2017 NFL Offseason: Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts (Last Year: 8-8)

2017 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
RB Christine Michael, WR Kamar Aiken, TE Brandon Williams, C Brian Schwenke, DE/DT Margus Hunt, NT Johnathan Hankins, NT Al Woods, DE/OLB Jabaal Sheard, DE/OLB John Simon, ILB Sean Spence, ILB Jon Bostic, P Jeff Locke.
Early Draft Picks:
S Malik Hooker, CB Quincy Wilson, DE/OLB Tarell Basham, G Zach Banner, RB Marlon Mack, DT Grover Stewart, CB Nate Hairston, ILB Anthony Walker. Colts Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Robert Turbin, TE Dwayne Allen, G Joe Reitz, G Hugh Thornton, DE/DT Arthur Jones, NT Zach Kerr, DE/OLB Trent Cole, DE/OLB Erik Walden, ILB D’Qwell Jackson, CB Patrick Robinson, CB Darryl Morris, S Mike Adams, P Pat McAfee.

2017 Indianapolis Colts Offense:
Jim Irsay has done Andrew Luck and the entire Colts fan base a great disservice by allowing Ryan Grigson to keep his job for so long. Grigson possessed one of the top quarterbacks in the entire NFL, yet thanks to numerous terrible decisions, Indianapolis hasn’t reached the playoffs the past two seasons. That figures to change eventually under Chris Ballard’s guidance, but it could take Ballard more than just one offseason to clean up Grigson’s mess.

The primary thing Grigson was criticized for was neglecting Luck’s pass protection. That was expected to change this offseason, but nothing happened outside of a fourth-round pick used on the overweight Zach Banner. He’s unlikely to cure Indianapolis’ guard woes, as the team has a big hole at one of the spots. Joe Haeg is expected to start there again, but he struggled this past season. The same could be said of Le’Raven Clark, who will be given a chance to start at right tackle. Clark does have some promise, however, as he was a third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Clark didn’t perform well when given the chance last season, but he’s young and could improve.

The rest of Indianapolis’ blocking is pretty decent. The best player up front is left tackle Anthony Castanzo, though guard Jack Mewhort could contend for that distinction. Meanwhile, center Ryan Kelly performed well as a first-round rookie this past season, and he can only improve.

Another problem the Colts have is their lackluster running game. Frank Gore used to be a prolific running back, but he’s now 34 and clearly past his prime. He managed to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards this past season, but struggled to get there. He hasn’t averaged more than four yards per carry since 2014, so it appears as though Marlon Mack, a fourth-round rookie, is Indianapolis’ only hope to have a potent ground attack in 2017.

With some blocking holes and an underwhelming ground attack, Luck will have to continue to carry the offense. He and T.Y. Hilton figure to post huge numbers once again; Hilton caught 91 passes for 1,448 yards and six touchdowns in 2016. For such a small player (5-9, 180), Hilton has proven to be quite durable, missing just two games in five seasons. Donte Moncrief, meanwhile, will reprise his role as the second wideout. He has been less fragile than Hilton – he missed seven games this past year – but he certainly has No. 2 receiver ability.

A couple of players will have new roles in Indianapolis’ offense. Dwayne Allen is gone, so Jack Doyle will be the team’s full-time No. 1 tight end. Doyle, who signed a $19 million contract this offseason, served well as Luck’s security blanket, catching 59 passes for 584 yards and five touchdowns despite being a part-time player. Phillip Dorsett, a former first-round pick, hasn’t been nearly successful as Doyle. In fact, he has been downright awful as the Colts’ third receiver, so Ballard signed former Raven Kamar Aiken to challenge him for the job.

2017 Indianapolis Colts Defense:
For all the problems the Colts have on offense, it all pales in comparison to the woes on the defense. Going into the offseason, Indianapolis somehow needed upgrades at almost every single position.

Beginning with the defensive front, the Colts signed Johnathan Hankins to be their nose tackle. Hankins just had a down year, perhaps because he never recovered from a torn pectoral. Hankins is a very talented lineman who generates pressure on opposing quarterbacks and stuffs the run effectively when healthy. This is the first time he’ll be in a 3-4, but his skills should translate to Indianapolis’ scheme. Hankins will be flanked by Henry Anderson and Kendall Langford, who look good on paper. However, Anderson is coming off a torn ACL, while Langford had a poor 2016 campaign because of a problematic knee issue. If both players are healthy, Indianapolis’ defensive line should be pretty decent.

