5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make Indianapolis Colts' Final 53-Man Roster

Tyler BrookeSenior Analyst IIJuly 8, 2013

5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make Indianapolis Colts' Final 53-Man Roster

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    With training camp just a few weeks away, players on the Indianapolis Colts are preparing for what could be a short stint with an NFL team or potentially a possible landing spot for an entire season, perhaps longer.

    For the Colts, there are a couple players who very well might make this final roster and prepare to have a home for the 2013 season.

    The players mentioned on this list are here because they either fit a team need or they've fought like hell to prove themselves since being picked up by the Colts. 

    Be aware that's there's a good chance that a couple of these guys won't make the final cut, while other small names not mentioned here very well could after the preseason is over.

    With that being said, here are some of the top candidates to make the final roster at this point in the year.

Griff Whalen, WR

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    At this point, Griff Whalen is becoming one of the favorites to have a shot at making the final roster.

    Whalen has had a connection with Andrew Luck and Pep Hamilton since all three played at Stanford together, along with Coby Fleener.  Their chemistry has seemed to still be there during OTAs, and fans saw a nice play by Whalen during open practice back in June.

    Along with making plays, it appears Whalen has been a bit of a leader in helping others learn Hamilton's offensive scheme, according to George Bremer of The Herald Bulletin.

    With the recent suspension of LaVon Brazill, it feels like Whalen has even more of a shot to make the final roster when all is said and done.

Ben Ijalana, OL

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    As far as NFL careers go, Ben Ijalana has had one of the more unfortunate starts.

    After playing in four games in 2011, Ijalana tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season.  Right after being cleared to play last season, he tore his ACL once again.

    At this point, some teams would probably cut ties and move on, but Colts head coach Chuck Pagano recently said that he plans on giving Ijalana a shot, according to a statement from a piece on Stampede Blue.com.

    The Colts recently brought in a number of names on the offensive line, including Gosder Cherilus, Donald Thomas, Khaled Holmes and Hugh Thornton.  The line has been a big focus this offseason, so how much room is there for a guy like Ijalana?

    If he stays healthy, then Ijalana has a shot.  It's a small one, but at least it's something for a guy who needs at least one break in his short career in the league.

Justice Cunningham, TE

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    Why do the Colts need another tight end?  Because Justice Cunningham is a different type of tight end.

    Coby Fleener has showed big-play potential while Dwayne Allen has shown some as well along with an ability to be a strong run-blocker.

    While Cunningham might not be the most electric tight end you'll see, he can certainly block. 

    Original scouting reports described Cunningham as a third offensive tackle, but he's been impressing the coaching staff since being drafted.  Back in rookie minicamp he made a couple of big plays, including a touchdown to end the camp, according to Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

    As long as Cunningham can continue to prove that he's a solid blocker and can make plays in the passing game from time to time, then he could be one of the final 53 players on the roster by Week 1.

Caesar Rayford, OLB

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    As an outside linebacker, it's highly unlikely that Caesar Rayford finds the field on defense this season, but there is a spot where he could be useful on this team.

    Special teams.

    As a 6'7'' monster, Rayford was an electric player in the CFL and AFL at getting to the quarterback, but he was also able to make plays on special teams, particularly blocking field goals.

    A guy like this could very well find his place on special teams for the Colts, just as others have done in the past.  Both Gary Brackett and Robert Mathis started their careers in Indy as special teams players, eventually becoming major factors on defense.

    It appears that the Colts like taking guys who have played in the CFL like Jerrell Freeman, and they're hoping they can hit another home run with Rayford.

Daxton Swanson, CB

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    In today's pass-heavy league, you can never have enough talented defensive backs, and the Colts might have found a diamond in the rough with Daxton Swanson.

    It's felt like all of the reports out of rookie minicamp and OTAs were very high on this guy out of Sam Houston State.  Tom James from The Tribune Star was high on Swanson back in May.

    The biggest knock on Swanson has been that he's not very bulky, meaning that he could struggle playing against more physical receivers.  However, he does have nice length and speed to keep up with opposing receivers.

    There aren't a lot of UDFAs with a really good shot at making the roster this season, but of all of them, Swanson probably has the best shot.