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30 Mar 2013

State of the Team: Indianapolis Colts

by Andy Benoit

The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that there are 12 defensive starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.

Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.

Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

OFFENSE

OVERVIEW

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson had an amazing inaugural draft, concentrated entirely on offense. Not only did he find a long-term superstar quarterback, he also found two multidimensional tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, a starting three-down running back in Vick Ballard (granted, he’s of "role player" ilk, not "star" ilk, but still...), and two speedy wide receivers in T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill. All were significantly contributing rookies in 2012, and all will assume significant roles under new coordinator Pep Hamilton. The former Stanford coordinator’s system will be a fairly sizeable change, featuring more underneath and intermediate route concepts, as opposed to the vertical designs that Bruce Arians favored.

BACKFIELD

QB: Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck, Chandler Harnish
RB: Vick Ballard, "Goddammit Donald" Brown, Delone Carter

The hoopla over the young read-option quarterbacks down the stretch last year detracted from an overriding message: Luck is the best first-or second-year quarterback in the NFL. Exciting as Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, and Robert Griffin might be, Luck is the one with the most stable long-term skill set. He’s poised under both physical and situational pressure. He’s accurate. He doesn’t have a gun, but he always finds just enough arm strength to make whatever throw is necessary. He reads defenses shrewdly both before and after the snap, and he’s mobile in and out of the pocket.

Ballard offers good short-area movement for his build, and he’s reliable in all phases of the passing game. However, he’s not dynamic enough to touch the ball 20-to-25 times a week. He needs to be part of a rotation. The Colts would be wise to find his running mate outside the organization; Brown is too slow in his redirection and Carter is too much of a plodder.

RECEIVERS

WR: Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, LaVon Brazill, Nathan Palmer; Lost: Donnie Avery

TE: Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Weslye Saunders

Wayne is an ageless wonder who should make the Hall of Fame someday. Hilton has the ability to beat man coverage, but can he flourish as a full-time No. 2? Brazill is a young speedster who’s just starting to get polished. More important than Brazill’s development is Fleener’s. Due in part to injuries, the second-round pick had a quiet rookie season. A rebound opportunity is there, as Fleener is very experienced in Hamilton’s system and will be a focal point in a lot of the base sets. So will Allen, an impressively flexible H-back who gives the offense some unique dimensions. Lastly, keep Saunders in the back of your mind. He’s a more athletic but less skilled version of Allen.

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT: Anthony Castonzo LG: Donald Thomas C: Samson Satele RG: Mike McGlynn RT: Gosder Cherilus

Backups: Jeff Linkenbach, Joe Reitz; Lost: Winston Justice

The Colts addressed their major needs at left guard and right tackle in free agency. Thomas will be better than Reitz would have been at guard, while Cherilus, though mistake prone (and, probably, overpaid) is steadier than Justice or Linkenbach. However, these additions don’t correct the underlying problem from last year: a lack of interior power. The only way to change that is to change the interior players. Because of Luck’s pocket poise and the nature of Hamilton’s system (lots of condensed formations and three-or five-step dropbacks), the weaknesses up front can be masked. Masking is still not ideal.

DEFENSE

OVERVIEW

The Colts are mainly a 3-4 base defense but they’ll play a lot of one gap (i.e. 4-3) concepts out of those looks. Their success in 2012 may have been partly a case of smoke and mirrors, though they were working with less than 50 percent of the personnel that Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky need for their hybrid system. The overhaul process is underway. Improving in 2013 hinges on finding interior defensive linemen, more pass-rushers, and a No. 2 corner.

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE: Cory Redding, Ricky Jean-Francois, Fili Moala, Ricardo Mathews

DT: Aubrayo Franklin, Brandon McKinney, Josh Chapman, Martin Tevaseu; Lost: Antonio Johnson

Redding is a sound, high-energy veteran who understands the nuances of the four-and five-technique positions. Jean-Francois was solid as a fill-in starter with the Niners. His best chance at success here would probably include splitting time with Moala. Speaking of Moala: he hasn’t capitalized on the potential he showed early on in his career, mainly because he’s not yet consistent at shedding blocks. Mathews must get stronger on a down-by-down basis in a phone booth. Inside, it's a bit of a mystery how much Franklin has left. He was a force for the 49ers a couple years ago, but he only played about one-quarter of defensive snaps the last two seasons, with the Saints in 2011 and the Chargers last year. Injuries were a factor, though his limited playing time was also related to coaching decisions. McKinney and Chapman both flashed some promise early in their careers, but they missed all of last season due to injury.

