Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans: 2017 Week 6 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (2-3) at Tennessee Titans (2-3)

The line for this game has finally posted, as the Titans open as 7.5 point home favorites over the Colts, with Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota expected to return from a one-game absence with a hamstring injury. Both are these teams are 2-3, but the Titans’ wins have come over the Jaguars and the Seahawks, a pair of quality opponents, by a combined 27 points, while the Colts’ two wins have come against the 49ers and Browns, two of the worst teams in the league, by a combined 6 points.

With Mariota returning, the Titans are an above average team, while the Colts are among the least talented in the league as long as quarterback Andrew Luck remains out. Joining Luck on the Colts’ injury report is talented left guard Jack Mewhort, who could be done for the season with a knee injury, a big blow an already weak offensive line. I like the Titans this week, but this line is too high for me to bet anything on them confidently. I have this line calculated at -10, but the Titans come with extra risk this week because Mariota will likely be at less than 100%.

Tennessee Titans 27 Indianapolis Colts 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -7.5

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at Indianapolis Colts: 2017 Week 5 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (0-4) at Indianapolis Colts (1-3)

These are two of the worst teams in the league, but I think the 49ers are a little worse, at least as long as talented rookie middle linebacker Reuben Foster remains out with injury. The Colts, meanwhile, are actually getting healthier, with cornerback Vontae Davis returning last week and center Ryan Kelly back in the lineup this week. Quarterback Andrew Luck and safety Clayton Geathers remain out indefinitely, so this team still has problems, but I think the Colts’ roster is a little bit more talented than the 49ers’ right now.

This line, -1.5 in favor of the hometown Colts, suggests the opposite, that the 49ers are a little bit better. That might be true if Scott Tolzien was still the Colts’ quarterback, but Jacoby Brissett has done a decent job stabilizing this offense after Tolzien’s week 1 disastrous performance. We’re getting a couple points of line value with the Colts, who haven’t lost at home in regulation this season. They should be able to beat the 49ers, but there’s not enough for me to be that confident in them this week.

Indianapolis Colts 23 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -1.5

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks: 2017 Week 4 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (1-2) at Seattle Seahawks (1-2)

This is one of the toughest games of the week to predict against the spread. The Seahawks are favored by 12.5 and I have this line calculated at -13.5 because the Colts are one of the least talented teams in the league and the Seahawks are one of the most, but the Seahawks offense is so inconsistent that I don’t know if I trust them laying this many points. In a similar situation earlier this year against an equally bad San Francisco team, they managed just 12 points in a 12-9 victory, despite being favored by 14 points coming into the game.

In fact, over the past 2 seasons, they’ve scored fewer than 13 points in a game 7 times. Only the Browns, Jets, Rams, and Texans have more games with fewer than 13 points over that time period. That’s especially relevant because the Seahawks will need to not just score 13 points, but win by 13 points to cover here. The Colts have a weak defense and their offense should struggle mightily against Seattle’s defense, but that was true of the 49ers a couple weeks ago. This could easily be a 17-10 or a 16-9 game that the Seahawks struggle to put away, so I can’t take them with any confidence, even though I think Seattle has the talent to blow away the Colts.

Seattle Seahawks 23 Indianapolis Colts 10

Pick against the spread: Seattle -12.5

Confidence: None

Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts: 2017 Week 3 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (0-2) at Indianapolis Colts (0-2)

The Colts have been one of the worst teams in the league this season, but injuries are the major reason why. Obviously the injury to Andrew Luck is the big one, but they’re also missing top cornerback Vontae Davis, talented hybrid safety/linebacker Clayton Geathers, and starting center Ryan Kelly. The Browns enter this game with significant injuries too though, and unlike the Colts, they are not that good even when healthy.

Rookie defensive end Myles Garrett, the #1 overall pick in the draft, remains out with a high ankle sprain and will be joined on the sideline this week by linebacker Jamie Collins, who has a concussion. Those are arguably their two best defensive players, from a defense that wasn’t good to begin with. The Colts are significantly better with Jacoby Brissett under center than Scott Tolzien and could move the ball pretty easily in this one.

