scoring attack trying to mount a comeback. Well, things have changed. Tony Dungy's squad boasts one of the elite stop units in the NFL.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 10 Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
You may have noticed that I gave the Colts a ton of A's in my individual draft pick grades. That's because I'll get debacled by GM Bill Polian if I criticize his selections. Seriously. There's a reason why Indianapolis is a Super Bowl contender every year. The man's a genius, and as NoNonsenseCoach from my forum said, "If you question Bill Polian, you're just going to look like an idiot in a few years." ... If you're wondering why the Colts drafted three centers - don't. Either Mike Pollak or Steve Justice will take over for Jeff Saturday once he retires, while the other two will play guard, a position of major need for Indianapolis ... Philip Wheeler, Jacob Tamme and Marcus Howard were awesome values in the middle rounds. Wheeler was the only one who didn't fill a need, but he was a steal at No. 93 ... I liked Mike Hart and Pierre Garcon toward the end. Hart has the work ethic to be a solid backup for Joseph Addai, while Garcon is unknown but has the potential to be a factor in this offense.
I'm a bit surprised the Colts didn't draft a defensive end. When Dwight Freeney went down, they couldn't put any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. I figured they would draft an end by the fourth round. For some reason, that just didn't happen.
Grade give on 4/29/08: A-
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
59. Mike Pollak, C, Arizona State
It's hard to argue with anything general manager Bill Polian does. The Colts always have one of the top draft classes in the league. Mike Pollak will be a force at center once Jeff Saturday moves on. (Pick Grade: A)
93. Philip Wheeler, ILB, Georgia Tech
Typical smart Colts pick - they added some much-needed depth to their linebacking corps with a solid talent. (Pick Grade: A)
127. Jacob Tamme, TE, Kentucky
I had this pick in my mock - in the fifth round. But I'm not knocking it; Jacob Tamme will replace Ben Utecht as a solid H-back for Peyton Manning. (Pick Grade: A)
161. Marcus Howard, OLB, Georgia
Many mocks had Marcus Howard in the Round 3-4 range, so the Colts are getting a steal here. Yet another great draft by Bill Polian. (Pick Grade: A)
196. Tom Santi, TE, Virginia
Didn't the Colts go tight end already? Well, Tom Santi's more of a blocker, so this isn't a bad move. (Pick Grade: B)
201. Steve Justice, C, Wake Forest
Prior to the combine, Steve Justice was considered the top center in the draft. Getting him at the bottom of Round 6 is a steal, even though the Colts selected Mike Pollak earlier. It's safe to say Indianapolis has an eventual replacement for Jeff Saturday. (Pick Grade: A)
202. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan
Should be a solid backup for Joseph Addai if the Colts don't like Kenton Keith anymore. Mike Hart's a huge character guy and will fit in with Indianapolis. (Pick Grade: A)
205. Pierre Garcon, WR, Mount Union
A potential steal here, as Pierre Garcon is an underrated unknown from a small school. (Pick Grade: A)
236. Jamey Richard, C, Buffalo
Three centers? This isn't the NBA. Jamey Richard will probably play guard. (Pick Grade: A)
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I ranked the Colts ahead of the Patriots late in the year for a reason. I thought they had a legitimate shot to beat New England. Looks like I had the wrong Manning brother. Indianapolis was shocked by the Chargers in the divisional round for what could have been a number of reasons: Peyton Manning choked; Marvin Harrison was too hurt to play; Dwight Freeney was out for the year; Tony Dungy's foolishly decided to sit his starters for the majority of the season finale despite having a bye to rest his guys; or perhaps it was just the awesome power of Billy Volek.
