Couldn't agree more. Berman is one of the top 10 (wait...let's double check ESPN's roster...), top 5 talents ESPN has. In fact, I propose a White House petition to bring back, back, back, back, back the Berman/Jackson NFL Primetime.
RB Donald Brown, DT Fili Moala, CB Jerraud Powers, WR Austin Collie, DT Terrance Taylor, QB Curtis Painter, P/K Pat McAfee, G Jaimie Thomas.
RB Dominic Rhodes, RB Kenton Keith, RB Clifton Dawson, WR Marvin Harrison, WR Roy Hall, TE Bryan Fletcher, OT Corey Hilliard, DT Darrell Reid, ILB Buster Davis, CB Keiwan Ratliff, S Brannon Condren, P Hunter Smith.
2009 Indianapolis Colts Offense:
In my 2008 Indianapolis Colts season preview, I wrote, "It's usually a safe bet to pencil in the Colts as having one of the top five offenses in the NFL." Whoops. Indianapolis "struggled" last season, scoring 23.6 points per game, good for just 13th in the league.
Of course, the reason for the dropoff was fairly obvious. Peyton Manning, coming off secret knee surgery (thanks a lot for screwing millions of fantasy players, Tony Dungy), threw just three touchdowns to four picks before the team's bye. In fact, Manning played relatively poorly until losing to the Titans on Monday Night Football. In his first seven games, Manning notched a YPA greater than 7.4 in only one contest, and compiled 10 scores to nine interceptions, which is really sub-standard for him.
However, Manning turned things around after losing to Tennessee. In his final nine outings, Manning crossed the 7.4 YPA barrier five times, and threw 16 touchdowns to just three interceptions. Manning was simply on fire, and it was apparent that he finally shook off the knee injury.
Manning is once again being doubted in some circles. Some point to his age (33). Some declare that Marvin Harrison's absence will spark a decline in Manning's production. Others point to the fact that Manning will be playing with a new offensive coordinator.
Age isn't an issue. If Kurt Warner can lead the Cardinals to the Super Bowl as a 37-year-old, Manning definitely has at least five years of high productivity remaining. People tend to forget that he struggled because of his knee surgery, which is clearly behind him.
I'm not concerned about the new coaching staff. Manning is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he'll be playing in the same offense. On the surface, nothing's going to change.
Harrison's release also won't matter. The old veteran struggled last season, and it's not like Manning doesn't have other weapons to work with. Reggie Wayne is two years removed from 104 catches, 1,510 yards and 10 touchdowns. Anthony Gonzalez showed what he's capable of when he caught nine balls for 137 yards at Minnesota last season. Gonzalez is a former first-round pick, and is talented enough to be a No. 2. Dallas Clark (77 catches, 848 yards, 6 TDs) is one of the top tight ends in the NFL.
One thing that was missing last year - and Manning admitted this - was a consistent running game. Joseph Addai was unreliable for the second year in a row; he played in just nine full games last season, averaging a lackluster 3.5 yards per carry. This prompted the Colts to select Donald Brown in the first round. Brown rushed for 2,083 yards and 18 touchdowns with Connecticut in 2008. He also caught 21 passes for 125 receiving yards, so Manning will definitely take advantage of his ability to catch the ball.
Indianapolis' offensive line once again did a great job keeping Manning off the turf - the unit surrendered just 14 sacks - but it really needs to improve in the run-blocking department. Addai struggled with injuries, but no one else was able to run the ball either; reserves Dominic Rhodes (3.5 YPC), Chad Simpson (3.3) and Najeh Davenport (3.3) couldn't find any lanes to burst through. As a team, the Colts averaged a meager 3.4 yards per rush. That can't happen again if the Colts want to make a deep postseason appearance.
2009 Indianapolis Colts Defense:
One of the most amazing stats I've ever seen was Indianapolis' rush defense ranking in 2008. The Colts were 20th versus the run, as they allowed 4.3 yards per carry. What makes this so astonishing? The fact that they weren't ranked 50th; their starting defensive tackles were Eric Foster and Keyunta Dawson, who weigh 265 and 255 pounds, respectively. How opposing backs didn't average 20 yards per carry against the 2008 Colts is something I'll never understand.
Bill Polian recognized this problem and spent second- and fourth-round selections on Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor, two larger defensive tackles. Both players should be instant upgrades in the run-defense department, though it must be noted that defensive linemen have trouble transitioning to the NFL right away, so I wouldn't expect the Colts to improve immediately versus the rush. Still, they can't be much worse, and the team may not even have to stick eight or nine men into the box.
With the opposition constantly in third-and-short situations, the Colts weren't able to accumulate many sacks in 2008 (30). Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney had 12 and 10, respectively, but no one else besides Raheem Brock chipped in with more than two. That'll change if Moala and Taylor can help out against the run. If teams are in third-and-sevens instead of third-and-fours, the Colts will easily register more sacks with Mathis, Freeney and perhaps Marcus Howard, a nickel rusher who collected 1.5 sacks as a rookie in 2008.