As for the outside edge rush, the Colts didn’t really have anyone who could consistently generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Only two players recorded more than three sacks, and neither is with the team any longer. To compensate for this, the Colts signed Jabaal Sheard and John Simon, and then they spent a third-round pick on Tarell Basham. Sheard has played well in the past, but was benched in New England last season. Perhaps he’ll rebound in his new home. Simon, meanwhile, was a solid rotational player for the Texans, but wasn’t a full-time defender because he was slotted behind Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus on the depth chart. He’ll have to start unless Basham develops quickly.

The situation at inside linebacker was even worse entering the offseason, as the Colts had major issues covering tight ends and pass-catching running backs. D’Qwell Jackson moved glacially on the field, so he had to be replaced. The Colts did so by signing Sean Spence away from the Titans. Spence isn’t a very good player, but he’ll be an upgrade over Jackson, if only by default. However, the Colts still don’t have much else at the position, as it’s remarkable that they didn’t put many resources into fixing this problem. Anthony Walker was selected in the fifth round, but teams had concerns about his ability to do well in coverage at the next level.

Reuben Foster seemed like a very logical pick for the Colts at No. 15 overall to solve this issue, but Ballard passed on the injury-prone linebacker in favor of Malik Hooker, who drew Ed Reed comparisons throughout the pre-draft process. It was a major steal, as Hooker was seen by some as a top-seven lock. One team even had Hooker as a top-three prospect in the class. He’ll slide in next to Clayton Geathers, as the two will combine to be a formidable safety tandem. Geathers was one of Indianapolis’ few positive performers in 2017, but isn’t certain to be ready Week 1 because of a neck injury.

One player who was expected to thrive was talented cornerback Vontae Davis, but he struggled because of numerous injuries. To his credit, he missed just two games, but it was clear that he wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent. Davis is just 29, so he should have at least a couple more seasons of high-level play. He’ll likely rebound, and he’ll open as a starter across from the mediocre Rashaan Melvin. However, second-round rookie Quincy Wilson is expected to push Melvin for the job.

2017 Indianapolis Colts Schedule and Intangibles:
Adam Vinatieri is still getting the job done. He was an amazing 25-of-27 in 2015, including 4-of-5 from 50-plus. He wasn’t as good overall in 2016, but he hit 27-of-31 tries, including 7-of-9 from beyond 50. He also drilled all 44 of his extra points. He’s turning 45 right after Christmas, however, so a sharp decline is bound to happen sooner or later.

Punter Pat McAfee has retired to become a sports blogger. He’ll be replaced by Jeff Locke, who was 25th in net average this past season.

The Colts surrendered a whopping three touchdowns on punt returns in 2015. They improved on special teams last year, outgaining the opposition in punt and kickoff coverage. The one touchdown went in their favor.

Indianapolis has a chance to get off to a quick start. Five of its first eight games are against the Rams, Browns, 49ers, Jaguars and Bengals.

2017 Indianapolis Colts Rookies:
Go here for the Colts Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2017 Indianapolis Colts Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2017 Indianapolis Colts Analysis: The Colts will be competitive as long as Andrew Luck is healthy. However, this seems like another 8-8 type of finish for the team, which has too many holes to make a legitimate push deep into the playoffs. Their offensive line, running game, linebacking corps and pass rush are all concerns. The good news for them is that they appear headed in the right direction with Grigson no longer making the decisions.

Projection: 6-10 (3rd in AFC South)

2016 Projection: 12-4. 2016 Actual Result: 8-8.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B Grade

Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: It goes without saying that the Colts must protect Andrew Luck. They have to spend a second-day selection on a blocker. Otherwise, Indianapolis must upgrade its pitiful defense, as help is needed at almost every position.

2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I have to believe that the Colts never would’ve believed in a million years that Malik Hooker was going to fall to them at No. 15 overall. Hooker was a top-five prospect in this class, with one high-ranking personnel man even slotting him in his personal top three. He has Ed Reed-type play-making ability, and the Colts will enjoy that for the next dozen years. They can thank some of the incompetent teams drafting in front of them for passing on such a great talent.