Colts cut RB Clifton Dawson
Colts cut CB Michael Coe
Colts announce retirement of DT Quinn Pitcock
Colts sign QB Jared Lorenzen
Colts sign QB Quinn Gray
Colts cut P Chad Stanley
Colts trade FB Luke Lawton to the Eagles for a conditional 2009 pick
Colts sign RB Dominic Rhodes
Colts cut C Dylan Gandy
Colts cut TE Bryan Fletcher
Colts re-sign G Dylan Gandy
Colts re-sign DT Darrell Reid
Colts re-sign S Matt Giordano
Colts re-sign DE Josh Thomas
Colts cut DT Anthony McFarland
Colts cut OLB Rob Morris
Colts re-sign TE Dallas Clark
Colts re-sign G Ryan Lilja
Two Guards: Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott are both free agents this offseason, and it's going to be hard to keep both with such limited cap space. Indianapolis will have to draft a replacement for each guy who defects to another city. Re-signed Ryan Lilja and Dylan Gandy; drafted Steve Justice and Jamey Richard.
Defensive End: When Dwight Freeney went down with a season-ending injury, the Colts just couldn't produce any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They finished the year with just 28 sacks. They need a dependable backup behind Freeney and Robert Mathis. Re-signed Josh Thomas
Tight End: Scratch this if Dallas Clark is re-signed or franchised. If he leaves, however, Manning will lose an incredible weapon over the middle of the field. Jacob Tamme could be a nice draft pick in the fourth round, no matter what happens to Clark. Re-signed Dallas Clark and Bryan Fletcher; drafted Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi
Wide Receiver: I like Anthony Gonzalez coming out of the slot, so I'd want to see the Colts find a successor (or an injury replacement) for the soon-to-be 36-year-old Marvin Harrison. Luckily, this draft class is packed with talent at the receiver position. Drafted Pierre Garcon
Outside Linebacker: Rob Morris just turned 33, while Rocky Boiman will be hitting free agency sometime soon. The Colts need depth here. I'm looking at someone like Xavier Adibi at the bottom of Round 2. Drafted Marcus Howard
Indianapolis Colts Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 17): $8.49 million
Dallas Clark, TE. Age: 29. Re-signed with Colts (6 years)
One of the premier tight ends in the NFL, Dallas Clark had career numbers in 2007, catching a personal-best 58 passes, 616 yards and 11 touchdowns. Remember, he was banged up in the middle of the season. The Colts will likely franchise Clark.
Ryan Lilja, G. Age: 26. Re-signed with Colts
Ryan Lilja's more valuable to the Colts than anyone else, as Indianapolis linemen have struggled when removed from their system.
Jake Scott, G. Age: 27. Signed with Titans (4 years, $19.5 million)
Read what I wrote about Ryan Lilja.
Matt Giordano (RFA), S. Age: 25. Re-signed with Colts (1 year, $927,000)
I'd love to have Matt Giordano on my team; he's a solid backup, and he's great on special teams.
Ben Utecht (RFA), TE. Age: 27. Signed with Bengals (3 years, $9 million)
No one knows about this guy because he's not a big fantasy star, but if Dallas Clark left the Colts, I have a feeling Ben Utecht, once upon a time a first-round prospect, would put up big numbers.
Rocky Boiman, OLB. Age: 28. Signed with Eagles (1 year)
Solid as a reserve and on special teams, Rocky Boiman would be a valuable "cheap" addition to any squad.
Josh Thomas, DE. Age: 27. - Re-signed with Colts (1 year)
Rob Morris, OLB. Age: 33.
Anthony McFarland, DT. Age: 30. - Hasn't signed with Steelers
Aaron Moorehead, WR. Age: 27.
Dylan Gandy (RFA), G. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Colts (1 year, $927,000)
Mike Seidman, TE. Age: 27.
Dan Klecko, DT. Age: 27. - Signed with Eagles (1 year)
Clifton Dawson, RB. Age: 24.
Chad Stanley, P. Age: 32.
Michael Coe, CB. Age: 24.
Divisional Rival History: Houston Texans: The Texans have existed now for six years. In those six seasons, they've only beaten the Colts once out of 12 times. Pretty pathetic. Jacksonville Jaguars: Most of these games are close; 10 of the last 12 meetings have been decided by eight points or less. The Jaguars won one of the black-sheep contests, 44-17 on Dec. 10, 2006. David Garrard got hurt in the other. Tennessee Titans: Like the Texans, Tennessee was able to break a long losing streak against Indianapolis in 2006. They split last season, but Peyton Manning sat out the second half in the finale.