The Browns could also move the ball against Indianapolis’ weak defense, but these two teams are about even and this line suggests that the Browns are a whopping 4.5 points better than the Colts. With Cleveland now missing Collins, I actually have the Colts one spot better in my roster rankings, so we’re getting good value with the Colts as home underdogs here. The Colts are also in a better spot as home underdogs tend to cover off of a loss as home underdogs, going 75-57 ATS in that spot since 2002. The Browns, meanwhile, host the Bengals next week in a game in which they are expected to be home underdogs and road favorites are 52-73 ATS since 2002 before being home underdogs. The Colts should win this outright by a field goal or more.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Cleveland Browns 20 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +1.5

Confidence: Medium

Arizona Cardinals at Indianapolis Colts: 2017 Week 2 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (0-1) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1)

The Colts had an embarrassing week 1, losing 46-9 in Los Angeles to a Rams team that won 4 games last season. They only managed 10 first downs to the Rams’ 19 and moved the chains at a 13.97% worse rate than their opponents. It’s clear this is not the same team without all of the players they are missing with injuries, most notably quarterback Andrew Luck, but also center Ryan Kelly, cornerback Vontae Davis, and safety Clayton Geathers. All four of those players will miss this week as well.

The Cardinals also had a nightmare week 1 too, though in a different way. They only lost by 12 in Detroit, but lost star running back David Johnson and left tackle DJ Humphries for an extended period of time with injury. The Cardinals jumped out to a 10-0 lead and led 17-9 in the third quarter, but were outscored 26-6 the rest of the way against an overrated Detroit team that is also missing it’s left tackle and won just one game by more than a touchdown in 2016. The injuries, especially the injury to Johnson, were a big factor in the Cardinals’ declining performance throughout the game.

Johnson and Humphries are not the only Cardinals who will be out this week, as left guard Mike Iupati, tight end Jermaine Gresham, and wide receiver John Brown are also expected to miss this game after playing week 1, while middle linebacker Deone Bucannon remains out after off-season surgery. The Cardinals probably get defensive end Robert Nkemdiche back this week, but he’s hardly the reinforcements they need. The Cardinals also lost 5 defensive starters in free agency this off-season, including stud defensive end Calais Campbell and talented safeties DJ Swearinger and Tony Jefferson, so this team is a far cry from their 2016 version.

Despite both of these teams’ rough first weeks, this line has shifted from 3.5 in favor of the Cardinals to 7 since the early line last week, the biggest line movement in any game from last week to this week. Missing as much as they currently are, the Cardinals shouldn’t be favored by a touchdown on the road against anyone, but the casual betting public sees the Colts as unbettable right now, which is why the public money keeps pouring in on the Cardinals despite the line movement. The public always loses money in the long run, so I’m always weary of heavy public favorites like this. I don’t think the casual public understands how bad the Cardinals are right now given all of their injuries.

The casual public is also likely underestimating the effect of the Colts’ quarterback change from Scott Tolzien to Jacoby Brissett. Brissett has only been with the team for a couple weeks, acquired from the Patriots before final cuts, but he’s undoubtedly more talented than Scott Tolzien (who now has 9 career interceptions to just 2 career touchdowns) and he should be a significant upgrade, even on a limited playbook. He also gives them dual threat ability as a passer and runner than Tolzien did not give them and should do a much better job of getting the ball to what is still an above average receiving corps.

The Colts are also in a good bounce back spot after that horrible defeat, while the Cardinals could overlook the Colts with a much tougher game next week at home against Dallas on Monday Night Football. Teams are 53-28 ATS since 2002 off of a loss of 35+ or more (16-8 ATS since 2012), as teams tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed after a huge loss. You can definitely argue the Colts will be all three of those things this week. Meanwhile, road favorites like the Cardinals are just 17-32 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs, which the Cardinals are expected to be next week against the Cowboys. With a major tougher game on deck, the Cardinals might not have been completely focused in preparation throughout the week and that could show on the field. I’m not super excited about betting on the Colts, but we’re getting too much value here to not make a small bet.

