The Indianapolis Colts had to take some big chances before they started their 2012 season.
After going just 2-14, they were given the No. 1 overall draft pick, and there were also a team that was forced to deal with the departure of franchise quarterback Peyton Manning and other key players in the organization.
General Manager Ryan Grigson did an unbelievable job, though, by taking a depleted Colts roster and completely changing the makeup of the entire team in a positive way. He was able to add key players, like wide receiver Donnie Avery and cornerback Vontae Davis, that truly payed dividends for the team last season.
The team enjoyed a large amount of success this season, going 11-5 and reaching the playoffs.
Reggie Wayne was able to revitalize his career thanks to a new face at quarterback. Robert Mathis made it back to the Pro Bowl. And the city of Indianapolis truly became involved with the organization this season by showing their support for head coach Chuck Pagano and his battle with leukemia.
But perhaps the biggest success of the season was the Colts’ rookie class. Grigson arguably drafted one of the best rookie classes in the NFL this season, and the team has been so successful because of it.
Quarterback Andrew Luck became the new face of the franchise. The Colts took him with the first overall pick in last year's draft, and he had a great first season. In fact, he became the first rookie quarterback taken at No. 1 overall to have a winning season and make the playoffs in his first year.
Luck’s numbers were quite impressive for a rookie. He led seven game-winning drives, and threw for 4,374 yards, shattering Cam Newton’s rookie passing record. He also passed for 23 touchdowns and ran for five more, while throwing 18 interceptions.
Luck is one of the top candidates for the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, but he will have some competition. Both Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson made strong cases for the award as well, and Luck will be hoping that he impressed the voters more than either of them.
Running back Vick Ballard was another big contributor for the offense this season. After several injuries to the backfield, he became the starter mid-way through the season. Although his numbers weren’t spectacular, he helped provide some balance to the offense, running for 814 yards and two scores on the season.
Wide receiver T.Y.. Hilton was a steal in last year’s draft by Grigson. After being selected in the third round by the Colts, no one expected much from the young receiver. Yet after some big plays this season, the NFL began to take notice of Hilton.
Both the passing game and return game got a big boost from Hilton this year. He caught 50 passes for 861 yards and seven touchdowns, while also returning a punt 75 yards for a touchdown. He became a real weapon for the Colts, and the team now considers him a true steal.
Both of the rookie tight ends, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, were good safety nets for Luck over the year, and they combined for 802 yards and five touchdowns on the season. While they are both still developing, they will become more reliable targets as they gain more experienced.
And while linebacker Jerrell Freeman was technically a rookie in 2011, this was his first year playing during the regular season. He started it off with a bang, getting a pick-six on Jay Cutler in Week 1 against the Chicago Bears. After that game, he went on to have an incredible season, posting 145 total tackles.
The Colts got a lot of major contributions from their young players this season, which is a great sign for 2013.
The team will have all of these players back next year, and they will have had an entire offseason to work with each of them. Players like Fleener, who was Luck’s teammate at Stanford, will have chances to connect more with Luck, making the offense run that much more smoothly.
The fact that so many rookies stepped up during the past season makes Colts fans wonder just how good this next class of rookies will be. Grigson clearly showed that he knows what he is doing, and with another solid draft class like the last one, this team could become a very dangerous playoff contender.
The 2013 season looks like it could be a very exciting one for Colts fans.