LINEBACKER

OLB: Robert Mathis, Jerry Hughes, Justin Hickman, Erik Walden; Lost: Dwight Freeney

ILB: Kavell Conner, Jerrell Freeman, Pat Angerer; Lost: Moise Fokou

The still-fast and always-savvy Mathis has transitioned to the stand-up linebacker position much better than many expected. He still gets overpowered at times as a playside run defender, but overall the Colts can feel good about him on the strong side. The concern is how they can replace Freeney on the weak side. His numbers weren’t great last year, but he was very disruptive most of the time. He’ll be missed. Hughes has shown glimmers of hope, but not enough to get the keys to the car. His starting spot may wind up being stolen by the serviceable-but-uninspiring Walden.

Inside, Conner must continue to hone his awareness. The athleticism is there. Freeman is an intriguing player who started to sow good downhill tempo against the run down late last year. He and the equally intriguing (though somewhat up-and-down) Angerer will likely compete for snaps again. It’s possible both could win starting jobs and relegate Conner to sub-package duties.

SECONDARY

CB: Vontae Davis, Greg Toler, Cassius Vaughn, Josh Gordy, Darius Butler; Lost: Jerraud Powers

S: Antoine Bethea, LaRon Landry, Joe Lefeged; Lost: Tom Zbikowski

Davis is on the cusp of being a top-10 cornerback. He operates well in true man coverage, makes plays on the ball, and is a very effective tackler in space near the line of scrimmage. It’s vital that the Colts find someone to play across from him. They think they have that guy in Toler, but overpaying a guy doesn’t make him suddenly good. Toler never could fully keep a starting job in Arizona; why will he keep one here? Then again, it’s not hard to keep a starting job when you’re playing ahead of Vaughn and Gordy. Neither are bad backups, but both have clearly been overmatched as first-stringers. In the middle of this secondary, Landry’s speed and quasi-recklessness will be put to good use. But does he have the coverage awareness to handle the man/zone hybrid concepts that Pagano likes? He’s never been great in this department, though he did show signs of improvement last season. At free safety, Bethea has adequate range in coverage and the wherewithal to make run stops at the back end of the box.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Adam Vinatieri P: Pat McAfee

McAfee is inconsistent on punts but booms kickoffs, ranking among the top four kickers in gross kickoff value four straight years.

Follow @Andy_Benoit
e-mail andy@footballoutsiders.com

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 30 Mar 2013

42 comments, Last at 02 Apr 2013, 10:37pm by georgiomac

Comments

1
by theslothook :: Sat, 03/30/2013 - 3:00pm

I think andy is being kind with his coloring of the colts players. They are pretty below avg at a ton of spots with a ton of needs at almost every position but qb and possibly rb. I think they still need to find an heir apparent to wayne, they need to find an heir apparent to Mathis AND freeney. They addressed the o line in free agency - a good thing, but satele and mcglynn need to go.

The real problem as I've stated in other posts is that the colts have no stars on their defense at all. They have some guys who are ok to pretty good(davis, mathis, bathea, maybe freeman), but no headlining stars the way the 49ers have. Landing that will be a tall order since they pick so late, but honestly- i think the colts should still build on offense and go for a receiver.

11
by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Sun, 03/31/2013 - 2:40pm

Agree that hes being overly generous, and it starts at the top. He has Luck as a "Star". He was the 19th rated QB last year in DYAR. Thats just below average starter.

I think hes going to be an elite QB, but hes not there yet.