Arizona Cardinals 20 Indianapolis Colts 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +7

Confidence: Medium

Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Rams: 2017 Week 1 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (0-0) at Los Angeles Rams (0-0)

I thought about taking the Rams as 3.5 point home underdogs in this game in early August because I was concerned about Andrew Luck’s early season availability and I am kicking myself that I didn’t, now that Luck has been ruled out for at least the first week of the season, as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery. Luck’s injury shifted this line in a big way, as the Rams are now favored by 4.5 points at home. That’s more points than they’re projected to be favored by all season, suggesting the oddsmakers see the Colts without Andrew Luck as being even worse than the 49ers, who are projected as 3.5 point underdogs in their week 17 trip to Los Angeles.

The Colts are certainly up there (or down there) with the worst teams in the league without Luck, not just because they have a weak supporting cast, but because the dropoff from Luck to journeyman backup Scott Tolzien is one of the biggest starter to backup quarterback dropoffs in the league. The Colts also aren’t just missing Luck, as they also start the season without center Ryan Kelly, top cornerback Vontae Davis, and safety/linebacker Clayton Geathers. However, the Rams have a huge absence that doesn’t seem to be getting enough attention, as defensive tackle Aaron Donald, arguably the best defensive player in the league, is still holding out for a better contract and will not play this week, significantly hurting this defense.

Even with a new offensive coaching staff, a new #1 wide receiver (Sammy Watkins), and a new left tackle (Andrew Whitworth), the Rams’ offense should still struggle this season, unless Jared Goff can take a huge leap forward from last season, so the Rams need Donald on that defensive line if they are going to be competitive this season. Maybe outside of the Jets, it’s hard to justify the Rams without Donald being favored by 4.5 points over anyone, especially considering about 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer. I wouldn’t be confident in Indianapolis at all, but they’re the better choice here in against the spread pick ‘em leagues.

Los Angeles Rams 17 Indianapolis Colts 13

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +4.5

Confidence: None

Indianapolis Colts 2017 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The Colts made the no brainer selection taking Andrew Luck #1 overall in 2012, but have otherwise done a very poor job of rebuilding their roster. Aside from Luck, the Colts have drafted just one other Pro-Bowler since 2012, wide receiver TY Hilton, and have pretty much struck out completely in free agency, despite handing out several significant contracts. Considering this was a 2-14 team when Luck came in, they haven’t done nearly enough to improve his supporting cast over the past 5 years.

The Colts are 49-31 over those 5 years, but that’s largely because of Luck, who has been a top-12 quarterback on Pro Football Focus in 3 of the last 4 seasons and finished last season a career high 4th at the position. The Colts have also had a weak division and have pulled out a lot of close wins. They are 23-7 in the division over the past 5 seasons, as opposed to 26-24 against non-divisional opponents, and are 30-12 overall in games decided by a touchdown or less. Over the past 2 seasons, the division has gotten better and the Colts have not been pulling out as many close victories (12-8 in games decided by a touchdown or less over the past 2 seasons), so they have finished just 8-8.

As a result, the Colts fired GM Ryan Grigson, who was hired back in 2012 before Luck was drafted. In 2015, they could blame their disappointing season on Andrew Luck missing 9 games with injury, but last season Luck was healthy. Their supporting cast around him just took a huge step backwards, which makes sense, given that they were the oldest supporting cast in the league. The offense still performed at a high level, ranking 7th in first down rate, but their defense ranked 28th in first down rate allowed, no surprise, considering they had a whopping seven week 1 starters who were in their age 30 season or older. Grigson needed to be let go for his inability to bring in good young talent.

Now with new GM Chris Ballard in place, the Colts hope they can build the supporting cast Luck needs to take this team to the Super Bowl, but it’s going to take more than one off-season. Complicating matters even more is the fact that Andrew Luck is coming off of off-season shoulder surgery and might not be ready for the start of training camp. Luck is a big, tough quarterback at 6-4 240, but has taken way too many hits because of a bad offensive line and the injuries are starting to pile up for him as a result. He didn’t miss a single game in the first 3 seasons of his career, but missed 9 with a shoulder injury and a ruptured kidney in 2015, then missed another game with a concussion in 2016, and now needs surgery to repair that 2015 shoulder injury. The Colts don’t have a capable backup, so they are obviously hoping he can get healthy and play all 16 games again in 2017. His status for week 1 is probably not in doubt, but it’s a situation worth monitoring.