Despite garnering 30 sacks, the Colts excelled against the pass, finishing eighth in YPA (6.5). With talented defensive backs like corners Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson, safeties Bob Sanders and Antoine Bethea, and very good depth, it's pretty easy to see why Indianapolis often shut down opposing passers. The Colts spent a third-round selection on Jerraud Powers to add even more help at corner.
Indianapolis also has a sound linebacking corps. Gary Brackett is very reliable in the middle; Clint Sessions thrived as at strongside lineabacker in 2008, but will be moving to the weak side this season to make room for Philip Wheeler, a second-year defender whom the coaching staff is enamored with.
2009 Indianapolis Colts Schedule and Intangibles:
Can the Colts move back to the RCA Dome? Lucas Oil Field was not kind to Indianapolis in its inaugural season. Taking out the final game against Tennessee's backups, the Colts' margin of victory at home was just 8.7 points per game. Last year, that number was 11.6 at home.
Despite kicking at age 35, Adam Vintatieri nailed 20-of-25 attempts in 2008, including 2-of-2 from beyond 50. I wouldn't get too excited, however. Last season marked the first time Vintatieri hit a 50-yarder since 2002.
Hunter "The Punter" Smith was let go despite kicking very well last season. The Colts obtained rookie Pat McAfee to take his place. Although Bill Polian drafts well, there's no telling how McAfee will perform.
The Colts had one of the worst return games in the entire league, as Keiwan Ratliff (5.6 yards per punt return) and Pierre Garcon (21.6 yards per kick return) were nothing short of horrific. Indianapolis' special teams is still a question mark, though it should be noted that the team didn't surrender a touchdown after allowing four in 2007.
Let's take a look at the non-divisional opponents that will give the Colts a bit of trouble: Miami (road), Arizona (road), New England and Baltimore (road). The Colts have a really easy non-divisional schedule (Rams, 49ers, Broncos, Jets, Bills), but the Titans, Texans and Jaguars all play Indianapolis tough.
2009 Indianapolis Colts Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2009 Indianapolis Colts Analysis: Tony Dungy and offensive coordinator Tom Moore might be gone, but that doesn't really matter as long as the Colts have No. 18 under center.
Unlike last season, Peyton Manning is healthy and won't have to worry about facing Albert Haynesworth twice. With the Titans in decline, it doesn't seem as though Indianapolis will have much of a challenge winning the AFC South, though I think the Texans may have something to say about that.
Bill Polian is the best. Donald Brown is a great fit for Indianapolis' offense, which was in dire need of a running back. Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor are two big bodies the defensive line really needed. Austin Collie was great value at No. 127.
There's a reason certain teams are always drafting atop each round, while franchises like the Colts are perennial Super Bowl contenders. Polian has a great plan and sticks to it.
Grade given on 4/27/09: A
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
27. Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut
The Colts needed a running back. Joseph Addai can't stay healthy and Dominic Rhodes is gone. I would have looked at the defensive line, but Bill Polian has proven that he's the best. (Pick Grade: A)
56. Fili Moala, DT, USC
Indianapolis had to take a defensive tackle in the first two rounds. Fili Moala is solid value here and obviously fills a need. Yet another Bill Polian pick I can't argue. (Pick Grade: A)
92. Jerraud Powers, CB, Auburn
I don't criticize Bill Polian selections often, but Jerraud Powers seems like a reach. He also doesn't fill a big need. Maybe he pans out, but in terms of value, I don't like this pick. (Pick Grade: C)
127. Austin Collie, WR, BYU
And you wonder why the Colts are always among the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Austin Collie is amazing value and fills a big need at receiver across from Reggie Wayne. (Pick Grade: A)
136. Terrance Taylor, DT, Michigan
You can tell that Tony Dungy is gone - he never would have gone for two bigger defensive tackles. Still, the value is right and the need is there. (Pick Grade: B)
201. Curtis Painter, QB, Purdue
The Colts had to find a capable quarterback late in the draft. Curtis Painter was a top-rated prospect a year ago, so maybe Bill Polian thinks he can revert back to 2007 form. (Pick Grade: B)
222. Pat McAfee, P/K, West Virginia
Pat McAfee can take over as the punter and eventually the kicker. Nice value in the seventh round. (Pick Grade: A)
236. Jaimie Thomas, G, Maryland
Never a bad idea to add depth up front, especially when you had trouble running the ball last year. This is Jaimie Thomas' draft range. (Pick Grade: A)
Kurt Warner is my MVP, but I can see why Peyton Manning won the official award this season. Marvin Harrison (thanks to a combination of age and possible gun charges) played terribly. Reggie Wayne also had a down year. Jeff Saturday missed a quarter of the season. The running game was non-existent. The defense was awful. The homefield advantage disappeared. Tony Dungy was preparing for retirement. Despite all of this, Manning carried the team to a 12-4 record.