Indianapolis focused entirely on its defense during the first two days. Quincy Wilson also provided solid value during the second round, while Tarell Basham was a quality choice in the next frame. Both potentially fill big needs at cornerback and outside linebacker, respectively, in one of the league’s worst defenses.

The Colts made one other terrific choice when they snatched Marlon Mack toward the end of the fourth round. Mack could potentially replace Frank Gore as the team’s starting running back in 2018. However, Indianapolis didn’t do enough to improve Andrew Luck’s pass protection. All it did was obtain Zach Banner in the fourth round, and Banner is a run-blocker who struggles in pass protection.

It’s clear that Indianapolis is in better hands with Chris Ballard than Ryan Grigson. It’s really night and day. Ballard did a solid job with this haul, though I imagine he’ll regret not putting more focus into shielding Luck.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

15. Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State: A+ Grade
How in the world did this happen? Some teams considered Malik Hooker to be a top-three prospect in this class, as they made Ed Reed comparisons to him. I know that dumb teams making dumb picks caused him to drop, but seeing him fall to No. 15 is unreal. The Colts needed defensive help, and they’re getting a lot of it with Hooker, who could be one of the top safeties in the NFL for a very long time.

46. Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida: A- Grade
The Colts obtained a mega steal in Round 1, and now they obtained a slightly lesser steal in the second frame. Quincy Wilson is a talented cornerback who once garnered first-round consideration. That changed as the draft process went on as scouts and front offices had a closer look at him, but he could’ve been chosen a dozen or so selections earlier than this without much protest. Wilson fills a need for the Colts, who had to upgrade corner.

80. Tarell Basham, DE/OLB, Ohio: B Grade
I had Tarell Basham going 84th overall, so I think he makes sense in this range. Basham was very productive at Ohio and possesses very good athleticism. He has solid upside, and he could turn into a potent pass-rusher for the Colts, who need as much help getting to the quarterback as possible.

137. Zach Banner, G, USC: C Grade
I had the Giants selecting Zach Banner three picks later than this, so it makes sense from a range perspective. However, the fit isn’t ideal. Andrew Luck needs blockers who can pass protect, and Banner can’t do that. He’s a powerful run-blocker, but he’s way too slow and won’t be able to shield the quarterback.

143. Marlon Mack, RB, South Florida: A Grade
I’ve had the highly athletic Marlon Mack slotted in the third round pretty consistently, though I did have him in the second frame on occasion. He provides great value at the end of the fourth frame. He could potentially emerge as Indianapolis’ starting running back once Frank Gore moves on.

144. Grover Stewart, DT, Albany State: B- Grade
I had Grover Stewart in the seventh round, but I don’t mind a home-run selection like this at any point on the third day. Stewart is huge (6-5, 334) and has tremendous athleticism for someone at his size. He has the potential to become a solid starter one day, but his floor is pretty low as well.

158. Nate Hairston, CB, Temple: C Grade
I didn’t have Nate Hairston being drafted in my final mock, but I did have him slotted in the seventh round at some point. Either way, this is a reach. Hairston is a major project, as he’s a former receiver converting to cornerback, so he’s still learning the position.

161. Anthony Walker, ILB, Northwestern: B Grade
Anthony Walker really fell from grace, as he was a potential second-round pick prior to the 2016 season. However, Walker’s tape showed that he was very stiff in his change-of-direction ability. He then tested poorly at the combine. Still, the Colts are getting a productive player who could be a solid backup and special-teams player.

Season Summary:
Much more was expected out of the Colts than just a .500 record, given that they played in such a pedestrian division. However, their weaknesses and lack of depth were quite apparent almost instantly. General manager Ryan Grigson has assembled a terrible roster, yet he and Chuck Pagano continue to keep their jobs somehow.