Grade: A-

Offensive Line

Grigson and the Colts tried to upgrade the Colts’ offensive line in the 2016 NFL Draft, after Luck’s injury plagued 2015 season, using 3 picks on offensive linemen and ignoring major holes on defense in the process. It was too little too late though and none of the offensive linemen showed much as rookies. Ryan Kelly was the best of the bunch, but the #18 overall pick finished below average on Pro Football Focus in 16 starts, 21st out of 38 eligible centers. Kelly still has potential, but he needs to be more than just a solid center to validate his draft slot, considering he’s one of just eight pure centers drafted in the first round since 2000.

Fifth round pick Joe Haeg also saw significant action as a rookie, making 14 starts between left guard, right guard, and right tackle. His versatility is a plus, but he finished 52nd among 72 eligible guards on Pro Football Focus and may be best long-term as a versatile reserve. He’ll compete for starting jobs at both right guard and right tackle out of desperation. Third round pick Le’Raven Clark will also be in the mix for snaps, but he struggled on just 201 snaps as a rookie. He’s more of a right tackle, but can also play right guard if needed.

Also in the mix for snaps are veteran free agent acquisition Brian Schwenke, 4th round rookie Zach Banner, and 2015 7th round pick Denzelle Good. Schwenke is one of their most experienced offensive lineman, making 28 starts with the Titans from 2013-2016, after they drafted him in the 4th round in 2013. Schwenke graded out below average in all 4 seasons though, his first 3 at center and then last season in 3 starts at left guard. He’s theoretically a candidate at right guard, but would be best as veteran depth if he even makes the roster.

Banner is also an unlikely option, though the massive 6-8 353 pounder could play both right tackle and right guard if they need him to. Good is a more likely option, considering he started 10 games last season. He didn’t play well either though, finishing 67th among 72 eligible guards on Pro Football Focus. Like their other offensive linemen, he can play both right guard and right tackle, but they need two players to step up and stabilize those positions so they aren’t changing their offensive line every week in 2017 like they did in 2016. Haeg, Clark, and Good are the most likely options, but none of those three are any good.

Fortunately, things are a lot better on the left side of the offensive line, where left tackle Anthony Castonzo and left guard Jack Mewhort remain as starters. Castonzo is a rare holdover from before Andrew Luck and has played well in 6 seasons in the league since the Colts drafted him #22 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Unspectacular, but consistent, Castonzo has made 89 of a possible 96 starts in 6 seasons in the league and has graded out above average in all 6 seasons, including three straight top-20 finishes. Going into his age 29 season, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t continue to play well.

Mewhort, meanwhile, is a rare solid draft pick from the Grigson era, going in the 2nd round in 2014. Mewhort has made 40 starts in 3 seasons in the league, grading out above average in all 3 seasons, including 9th among guards in 2015 and 25th among guards in 2016. He can also play some right tackle, but has settled in at guard, where he has been best. He missed 6 games with injury last season, but should be healthy this season and could earn a big contract with another big season in the final year of his rookie deal. Considering how little success the Colts have had developing capable starters or signing other teams’ free agents, they would be wise not to let Mewhort go. He hasn’t made a Pro Bowl yet, but he’s a valuable part of an overall mediocre offensive line.

Grade: B-

Receiving Corps

Wide receiver TY Hilton is the only other Grigson draftee besides Luck who did make a Pro-Bowl, making it in each of the past 3 seasons. Over the past 4 seasons, he has caught 324 passes for 5000 yards and 23 touchdowns. Only Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, and Demaryius Thomas have more receiving yards than him over that time period. A lot of that is Andrew Luck throwing him the football, but Hilton is a legitimate #1 receiver in his own right, finishing 34th, 10th, 17th, and 5th among wide receivers on Pro Football Focus in the past 4 seasons respectively. Last season was his best season to date as he led the league with 1,448 receiving yards and he’s still only going into his age 28 season. He was a steal in the 3rd round in 2012.

The Colts also drafted a wide receiver in the third round in 2014, though with different results. Donte Moncrief has all the physical tools to be a great wide receiver, but hasn’t put it together yet through 3 seasons in the league. Moncrief flashed on 421 snaps as a rookie and then was a league average wide receiver in 16 games (10 starts) in 2015, but was limited to 470 snaps in an injury plagued 2016. He still graded out above average for the third straight season though and is still only going into his age 24 season. He could have a breakout year in the final year of his rookie deal in 2017 if he can stay healthy.