Lions sign OLB Rufus Alexander
Jaguars sign ILB Adam Seward
Colts cut ILB Adam Seward
Colts cut OT Corey Hilliard
Colts re-sign Josh Thomas
Colts cut WR Roy Hall
Colts cut S Brannon Condren
Texans sign RB Clifton Dawson
Colts re-sign DT Ed Johnson
Colts cut OLB Rufus Alexander
Colts cut P Mike Dragosavich
Colts re-sign OLB Freddie Keiaho
Steelers sign CB Keiwan Ratliff
Redskins sign P Hunter Smith
Colts re-sign S Matt Giordano
Bills sign RB Dominic Rhodes
Colts re-sign OLB Tyjuan Hagler
Texans sign ILB Buster Davis
Colts cut ILB Buster Davis
Colts cut RB Clifton Dawson
Colts sign ILB Adam Seward
Broncos sign DT Darrell Reid
Colts re-sign C Jeff Saturday
Colts cut WR Marvin Harrison
Colts re-sign CB Kelvin Hayden
Colts announce retirement of HC Tony Dungy
Colts promote Jim Caldwell to head coach
Colts cut RB Najeh Davenport
Defensive Tackle: The Colts have a huge hole at defensive tackle, which would explain why they really struggled against the run. Expect this need to be addressed in the first few rounds of the 2009 NFL Draft. Drafted Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor
Wide Receiver: With possible gun charges and his declining skills both being issues, Marvin Harrison is no longer reliable. The Colts may use their first-round selection on wideout to play across from Reggie Wayne, which would put Anthony Gonzalez in the slot. Drafted Austin Collie
Cornerback: Even if the Colts re-sign Kelvin Hayden, they'll need depth at this position. If they lose Hayden, corner will be a top need. Re-signed Kelvin Hayden; drafted Jerraud Powers
Offensive Tackle: Neither injury-prone Tony Ugoh nor oft-penalized Ryan Diem is all that great. The Colts have more pressing needs, but help at offensive tackle could be addressed.
Running Back: Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes both averaged 3.5 yards per carry in 2008. Addai has never proven that he can carry the load on his own; he shared touches with Rhodes when he was a rookie, and he was banged up the past two seasons. Indianapolis could use a complementary back. Drafted Donald Brown
Interior Lineman: The Colts really struggled when Jeff Saturday was out of the lineup. Saturday, 34 in June, is a free agent and definitely won't be the same player he once was.
Return Specialist: The Colts struggled to get things going on special teams in 2008. They failed to score a touchdown, and their longest return was just 46 yards.
Backup Quarterback: If Peyton Manning goes down with an injury, can Jim Sorgi play as well as Matt Cassel? I have my doubts. A rookie quarterback could be looked at in the middle rounds. Drafted Curtis Painter
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Indianapolis Colts Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 8): $2 million
Kelvin Hayden, CB. Age: 26. Re-signed with Colts (5 years, $43 million; $22.5 million guaranteed)
The Colts have a habit of letting players go and cycling through personnel, so it'll be interesting to see if they make an exception for Kelvin Hayden, their No. 1 corner.
Jeff Saturday, Colts. Age: 34. Re-signed with Colts (3 years)
When Jeff Saturday was out of the lineup this season, it was really evident how much Peyton Manning and the Colts offense missed him. Saturday's age is his only concern, but I think Kevin Mawae is working out fine for the Titans.
Hunter Smith, P. Age: 32. Signed with Redskins
Hunter "The Punter" Smith remarkably had just two punts go for touchbacks this season. That's the least amount of any punter with at least 25 attempts. Smith had a 44.2 average and hit 23-of-53 tries inside the 20. That's a pretty impressive ratio.
Freddie Keiaho, OLB. Age: 26. Re-signed with Colts
A very effective cover-2 weakside linebacker. Shouldn't play in another system.
Marvin Harrison, WR. Age: 37.
I'd like to believe that Marvin Harrison has something left in the tank, but his inability to separate from corners last season says otherwise. Still, there's a chance he never got in shape because of his injuries and offseason gun-shooting situation.
Josh Thomas, DE. Age: 28. Re-signed with Colts
A 4-3 left end who plays well against the run.
Dominic Rhodes, RB. Age: 30. Signed with Bills (2 years)
The last year Dominic Rhodes averaged more than four yards per carry was 2004. He maintained a figure of 3.5 this season. He's an adequate backup, but he's clearly over the hill.
Darrell Reid, DT. Age: 27. - Signed with Broncos
Tyjuan Hagler, OLB. Age: 27. - Re-signed with Colts
Keiwan Ratliff, CB. Age: 28. - Signed with Steelers
Adam Seward, ILB. Age: 27. - Signed with Jaguars
Matt Giordano, S. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Colts
Ed Johnson, DT. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Colts
Bryan Fletcher, TE. Age: 30.
Kenton Keith, RB. Age: 29.
Brannon Condren, S. Age: 26.
Clifton Dawson, RB, Colts. Age: 25. - Signed with Texans
Roy Hall, WR. Age: 25.
Mike Dragosavich, P. Age: 24.
Buster Davis, ILB. Age: 25. - Signed with Texans
Rufus Alexander, OLB. Age: 26. - Signed with Lions
Divisional Rival History: Houston Texans: The Texans have existed now for seven years. In those seven seasons, they've only beaten the Colts once out of 14 times. It would have been twice if it wasn't for Sage Rosenchoker's self-debaclation. Jacksonville Jaguars: Most of these games are close; 12 of the last 14 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: These teams have split their season series the past three years.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)