Early Projections for the Indianapolis Colts' Final 53-Man Roster
Part of the NFL offseason tradition for analysts and beat writers is roster projections.
As moves are made throughout the offseason, projections and potential depth charts are constantly changing. It's important not to get your heart set on any particular lineup, because it will probably change sooner rather than later.
With that being said, the core of the Colts' roster is pretty much set following the draft and the undrafted free-agents signings.
90 players are currently on the roster, but that number will be trimmed down to 53 after training camp. Who has the best chance of making the final cut?
Starter: Andrew Luck
Backup(s): Matt Hasselbeck
The only issue with the Colts' quarterback position projection is the third spot.
The Colts traditionally haven't kept a third quarterback on the roster, but this isn't Bill Polian's team anymore. The Colts seem to like Chandler Harnish, and it wouldn't be a complete surprise for him to make the final roster.
Last season, Harnish made the final roster, but he was cut after five weeks and put on the practice squad. This season, the Colts look to have a lot of competition and depth at several spots, and I think it's more likely that Harnish is cut and stowed on the practice spot right away.
The alternative would be that the Colts keep Harnish on the final roster, and then cut him a week or two into the season again, in fears that someone would pick him up off the waiver wire if they cut him during the final camp cuts.
Starter: Vick Ballard
Backups: Donald Brown, Delone Carter, Kerwynn Williams
Several issues may come up with this one.
First, the starters. Ballard figures to be the starter, but Brown was hampered by injury last season. He ran well in the beginning of the season before injury gave Ballard the starting spot. It wouldn't be unforeseen if Brown beat Ballard out in camp.
Second, the Colts could possibly only keep three running backs on the roster, likely cutting either Carter or Williams. But I think both will play a unique role on the team—Carter as the power back and Williams as a kick returner.
The Colts kept four backs on the team last season, and I could see that happening again this year.
Starters: Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener
Backup(s): Justice Cunningham
Fullback: Stanley Havili
Under Bruce Arians, the Colts have used their tight ends, especially Dwayne Allen, as H-backs and fullbacks. With Pep Hamilton, it's a possibility, but a traditional fullback is more likely than with Arians. Stanley Havili was acquired earlier this year and has the best chance to make the roster.
At backup tight end, I could see Weslye Saunders making the roster over Cunningham (Saunders is a better receiving option), the final pick in the draft. But in a case like that, I would also expect to see the Colts try Cunningham as a fullback possibility.
Starters: Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton
Backups: Darrius Heyward-Bey, LaVon Brazill, Griff Whalen
The Colts need a solid fifth receiver, and Griff Whalen, who has the best slot/possession instincts, likely will rebound from an injury-plagued 2012 to make the roster in 2013.
The Colts have several potentially explosive UDFA receivers that may be long-term options, namely Rodrick Rumble and Jamal-Rashad Patterson.
Heyward-Bey may get the official "starts," especially at the beginning of the season due to his more traditional size, but I expect Hilton to get more snaps than DHB throughout the season, hence his starting listing.
Starters: Anthony Castonzo, Gosder Cherilus
Backups: Emmett Cleary, Jeff Linkenbach
Castonzo and Cherilus are the penciled-in starters at left and right tackle, respectively, and are the easy calls here. The depth is the hard part. Jeff Linkenbach can play both tackle positions as well as guard, and he likely makes the roster for depth at both spots.
My hope is that Ben Ijalana will heal from his knee injuries and be depth at the tackle position. However, the more I think about that, the less likely it seems. Emmett Cleary is an undrafted free agent out of Boston College, a former teammate of Castonzo and a player with more potential than either Bradley Sowell or Lee Ziemba.
Starters: Donald Thomas, Hugh Thornton
Backups: Joe Reitz, Khaled Holmes
Some fans will be surprised to see Holmes here, as his position in college was center. However, Holmes' skill set may be better fit for guard, and I see him as providing depth there in 2013.
The surprise cut here is Mike McGlynn, who started 16 games in 2012. But if Joe Reitz is healthy, Hugh Thornton wins the starting spot in camp and Holmes shows promise, McGlynn will be expendable.