The Colts also used a 1st round pick on a wide receiver in 2015, taking Miami’s Phillip Dorsett in what now looks like one of the worst decisions of the Grigson era. Not only did Dorsett not remotely fill a need at the time, but he also hasn’t shown anything positive on the field in 2 seasons in the league. He was limited to 215 snaps as a rookie and then made 7 starts last season when Moncrief was hurt and played terribly, finishing 105th out of 115 eligible wide receivers on 796 snaps in 15 games. He caught just 33 of 60 targets for 528 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s still only going into his age 24 season and still has game-breaking speed, but he’s been a one-trick pony thus far in his career and the new regime has no loyalty to him, bringing in ex-Raven Kamar Aiken on a 1-year, 2.6 million dollar deal to compete with him for the #3 job.

Unlike most of the free agent signings made by Ryan Grigson, Aiken has a good chance to pan out on a relatively inexpensive contract. A 2011 undrafted free agent, Aiken played just 295 offensive snaps in his first 4 seasons in the league, but had a breakout 2015 season when the Ravens had injuries in the receiving corps, catching 75 passes for 944 yards and 5 touchdowns on 937 offensive snaps and finishing 19th among wide receivers on Pro Football Focus. He struggled on just 595 snaps in 2016, when the Ravens were healthier in the receiving corps, but he’s still just going into his age 28 season and could easily bounce back and be a capable 3rd receiver for them. He’s considered the favorite for the #3 job, but Dorsett will get a fair look.

The Colts also gave a decent sized contract to tight end Jack Doyle this off-season, bringing him back on a 3-year, 18.9 million dollar deal. A 2013 undrafted free agent who the Colts signed off the Titans’ practice squad during his rookie year, Doyle had just 7 starts in 3 seasons going into 2016, but had flashed in limited action and earned the #2 tight end job after Coby Fleener signed with the Saints last off-season. Doyle then broke out on 750 snaps in 2016, finishing 17th among tight ends on Pro Football Focus and finishing 2nd on the team with 59 catches and 584 receiving yards. He also added 5 touchdowns. The 6-6 267 pounder lacks explosiveness and only averages 8.44 yards per catch in his career, but has also caught 80.0% of his career targets and Andrew Luck is very comfortable with him as a safety net. He’s also a good run blocker. He’s still inexperienced and basically a one-year wonder, but bringing him back wasn’t a bad idea. They didn’t overpay for him.

In order to justify signing Jack Doyle, the Colts had to trade veteran tight end Dwayne Allen and his 5 million dollar salary to the Patriots for a swap of late round picks. Allen finished 41st out of 63 eligible tight ends last season though, so he won’t really be missed, and the Colts like 4th year tight end Erik Swoope. A collegiate basketball player at the University of Miami, Swoope barely played in his first 2 seasons in the league after going undrafted in 2014, but flashed on 246 snaps last season and caught 15 passes for 297 yards and 1 touchdown. Dwayne Allen played 611 snaps last season, so Swoope could have a significant role in 2017. We’ll see if he’s up to the task. He’s part of a deep receiving corps.

Grade: A-

Running Backs

As big of a mistake as using their first round pick in 2015 on Phillip Dorsett was, they made an even bigger mistake a year earlier, sending their 2014 1st round pick to the Browns for running back Trent Richardson. Richardson, the 3rd overall pick in 2012, averaged just 3.09 yards per carry on 316 carries in 2 seasons with the Colts and fell out of the league shortly afterwards. The Colts replaced him two off-seasons ago with veteran Frank Gore, who they signed to a 3-year, 12 million dollar deal.

Gore is in the twilight of his career though and has averaged just 3.81 yards per carry on 523 carries in 2 seasons with the Colts. Part of that is the offensive line’s fault, but a lot of that is on Gore. Gore has been especially sluggish in the second half of the season, averaging just 3.41 yards per carry on 277 carries in games 9-16 in the past two seasons combined. Gore is still an effective player in pass situations, especially as a pass protector, but the Colts should cut his carries from 250 to around 150 to keep him fresher, as he goes into his age 34 season. Gore is the oldest active starting running back in the league and it shows. Going into the final year of his contract, this could easily be his final season in the league.