Offseason Moves:
  • Colts sign RB Christine Michael
  • Colts sign NT Johnathan Hankins
  • Colts cut DE/DT Arthur Jones
  • Colts sign WR Kamar Aiken
  • Colts sign TE Brandon Williams
  • Colts sign ILB Sean Spence
  • Colts sign NT Al Woods
  • Colts sign C Brian Schwenke
  • Colts sign DE Margus Hunt
  • Colts re-sign RB Robert Turbin
  • Colts sign DE/OLB Jabaal Sheard
  • Colts cut CB Patrick Robinson
  • Colts sign DE/OLB John Simon
  • Colts sign DE/OLB Barkevious Mingo
  • Colts sign P Jeff Locke
  • Patriots acquire TE Dwayne Allen from Colts for late-round pick
  • Colts re-sign TE Jack Doyle
  • Colts announce retirement of G Joe Reitz
  • Colts cut ILB D’Qwell Jackson
  • Colts announce retirement of P Pat McAfee

    Team Needs:
    1. Right Tackle: Indianapolis has some major defensive issues, but protecting Andrew Luck is the No. 1 priority. Right tackle has been a major weakness, and it needs to be addressed in free agency or early in the 2017 NFL Draft.

    2. Two Inside Linebackers: This is Indianapolis’ top defensive priority. Opposing running backs and tight ends had a field day against the Colts every single week because of the putrid linebackers. Fortunately for the team, there are two studs in Reuben Foster and Zach Cunningham who are projected as top-20 prospects. Signed Sean Spence

    3. Two Rush Linebackers: The Colts had no one to pressure the quarterback in most games because Trent Cole missed nine contests. Cole is an impending free agent, so if he’s not retained, Indianapolis will have to find two new pass-rushers. Signed Jabaal Sheard, John Simon and Barkevious Mingo

    4. Guard: Here’s another offensive line position that must be addressed. The Colts have a great guard in Jack Mewhort, but they desperately need another one.

    5. Two Cornerbacks: Vontae Davis was constantly banged up in 2016, but he’ll bounce back. Meanwhile, Indianapolis’ top cornerback from last year, Darius Butler, happens to be a free agent. Even if Butler is re-signed, the Colts will still need to find another corner to replace the ineffective Patrick Robinson. Re-signed Darius Butler

    6. Defensive End: Arthur Jones and Kendall Langford were high-priced busts in free agency – two of Ryan Grigson’s gems – so another defensive lineman will have to be added to join Henry Anderson.

    7. Running Back: Frank Gore just became the first 33-plus 1,000-yard rusher since John Riggins in 1984. Gore will be 34 next season, so the Colts have to find some young blood at the position. Signed Christine Michael

    8. Safety: Mike Adams is Indianapolis’ top free agent. He needs to be retained.

    9. Backup Quarterback: The Colts need a better backup quarterback than Scott Tolzien, as they missed Matt Hasselbeck on Thanksgiving.

    10. Wide Receiver Depth: Phillip Dorsett hasn’t developed yet, so the Colts may want to think about bringing in a young wideout to challenge him. Signed Kamar Aiken

    11. Punter: Pat McAfee has announced his retirement. Signed Jeff Locke

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2017 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Johnathan Hankins, NT, Giants. Age: 25.
      Signed with Colts (3 years, $30 million)

      Johnathan Hankins is coming off a down year, perhaps because he never recovered from a torn pectoral. Hankins is a very talented defensive tackle who generates pressure on opposing quarterbacks and stuffs the run effectively when healthy.

    2. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Patriots. Age: 28.
      Signed with Colts (3 years, $25.5 million)

      Jabaal Sheard had an up-and-down season, but he was ultimately New England’s top pass-rusher outside of Trey Flowers. He was also decent in run support.

    3. Sean Spence, ILB, Titans. Age: 27.
      Signed with Colts (1 year, $3 million)

      The early part of Sean Spence’s career was ruined by injury, but it seems like he’s finally healthy and playing like the third-round pick he was selected as in 2012.

    4. John Simon, DE/OLB, Texans. Age: 26.
      Signed with Colts (3 years, $13.5 million)

      John Simon has been a solid third edge rusher for the Texans, registering 8.5 sacks over the past couple of seasons. Unfortunately for Simon, he missed the second half of his 2016 campaign with a chest injury.

    5. Kamar Aiken, WR, Ravens. Age: 28.
      Signed with Colts

      Kamar Aiken was one of the few silver linings for the Ravens in their disastrous 2015 campaign. He proved that he can be a quality No. 2 receiver. However, he took a back seat to other healthy players in 2016, so he had just 29 receptions on the year.

