Who Wears the Crown: Identifying the Colts' Best Players at the Midseason Mark
It's hard to believe we've nearly reached the midway mark of the NFL season already. For the Indianapolis Colts though, they're not quite halfway as they had a bye week in Week 4. So far I do think the Colts are ahead of the curve on the rebuilding efforts as they're .500 on the season at 3-3.
Minus the Jacksonville Jaguars game, the Colts have beaten the teams they're supposed to and should really be 4-2 if not 5-1 right now. Nevertheless, the three wins is already more than they've had during the entire 2011 season and matched the total in six games that they won in 1998 which was Peyton Manning's rookie season.
The Colts cut ties with Manning and many of the Colts fans were familiar with. They brought in 30 new players and are relying on mostly rookies and new faces to lead this team. Many thought they would be among the NFL worst this season again, but these players have grown up fast and have been competitive.
These are the five players that are the reason why the Colts are rebuilding so quickly and sitting .500 after six games.
5. MLB Jerrell Freeman
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Linebacker Jerrell Freeman has been a pleasant surprise this year. Many thought the Colts' linebacking core would be weak with moving to a new system and having outside linebackers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis moving to new starting roles. They thought this core would be a work in progress and only go as far as Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner could lead them.
The Colts go bad news when Angerer broke a bone in his foot on the first possession of the first preseason game against the St. Louis Rams. Everyone thought this Colts defense was doomed without Angerer and didn't think anyone on this roster could replace him. That actually gave Freeman the break he needed.
Freeman was the next man up and came up huge in his first NFL game against the Chicago Bears in Week 1. Freeman had a pick six early and led the Colts to their first points of the 2012 season. He led the team in tackles that day and went on to lead the team in tackles every game since.
Freeman has a team high 55 tackles, one sack, one interception, and one touchdown this season. That's a far cry from his CFL days the last two seasons and being cut from NFL teams prior to that. Now that Angerer is back Freeman only boosts the depth at the linebacking spot and helped proved the doubters wrong.
If it wasn't for Freeman the Colts wouldn't be 3-3 right now. He's surely going to be a staple on this roster for years to come.
4. DE Cory Redding
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The Colts' addition of bringing Cory Redding from Baltmore in the offseason proved to be one of the best moves they could have made during the offseason. Redding is not only one of the best players on the defensive side of the ball, but he's their heart and soul.
Redding was banged up during the preseason and Colts fans didn't get a good look at him until the regular season. He's led the Colts' charge for energy and toughness. He's their heartbeat as the players and crowd seem to feed off of him.
Redding's stats are monstrous as his job isn't made to do that. He was brought in to be an emotional leader and take on double teams and provide holes for the linebackers to have an open gap to get to the quarterback or running backs in the backfield. So far he's done just that.
Redding has 14 tackles and two sacks this season in four full games. He missed Sunday's game due to an injury suffered late in the first quarter of the NY Jets game and the team could have used him.
Without Redding, the Colts struggled to get off the field on third downs the last two weeks and failed to stop the run in New York. Luckily for the Colts, they should get him back soon and he could be the emotion that leads this team to the playoffs.
3. OLB Robert Mathis
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Many including myself weren't real sure how Robert Mathis would adapt to his new role as an outside linebacker. He previously was one of the best defensive ends in NFL history as all he was a thorn in opposing quarterback's side.
With the new 3-4 scheme, Mathis was too small to take on the defensive end spot so he was moved to an outside linebacker. He had more responsibilities to drop back in coverage, stop the run, among rushing the passer. It was a lot to take on in such a short amount of time.
Mathis though has not only overachieved, but has helped this team tremendously.
He's had at least one sack in the last eight games dating back to last season as he has five on the year. Credit Cory Redding for taking out blockers and allowing Mathis to rush the outside untouched.
Not only is Mathis great at terrorizing the passers this year, it's helping the secondary look good as the other quarterback's aren't having much time to pass. He's also doing a superb job at dropping in coverage when needed and making sure running back's aren't breaking big runs. He has 16 tackles on the year and one forced fumble.
Mathis has missed the last two games due to a knee injury suffered in the fourth quarter against the Packers, but he should be back this week or the next. Mathis is on his way to another Pro Bowl season and should lead the defensive charge to a magical season.
2. QB Andrew Luck
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It was a tough decision not to rank rookie quarterback Andrew Luck No. 1 on this list. He's overachieved and is so far having a better rookie season that his predecessor Peyton Manning. Many thought he would have similar numbers to Manning in year one and the Colts would only win a few games this year.
Luck though has shown the Colts made the right decision to draft him over Robert Griffin III as he looks to be the real deal and lead Indianapolis back to dominance earlier than expected.
In six games, Luck has completed 53.6-percent of his passes for 1,674 yards. He's thrown for seven touchdown and seven interceptions. All of those stats including his three wins are more than Manning at this point of the season in their rookie years.
Where Luck is far ahead of Manning and anyother quarterback in the AFC is his scrambling ability. When protection breaks down as it has often, he's quick and agile enough to escape out of trouble and extend drives. He has 115 yards and three touchdowns on the ground with only 20 attempts. That's nearly as many rushing touchdowns in year one that Manning had in his entire 14 year career with the Colts.
Luck is just so smart in making sure the ball is always in the right spot at the right time and has shown to have a strong arm and even better brain. He has a knack for football and makes plays rookies aren't supposed to make. When the Colts have the ball at the end of halves he almost always leads them to a score. That's something most quarterback's can't do. Luck is doing all these things and has the poise of a veteran Super Bowl caliber quarterback. The problem for the rest of the NFL is he's only in his sixth game.
The Colts used three veteran quarterback's last year to try and lead this team to victories. Luck has already led them to more wins with younger unproven talent than those three did last year. That's saying a lot.
1. Reggie Wayne
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Like I stated in the previous slide it was hard not to put Andrew Luck as the best player right now, but Reggie Wayne is single handily leading this offense right now. Luck may be getting all the attention and is definitely a big reason to why the Colts are 3-3, but without Wayne it's hard for me to say the Colts would have much more than one victory.
Wayne, did a noble thing to come back and be a part of a rebuilding franchise to take less money. He had offers for more money to be a part of teams that were Super Bowl caliber franchises. He could have won another one or two rings before he retired.
Instead, he wanted to come back and help build a new regime. He thought Luck was special enough to play with and bought in immediately. We all thought he was crazy as he was coming off of his worst season since his rookie year last year. How would a rookie quarterback and having no other receivers with experience on this offense help him end his career strong?
In the past he had guys like Marvin Harrison, Pierre Garcon, and Dallas Clark to take attention and coverage away from him. This year. he had two rookie receivers, two rookie tight ends, and Donnie Avery lining up with him running routes. It didn't take a brain surgeon to figure out defenses can have success by double and sometime triple covering Wayne. Why not? That seemed like a simple solution.
But, Wayne has not only beat everyone of his opponents he is off to a career best start. In six games, Wayne has 666 yards on 47 receptions. Both are career highs after six games. He has also caught two touchdown passes and always seems to be open when Luck needs somebody.
If it wasn't for Wayne in the Green Bay game the Colts wouldn't have won. He made three clutch catches including the game winning touchdown. He leads the league in yards per game and is on an MVP type season.
I've said countless time the Colts will go as far as Wayne could lead them this year. It's proven to be right so far. The Colts are in the playoff hunt because of him and he's getting open and having a career year against some of the best corners in the game. That's remarkable.