The Colts drafted Marlon Mack in the 4th round, likely in an effort to keep Gore fresher and to find a potential long-term replacement. Mack is explosive, but is probably best as a change of pace back early in his career. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t jump up to the top of this weak running back depth chart by the end of the season, but he’ll probably start the off-season as the 3rd back behind veteran backup Robert Turbin. A 2012 4th round pick, Turbin has averaged just 3.94 yards per carry on 328 carries in 5 seasons in the league and 3.49 yards per carry on 47 carries last season. He’s a poor option for carries. The Colts finished 23rd in yards per carry last season with 3.99, despite Andrew Luck averaging 5.33 yards per carry on 64 carries. That could easily happen again this season.

Grade: C

Defensive Line

While the Colts had some offensive talent last season, they had next to nothing on the defensive side of the ball, which is why they finished 28th in first down rate allowed. The new regime rightfully saw defense as the side of the ball to focus on, making several signings in free agency and using their first 3 draft picks on defensive players. The Colts could have 6 new starters week 1 and are much younger than last season, when they had the oldest defense in the league.

Their biggest free agent signing was Johnathan Hankins, who comes over on a 3-year, 30 million dollar deal from the Giants. He fills a huge need for a defensive line that was led in snaps played last season by David Parry, who played 644 snaps and finished 110th out of 127 eligible interior defensive linemen on Pro Football Focus. Hankins will take over for Parry at nose tackle and could lead them in snaps played this season. Parry, meanwhile, was arrested for DUI this off-season and is no lock to even make the Colts’ final roster, given how poorly he has played in the past 2 seasons.

The 6-2 320 pound Hankins is primarily a base package nose tackle, but can also play some in sub packages. Hankins has graded out above average against the run on Pro Football Focus in 4 straight seasons on Pro Football Focus, though 2014 was the only season he graded out above average as a pass rusher. 2014 was easily the best season of his career, when he finished 7th among defensive tackles on Pro Football Focus. He finished in the top-20 at his position again in 2015, but he fell to the middle of the pack in his contract year last season. The Colts are giving him a lot of money, so they are betting the 2013 2nd round pick can bounce back and has a lot of good football still ahead of him. Given that he’s still only going into his age 25 season, it’s a bet that could pay off.

Defensive end Henry Anderson is also a candidate to lead this defensive line in snaps played. The 2015 3rd round pick has flashed in limited action in 2 seasons in the league, finishing 12th among 3-4 defensive ends in 2015 on 453 snaps in 9 games before tearing his ACL and then finishing 15th among 3-4 defensive ends in 2016 on 308 snaps in 11 games upon his return last season. Now another year removed from the injury, Anderson could have the best season of his career in his 3rd year in the league and breakout as an every down defensive end in the Colts’ 3-4 defense.

Veteran Kendall Langford is penciled in as the 3rd starting defensive end, but he will be pushed for playing time by youngsters Hassan Ridgeway and TJ McGill, following a very disappointing 2016 season for Langford. After playing all 16 games in each of the first 8 seasons of his career, Langford was limited to 300 snaps in 7 games by injury last season and finished 125th out of 127 eligible interior defenders when on the field. Langford was largely a league average starter for the first 8 seasons of his career and finished 16th among 3-4 defensive ends on Pro Football Focus in 2015, so he has some bounce back potential, but he’s also going into his age 31 season, which is why younger players will push him for playing time.

McGill flashed on 302 snaps last season, after playing 222 underwhelming snaps as a rookie in 2015. An undrafted free agent who the Colts signed off waivers from the Seahawks at final cuts during his rookie season, McGill could see a larger role in his 3rd season in the league in 2017. Ridgeway, meanwhile, was a 4th round pick by the Colts in 2016 and played 442 underwhelming snaps as a rookie. Both McGill and Ridgeway will play in rotational roles in 2017 even if Langford technically keeps the starting job. With Hankins coming in and Anderson healthy, this has the looks of a much improved defensive line, even if it’s largely by default.