    6. Arthur Jones, DE/DT, Colts. Age: 31.
      It’s hard to believe that Arthur Jones was once a good player, but that’s actually true. Jones signed a $33 million deal with the Colts, but gave up on his football career after that. He’s played just 17 games in the past three years, thanks to numerous injuries. When he was actually on the field, it didn’t appear as though he was putting forth much of an effort. Perhaps he still has something left in the tank, but it’s doubtful.

    7. Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, Patriots. Age: 26.
      Signed with Colts (1 year, $2.5 million)

      Barkevious Mingo was the sixth-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, so because of his potential, I’ll give him two stars even though he deserves 1.5. Mingo handles the run well, but he’s been a major bust as a pass-rusher.

    8. Christine Michael, RB, Packers. Age: 27. — Signed with Colts
    9. Margus Hunt, DE, Bengals. Age: 30. — Signed with Colts
    10. Brian Schwenke, C/G, Titans. Age: 26. — Signed with Colts
    11. Jeff Locke, P, Vikings. Age: 27. — Signed with Colts
    12. Al Woods, NT, Titans. Age: 30. — Signed with Colts
    13. Brandon Williams, TE, Seahawks. Age: 29. — Signed with Colts

    Indianapolis Colts Free Agents:

    Salary Cap Space: $58.1M.
    1. Mike Adams, S, Colts. Age: 36.
      Signed with Panthers (2 years)

      Mike Adams has played on a very high level for a long time, and this includes this past season. Adams, however, turns 36 in March, so he could begin to decline as soon as this upcoming year.

    2. Darius Butler, CB, Colts. Age: 31.
      Re-signed with Colts (1 year)

      With Vontae Davis banged up, Darius Butler was Indianapolis’ top cornerback in 2016. Butler has been pretty inconsistent over his career, so he could regress next year. The fact that he turns 31 in March also needs to be considered.

    3. Jack Doyle, TE, Colts. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Colts

      Jack Doyle ruled in some games last year, serving as a reliable security blanket for Andrew Luck, especially when Dwayne Allen was out of the lineup. Doyle finished with 59 catches for 584 yards and five touchdowns.

    4. Patrick Robinson, CB, Colts. Age: 29.
      Signed with Eagles (1 year)

      Patrick Robinson has gone through a roller-coaster career thus far. He was a first-round pick in 2010 and played well at times, but he also struggled enough to get benched in New Orleans. Robinson performed well for the Chargers in 2015, but struggled in Indianapolis last season because of multiple injuries.

    5. Trent Cole, DE/OLB, Colts. Age: 34.
      Trent Cole dealt with a bothersome back injury this past season, limiting him to seven games. He wasn’t bad when on the field, but he clearly wasn’t the same player as he once was. Turning 35 in October, Cole doesn’t have much time remaining in the league.

    6. Darryl Morris, CB, Colts. Age: 26.
      Darryl Morris used to just be a backup and special-teams player, but he has shown some improvement and was actually a solid contributor down the stretch in 2016. Just 26, Morris could continue to improve.

    7. Erik Walden, DE/OLB, Colts. Age: 32.
      Erik Walden is probably a 1.5-star player, but I’m going to give him a write-up because he accumulated 11 sacks in 2016. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen a player be so lucky in his life. Walden lucked into most of his sacks, as he seldom put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Walden is a mediocre backup at best, and he turns 32 in August, so he’ll continue to regress.

    8. Zach Kerr (RFA), NT, Colts. Age: 27. — Signed with Broncos
    9. Robert Turbin, RB, Colts. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Colts (2 years)
    10. Jonotthan Harrison (RFA), C/G, Colts. Age: 26.
    11. Hugh Thornton, G, Colts. Age: 26. — Signed with Falcons (1 year)
    12. D’Qwell Jackson, ILB, Colts. Age: 33.
    13. Duke Williams, S, Colts. Age: 26.
    14. LaVar Edwards, DE, Colts. Age: 27.
    15. Jordan Todman, RB, Colts. Age: 27.
    16. Josh McNary (RFA), ILB, Colts. Age: 29. — Signed with Jaguars
    17. Chris Carter, DE/OLB, Colts. Age: 28. — Signed with Redskins


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