17
by theslothook :: Sun, 03/31/2013 - 11:20pm

Im not gonna argue Luck's ultimate place in the qb rankings - but dyar is a very poor measure of qb performance. It is a stat that reflects team performance.

24
by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 9:49am

I agree with you in general, but not for QBs. DYAR seems to do a pretty damn good job ranking the QBs in accordance to what the scouts think.

Brady and Manning near the top, guys like Sanchez down the bottom. I don't think DYAR is perfect, but its probably the best QB metric out there. (For other positions, its not very useful)

29
by theslothook :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 2:00pm

Well-- run a regression on pass dvoa with qb dyar and you end up with something close to 98 percent - which(and I know I am butchering the actual meaning of R2) - but loosely, it means that qb performance explains 98 percent a teams passing offense. Obviously, this isn't the case, but thats what dyar tells us. Its essentially unable to separate qb performance from overall performance.

37
by Andrea (not verified) :: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 7:55am

If you don't think Luck is a star, you haven't watched many games or just don't understand the position. You can't rely on stats when the surrounding players are so limited and the offensive strategy is so demanding and QB unfriendly.

41
by LionInAZ :: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 9:30pm

One year of NFL doesn't make anyone a star. Luck will have to take his chances along with Kaepernick. Wilson, Griffith, as well as Freeman, Bradford, Locker, and Stafford. Not one of them deserves to be declared a star until they can demonstrate they can perform over at least three consecutive seasons.

18
by Scott C :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 1:04am

The color coding here seems consistent with your comments to me. Lots of pink and orange, some black. How is it kind? Pink is clearly below average, and orange in most cases is "below average with potential to improve".

Compared to most other teams reviewed so far, he ranks the talent level of the colts relatively low (much better than the Raiders, but far, far below Denver).

25
by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 10:17am

The Colts should look worse than most teams. They ARE worse than most teams. They were ranked 25th in DVOA last year. I think you're reading too much into them being a wildcard team last year.

The colts won as many games as they did last year in large part to playing in a weak division (11th, 25th, 30th, 31st teams), and a weak schedule.

The colts should be far,far below Denver, because Denver is a far,far better team. Most of the colts players ARE "below average with potential to improve." The team as a whole is young, not great, but has a lot of upside.

35
by LionInAZ :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 10:25pm

The Colts finished 26th in DVOA in Peyton's rookie year, then went 13-3 the following year, despite being only 17th in DVOA and 26th in defense DVOA. You can argue Luck vs Manning, but I'm just sayin'.

21
by Sifter :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 5:46am

I was the opposite. I saw a few players that could have been more kindly treated. I looked at Donald Thomas, Ricky Jean Francois and Greg Toler as guys who did pretty well in limited play last year, first 2 buried on a talented depth chart, and Toler has been injured for most of his career (that's why he didn't start in ARZ...). All those guys could have been rated better here. Clearly the Colts don't think they are JAGs, given the money they've paid for each of them. I could argue the jury's still out on Jerry Hughes - given he's a high draft pick who only cracked the starting lineup for the first time last year.

Don't mean to sound like a Colts homer - I'm totally not. Just my reactions as I read through.

2
by Wintermute (not verified) :: Sat, 03/30/2013 - 3:45pm

I really appreciate this series of articles. Keep 'em coming.

7
by BigWoody (not verified) :: Sat, 03/30/2013 - 11:14pm

Yes, yes. Good offseason insights of team that I don't follow. Very Helpfull.

3
by None. (not verified) :: Sat, 03/30/2013 - 4:45pm

Josh Chapman was a rookie last year but missed the whole season. He hasn't flashed any talent in the NFL yet.

4
by None. (not verified) :: Sat, 03/30/2013 - 4:46pm

Also, Erik Walden is going to start on the strong side, and Mathis is moving to the weak side to take over as the rush OLB.

5
by Ben :: Sat, 03/30/2013 - 5:21pm

For the o-line, two other names which would be pink "just a guy"'s, but may have some upside are A.Q. Shipley and Ben Ijalana. I thought Shipley was better at C than Satele last year, and hope he's given a real shot at starting in the preseason. Ijalana was a 2nd round pick in 2011, but hasn't been able to stay healthy. He may still be in the mix at guard, though.