Grade: B-

Linebackers

The Colts also have a completely new group of outside linebackers, with free agent acquisitions Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, and Barkevious Mingo replacing veterans Trent Cole, Robert Mathis, and Erik Walden, a trio of 30+ year old players who are no longer with the team. Sheard, Simon, and Mingo will compete for snaps with veteran holdover Akeem Ayers and 3rd round rookie Tarell Basham. Sheard and Simon were signed to deals worth 25.5 million over 3 years and 13.5 million over 3 years respectively and are the favorites for the starting jobs.

Sheard is the biggest name was the most expensive to acquire, coming over from New England where he finished in the top-20 among 4-3 defensive ends in both seasons with the Patriots. His best season came in 2015, when he finished 5th at his position on Pro Football Focus on 558 snaps. That kind of looks like a fluke when you look at his whole career, but he’s still graded out above average in each of the last 4 seasons and he has experience both as a 4-3 defensive end and a 3-4 outside linebacker.

In Indianapolis, he’ll be the latter and will probably see at least 600-700 snaps again, which is around what he’s used to. Still only going into his age 28 season, the 2011 2nd round pick is a solid addition for this defense, Simon is probably the better value though. The ex-Texan has graded out above average in each of the past 2 seasons and played 500+ snaps in both seasons. He could see an uptick in snaps with the Colts, after spending the last 2 seasons stuck behind Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney for snaps in Houston.

Barkevious Mingo is an upside signing, but he only played 48 snaps with the Patriots last season. Mingo was the 6th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Browns and showed his potential in 2014, finishing 15th among 3-4 outside linebackers on Pro Football Focus, but he has finished below average in the other 3 seasons and made just 6 starts combined in those 3 seasons. Still only going into his age 27 season, he was worth a flier on a low risk 1-year, 2 million dollar deal, but I wouldn’t expect much for him on defense.

Ayers played 360 snaps for the Colts last season and could see a similar role, after grading out slightly above average last season. A 2nd round pick in 2011, Ayers had graded out above average in 4 of 6 seasons in the league, but has never been much more than a rotational player. Rookie Tarell Basham will also be in the mix for snaps and could open the season as the top reserve with a strong off-season. Sheard and Simon will lead the way in snaps, but Mingo, Ayers, and Basham will also get shots behind them. They should get better outside linebacker play than last season.

Middle linebacker Sean Spence was also signed in free agency, coming over from the Titans on a 1-year, 2.5 million dollar deal. Veteran D’Qwell Jackson, who led Colt middle linebackers in snaps played last season with 708, is gone, after struggling in his age 33 season in 2016, and Spence will compete for playing time with young linebackers Antonio Morrison and Edwin Jackson. A 2012 3rd round pick, Spence didn’t play at all in his first 2 seasons in the league because of a potentially career threatening knee injury. He returned to a reserve role in 2014 and has played 510 and 504 snaps in the past 2 seasons respectively. Undersized at 5-11 231, Spence isn’t great against the run, but has developed into a decent coverage specialist, grading out above average in coverage in both seasons. With the Colts, he could be an every down player, which would be a first for him. He may be overmatched, but he was a decent value signing for a team that needed linebacker help.

Morrison and Jackson saw playing time down the stretch last season and will have the opportunity for more playing time in 2017, even though both were underwhelming. They finished 64th and 56th respectively among 87 eligible linebackers on 334 snaps and 495 snaps respectively. For both players, it was their first career action. Morrison was a 4th round rookie, while Jackson went undrafted in 2015 and spent his rookie year on the practice squad. Neither is a good starting option. Morrison did a decent job against the run and Jackson was adequate in coverage, so it’s possible the Colts will use them in a platoon type situation, with Jackson coming in for Morrison in sub packages. Safety Clayton Geathers could also play some linebacker in sub packages at 6-2 220. Like on the defensive line, it’s an improved linebacker corps, but largely by default.

Grade: C+

Secondary

Geathers playing some linebacker makes sense on two fronts. Not only are the Colts thin at linebacker, they’re also pretty deep at safety. Despite losing veteran 15-game starter Mike Adams, safety was not seen as a pressing need for them going into the draft, with Geathers, a 2015 4th round pick, and TJ Green, a 2016 2nd round pick, penciled into the starting lineup. Geathers was Pro Football Focus 29th ranked safety last season when healthy, but missed 7 games with a number of injuries. Green started in his absence and, while he struggled mightily, he was still a high pick that was expected to get another shot in 2017.