Starter: Samson Satele
Backup(s): A.Q. Shipley
Again, Khaled Holmes will be the secondary depth at center, but he isn't listed here.
Personally, I like Shipley more than Satele. Neither is great, but Shipley was a positive force as a blocker last season, while Satele was a big negative.
The biggest unknown here is how Pep Hamilton's offensive scheme will affect the performance of the two centers. Perhaps Satele will be better off in the power-run schemes that Hamilton is assumed to run.
Starter: Aubrayo Franklin
Backups: Josh Chapman, Montori Hughes
A large part of this relies on the development of Chapman and Hughes. If one or both of them are not working out, the Colts very well could keep a veteran around. But with players like Hughes on the roster who can be played at defensive end in this scheme as well, I don't see them keeping more than three nose tackle types on the roster.
Starters: Cory Redding, Ricky Jean-Francois
Backups: Fili Moala, Drake Nevis, Ricardo Mathews
Again, the Colts should go with the veterans for the starters here. Redding and Jean-Francois have over 15 years of experience between them, and none of the Colts' defensive ends, minus the possibility of Hughes, have real starting potential.
Moala and Nevis look to have the best shot to make the roster, with the most experience and unique specialty skill set (Moala is one of the few Colts DL who can rush the passer from the interior line, while Nevis is a very good run stuffer).
Starters: Robert Mathis, Erik Walden
Backups: Bjoern Werner, Lawrence Sidbury
With the trading of Jerry Hughes to Buffalo, the outside linebacker spot looks a little bare. Lawrence Sidbury out of Atlanta hopes to take Hughes' spot in the OLB depth chart, coming in behind Mathis as the rush outside linebacker to get a few snaps in pass-rushing situations.
Werner likely won't start the season as the starter, as Walden should start and take the field in running downs. But if Werner proves himself an adequate edge setter at strong-side outside linebacker, he could overtake Walden.
Starters: Jerrell Freeman, Pat Angerer
Backups: Kavell Conner, Kelvin Sheppard
Last season, we saw Kavell Conner and Jerrell Freeman provide a solid starting pair, but I think Angerer has a good shot at winning back his starting spot in 2013. His foot injury, which he played through all season, should be completely healthy, and he should be much more effective.
Sheppard figures to be the nickel/dime linebacker, as he is a solid coverage linebacker but struggles against the run. He'll likely play the role that Moise Fokou played in 2012. Conner is best in run downs, but the same dilemma will exist as last season: how to get Freeman, Angerer and Conner on the field as much as possible.
Starters: Vontae Davis, Greg Toler
Backups: Darius Butler, Sheldon Price, Daxton Swanson
Every year, some veteran from the year before is beat out by an undrafted free agent and is cut, whether it be a cost-cutting move or just an attempt to get better. I believe that Cassius Vaughn has as good of a chance as any to get surpassed by a few of the Colts' cornerback undrafted free agent signings.
Davis, Toler and Butler form a decent top-three group, but after that the Colts are weak. Former UCLA CB Sheldon Price and Daxton Swanson from Sam Houston State were two of the top corner prospects that weren't drafted, and they could very well play well enough in camp to earn a starting spot.
Starters: Antoine Bethea, LaRon Landry
Backups: Joe Lefeged, John Boyett
The only question here is whether or not Boyett will be healthy enough to be put on the final roster. With his double knee surgery late last year, he could be on the PUP or even IR as the Colts leave camp. If he's healthy, I love his chances to make the roster and learn behind Antoine Bethea in preparation to take his place in 2014.
The starting duo looks to be an above-average pair if Bethea can return to his 2009-2011 form, as opposed to his 2012 version. Bethea's learning the new defense, and covering too much for others caused him to have a bit of a down year. But his instincts should allow him to be effective for a few more years.
Punter: Pat McAfee
Kicker: Adam Vinatieri
Long Snapper: Matt Overton
The only position that could be up for grabs here is kicker, where Adam Vinatieri is getting older and his range is decreasing. The Colts have signed or invited several UDFAs to camp, but in my opinion, they likely will end up being no more than camp legs, allowing Vinatieri to rest his leg for the kicks that actually matter.
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