6
by Ben :: Sat, 03/30/2013 - 7:37pm

Oh, and according to Ben Muth, Linkenbach doesn't even rate "just a guy" status.

40
by turbohappy :: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 5:02pm

Agreed, Shipley seemed FAR better than Satele to me, not a Satele fan at all.

8
by Danish Denver-Fan :: Sun, 03/31/2013 - 3:53am

Seems weird to try snd explain the "succes" of the 2012 Colts defense. Didn't they finish dead last in DVOA?

9
by B. Savage (not verified) :: Sun, 03/31/2013 - 10:39am

Think Vontae Davis is being overrated a bit, wouldn't have him tagged as a star. His performances clearly improved as the year went on, but he was fairly hapless for a good few weeks there.

Bethea is a very underrated player, and the symbiosis of the safety spots combined with his SS partners over the past few years.. ugh. Far better at his position than Davis, though limited in coverage.

Other slight points of contention are Jerry Hughes and T.Y. Hilton - the former with 4 sacks and 41 tackles was more than 'just a guy' last year, and to have him in the same category as Mike McGlynn and the hopeless interior OL isn't really fair. Hilton's drops were bad, but the breakaway ability was something else.

Love the series though, keep it up.

10
by B. Savage (not verified) :: Sun, 03/31/2013 - 10:39am

Davis as 'good', rather.

12
by Colts1959 (not verified) :: Sun, 03/31/2013 - 6:41pm

Whoever wrote this has not even remotly a clue about this team! And as for the guy who said and I quote "they have a ton of needs at a ton of spots". Um uh um I don't even know how to respond. You people clearly don't watch OR follow the Colts to say such dribble. And the guy saying Vontae Davis not a star with some poor games. He started the year hurt with a new team and needed to catch up. Had you watched the final several weeks you would have seen the player he will be. Don't bad mouth a team you don't follow just because your uninformed!!

13
by Anonymooser (not verified) :: Sun, 03/31/2013 - 7:00pm

3/10 trolling

14
by Insancipitory :: Sun, 03/31/2013 - 7:38pm

He just practicing getting the zlions template thing down for when they do their first DVOA article. It's preseason for us too.

26
by Bobman :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 1:48pm

That was awesome!

15
by justanothersteve :: Sun, 03/31/2013 - 10:28pm

He also called Luck a star. I don't know how many total stars will show up in these ratings, but if Luck is a star then over a third of the starting NFL QBs are stars. I think there is an excellent chance he will be a star in a year or two. But I'd still call him good or even put the orange "jury's still out" on him.

16
by theslothook :: Sun, 03/31/2013 - 11:16pm

I'll admit there's a fair amount of bias from me, but Luck isn't average. I would honestly take him even as a 2nd year above most qbs, outside of maybe a solid 8-9. His stats underwhelm yes, but that completely ignores context. This team won 11 games but it was horrible. They have one really good receiver(whos really at this point a possession receiver) and lots of guys who would be 3s and 4s on other teams. The defense is a trainwreck and the o line was on par with what the chargers, bears, and cardinals dealt with. He was carrying the team. I'm not exaggerating. He was doing what manning usually did. Predictably, he wasn't as good so his stats suffered, but he was carrying them. Watching all 16 of his games, I was left with that impression.

19
by Scott C :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 1:16am

I agree mostly. The Colts were pretty lucky last year and have a lot of holes on their roster. The Chargers O-line was definitely worse however, it was like a more injury prone version of the colts O-line with less depth. An undrafed free agent rookie started at LT most of the year. As a Charger fan, I'd happily trade O-lines, and get significant upgrades at both tackle spots, but lose a solid but aging center.

20
by theslothook :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 1:27am

I would say the chargers guards were better than the colts - vasquez will be a starter. The chargers tackles were beyond abysmal. I think we can all agree if there was a ranking of the worst o lines in the league 1) and by some distance - Arizona 2) Chicago 3) San Diego 4) Indianapolis 5) Maybe Philly or Jax.