However, no one expected Malik Hooker, the draft class’ top free safety, to fall into their laps at #15 overall. At one point, some expected Hooker to go off the board ahead of fellow safety Jamal Adams, who went 6th to the Jets, but Hooker needed off-season shoulder surgery, which probably dropped him on a few team’s boards. Still, most expected him to be a top-10 pick on draft day, but he fell into the Colts’ lap after an early unexpected run on offensive skill position players. Even though he didn’t fill a pressing need, he was too good to pass on.

When Hooker returns from his injury, he will likely start alongside Geathers, who is also nursing an injury, still coming back from the neck strain that ended his season in 2016. Hooker is expected to be back for training camp, but Geathers’ status is a little bit more uncertain, as neck injuries tend to be. He’s reportedly not a lock to return for week 1. Green will provide insurance at both spots and could come into the game in sub packages if Geathers moves to linebacker part-time. He was Pro Football Focus worst ranked safety last season on 478 snaps as a rookie, but is still only going into his age 22 season and has a high ceiling, so he could be better in 2017.

The Colts also used a 2nd round pick on a defensive back this year, taking Florida’s Quincy Wilson #46 overall. He could start as a rookie opposite #1 cornerback Vontae Davis. Prior to 2016, Davis was their best defensive player and ranked 4th, 4th, and 29th among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus in 2013, 2014, and 2015 respectively. In 2016, however, he fell to a very uncharacteristic 98th out of 111 eligible cornerbacks. A 1st round pick in 2009, Davis has graded out below average in just one other season in his career.

Injuries are almost definitely the culprit. Davis suffered an ankle injury before the season that he rushed back from and then later suffered a concussion and a hip injury. He only missed 2 games with injury, but he was pretty banged up all year. Still only going into his age 29 season, Davis has obvious bounce back potential if he can stay healthy. Wilson, meanwhile, will compete with Rashaan Melvin, Darryl Morris, and Darius Butler for playing time. Melvin and Morris are both 2013 undrafted free agents who graded out slightly above average on Pro Football Focus last season for the first time in their careers, doing so on 655 and 359 snaps respectively. They have just 11 and 3 career starts respectively and are both underwhelming starting options, so Wilson will probably end up as the starter sooner rather than later, even if someone like Melvin gets the first crack at the job.

Butler, meanwhile, is a pure slot cornerback. There was talk earlier this off-season that he could be moving to safety, but those plans seem to have changed with the Colts taking Hooker in the first round. Butler actually finished last season 33rd among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus, though he’s graded out below average in 6 of 9 seasons in the league and is going into his age 31 season. He’s penciled in as the slot cornerback, but could lose the job if he struggles this off-season. Along with Kendall Langford, Butler is one of just two remaining from those seven week 1 starters over 30 last season. The Colts have completely remade their defense and are much younger on that side of the ball than last season. Their secondary could be their best unit if everyone’s healthy.

Grade: B-

Conclusion

It’s going to take more than one off-season to rebuild this supporting cast, but the Colts’ new front office has done a good job of re-making this defense. They might not be a great unit, but they seem to be on the right track and are much younger. Offensively, they could still have issues on the offensive line and at running back, but, as long as Andrew Luck is healthy and throwing to a talented group of receivers, this passing game should be able to carry their offense once again. Luck’s health is not a guarantee though and safeties Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker are also working back from injuries. It’s concerning that they are already this banged up this early in the off-season, but they have a good chance to be better in 2017 than they were in 2016 and should compete for a playoff spot. 

Final update: The Colts are going to be without Andrew Luck for at least the first week of the season and will struggle mightily without him. Outside of Andrew Luck, they have one of the worst rosters in the league and they are also without cornerback Vontae Davis, safety Clayton Geathers, and center Ryan Kelly with injury. Even when Luck returns, this team is going to have a hard time making the playoffs, as they have issues at running back, on the offensive line, and on defense. They are likely to start three rookies on the defensive side of the ball: safety Malik Hooker (first round), cornerback Quincy Wilson (second round), and middle linebacker Anthony Walker (fifth round).

Prediction: 6-10, 3rd in AFC South