23
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 9:10am

Philly's line wasn't terrible. They just had 4 backups starting due to injuries, typically to Pro Bowlers. No team's line could have stood up to that collection of injuries.

33
by theslothook :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 3:44pm

I meant philly's line last year was terrible. Just in terms of last year was how I ranked them. Obviously, philly got owned hard by injuries to that unit.

22
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 7:28am

Please point out to me where I implied Luck was average. I said I'd either put him in the good or the "jury is still out" category. My reasoning for the latter is, as a player who when drafted was considered the best QB prospect since Peyton Manning, he still isn't where people expect him to be. I expect Luck to be one of the elite (whatever that really means) QBs within 3-4 years, on a par with Brady, Rodgers, Brees, and both Mannings. If I had to state who else is ahead of Luck, I'd put in Romo, Flacco, Ryan, Big Ben, and possibly one or two others I've missed. (I wouldn't blame anyone for including Cutler, Stafford, and Rivers in this group as it is highly subjective.) He's at the same point as Wilson, RGIII, Dalton, and Kaepernick (who I'd probably put at the top of this group as he did get his team to the Super Bowl). All of them are talented. But I've mentioned 17 QBs in this post. They can't all be stars or half the QBs in the NFL would be defined as such. When Luck has shown he can be among the top half-dozen QBs most years for at least 3 years, he'll be a star. Until then, he's either good (which is still above average) or still getting better.

28
by theslothook :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 1:58pm

fair enough

30
by Kyle J. Rodriguez (not verified) :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 3:28pm

There's a reason that 99% of NFL analysts would have Luck in their top 3 choices at QB for the next 5-7 years. He's arguably the only "star" the Colts have going forward.

31
by Dean :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 3:40pm

If we replace the word "star" with "elite" will any of you realize how absurd this entire argument is?

34
by Insancipitory :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 7:30pm

"Eliteness" requires the semi-public consent of 2 other elite QBs, or throwing for 300 yards to win the superbowl enroute to being named it's MVP, or signing the after-tax richest NFL contract in history. "Star" is a clearly lower standard, like Eli Manning.

39
by Bobman :: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 4:01pm

I think it also requires all the other top QBs to not poop all over youion profootballmock.com's QBs on Facebook series. Because it's one thing to have Manning or Brady say "go wash and wax my car and have it back in a half hour" or even having Roethlisberger say "HAH! THEY'RE MAKING FUN OF HIM BECAUSE HE'S NOT ELITE," but when Andy Dalton says "I don't think you're elite" or Sam Bradford says... okay, I won't even go there... you know you're not in elite territory.

32
by theslothook :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 3:42pm

I think he's already a star qb imo. He already does things that take veterans a while to get. He's already developed great pocket awareness and mobility and hes already been able to deal with pressure. I would say his big issues are inconsistent accuracy(ball location) and hes also forces throws. But, unlike other qbs, the scheme does not hide any of his weaknesses. In fact, the scheme feels like it purposely made his life harder - by asking him to go win with his arm running a predominantly vertical spread attack despite a leaky o line, no consistent run game, or deep or talented set of receivers.

27
by Bobman :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 1:49pm

@ theslothook #16, Yes on Luck. (On the others, too, as being somewhat kindly rated in the article)

38
by theslothook :: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 1:51pm

/

36
by Dice :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 10:32pm

I didn't see a ton of Colts games, but Luck more than passed the eye test. Love to see him get a solid O-line and Wayne's heir apparent.

42
by georgiomac (not verified) :: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 10:37pm

Luck is pretty damn good. Forget the stats, watch him play. With a terrible O-line, he stayed composed and looks really well balance and has fluidity in his play. Hopefully, they go O-line in the first round, they have no second, but it wouldn't shock me to see Grigson trade up, as he doesn't seem to be afraid to go after who he wants. I'd love them to the Mathieu in the 3rd round, then all out D for the other picks. To me the HBs need upgrading, someone like Knile Davis would be great, someone who poses more of a threat because these guys don't. Maybe that was just the O-line?