Projected Indianapolis Colts' Final 53-Man Roster, Training Camp Edition
The most participated-in activity for media members is predicting 53-man rosters come September. As training camp approaches, more roster predictions will roll in. Then, as training camp progresses, those predictions will evolve.
While we do know some players who will certainly make the final roster, the bottom half of the roster is, and will be, in flux. Training camp will be used to finalize who best fits on the Indianapolis Colts as they move forward into 2013.
But that's what makes these predictions entertaining: the uncertainty.
Who has the best chance to make the roster, and why?
(2): Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck
Analysis: After being drafted No. 1 overall in 2012, Andrew Luck carried the Colts to 11 wins and a playoff spot in his rookie year, surpassing all expectations with seven game-winning drives and a rookie-record 4,374 yards. He's the Colts' future and, barring a devastating injury, will be the face of the franchise for years to come.
Matt Hasselbeck comes in from Tennessee to back up Luck and provide a stable, veteran voice to advise the young quarterback. Hasselbeck can come in to manage a game in case of injury, but everybody in Indianapolis is praying he never has to see the field.
Chandler Harnish has a shot at making the roster as the third quarterback, but he still has eligibility for the practice squad and should be there once again this year.
(4): Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, Donald Brown, Kerwynn Williams
Analysis: Bradshaw was just signed to a one-year contract and should be the starter going into training camp. Ballard could push Bradshaw for the starting position, but both should make the roster easily. The only potential hiccup would be Bradshaw's foot injury, which he has not completely healed from yet.
Donald Brown could be in danger of being cut, but only because of his contract. Cutting Brown instead of Delone Carter would save about $500,000, but it doesn't seem like that is likely.
Colts running back coach David Walker spoke highly of Brown earlier this offseason, while saying a third running back (behind Brown and Ballard) had not emerged. Add in Carter's recovery from shoulder surgery, and his chances of making the roster look slim.
Rookie Kerwynn Williams could be a potential practice squad addition if he doesn't show much on special teams.
(1): Stanley Havili
Analysis: Havili was brought to Indianapolis in March through a trade. The Colts gave up reserve defensive lineman Clifton Geathers for the 25-year-old running back and should start Havili in the fall in Pep Hamilton's offense.
Undrafted free agent Dan Moore could compete for the spot, but Havili seems more likely given that Indianapolis gave up Geathers (even if that seems like an extremely low price) to acquire him. Havili has more experience in the NFL, and Moore is more of a runner than a true fullback, which isn't what the Colts need at the position.
(5*): Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton, Griff Whalen, Nathan Palmer
Analysis: Wayne is arguably the most beloved current Colt, a grizzly veteran whose play continues to impress, even as he ages. He'll continue to get a large number of snaps, especially in the slot, where he received the second-most snaps in the league last season.
Heyward-Bey and Hilton will both cut into each others' snaps as the primary deep threat on the field, but the Colts will likely do what they can to get both on the field at the same time. Both can be dangerous after the catch, and both have the Colts' best big-play potential.
Whalen and Palmer both have familiarity advantages over the other wide receivers on the roster—Whalen with his time at Stanford with both Pep Hamilton and Andrew Luck, and Palmer with his time on the team last season.
*LaVon Brazill won't count toward the roster while he serves his four-week suspension, but he should stay in Indianapolis. Once his suspension is up, Whalen or Palmer likely will be cut.
(3): Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Justice Cunningham
Analysis: Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are coming off of their rookie seasons and are one of the most promising tight end duos in the league. Allen was already one of the most well-rounded tight ends in the league as a rookie, and he will play a big role both in the passing game and in blocking in 2013. Fleener has top-flight potential as a receiver, but he will need to improve his hands after an inconsistent rookie season.
The Colts' third tight end will be a training camp battle, but Cunningham has every chance to earn it over Weslye Saunders and Dominique Jones. If the Colts want to put Cunningham on the practice squad, Saunders likely would be on the roster in his place.
Note: Weslye Saunders' recent eight-game suspension makes it even more likely that Cunningham makes the roster. Saunders won't count toward the roster for the first eight games even if he isn't cut.
(4): Anthony Castonzo, Gosder Cherilus, Jeff Linkenbach, Benjamin Ijalana
Analysis: Castonzo and Cherilus are the guaranteed starters, outside of injury. Castonzo did a fantastic job in run blocking last season, and his pass protection in the second half of the season was much improved. Cherilus was one of the best pass-blocking tackles in the league last season and will be a big improvement on the area that most troubled Luck in 2012.
Jeff Linkenbach, as much as he's been a fan whipping boy over the past few years, has a versatility to swing inside and play guard that makes him valuable.
Ijalana is a bit of a risk, but if his knees are healthy, he's the most naturally talented tackle behind Castonzo and Cherilus. Ijalana also can play guard, but, again, it all depends on his knees. If he can't be healthy, Bradley Sowell or UDFA Emmett Cleary could stick as tackle depth.
(4): Donald Thomas, Hugh Thornton, Mike McGlynn, Joe Reitz
Analysis: Thomas is a former Patriot who has played very well in limited minutes for New England. He's a mauler in the run game and has done a good enough job in pass protection to earn a starting position.
The right guard position should be up for grabs as third-round draft pick Hugh Thornton competes with the veteran McGlynn. McGlynn was the weakest link for the Colts last season, and fans are rooting for Thornton to win the starting spot.
Joe Reitz has been working as the backup left guard behind Thomas and should make the roster at that position. Reitz has been at left guard for the past two years for Indianapolis and has a strong connection with left tackle Anthony Castonzo.
(2): Samson Satele, Khaled Holmes
Analysis: Signing Satele to a three-year contract last year looks to be a mistake after he offered little-to-no pass protection in 2012. He was the least efficient center in pass protection, allowing 21 hurries on just over 400 snaps (subscription required), according to Pro Football Focus. He was, however, a decent run blocker and should look better with more support around him in 2013.
The Colts drafted Holmes in the fourth round to be the long-term answer at center, but he may not be ready to start right away as a rookie. Holmes had some concerning tendencies to get bowled over at center during his senior season at USC and may project better as a guard in the zone-blocking system.
Eventually Holmes should start, but I'd expect Satele to start the season as the first-string center.
(5): Cory Redding, Fili Moala, Ricky Jean-Francois, Drake Nevis, Montori Hughes
Analysis: Redding, although disappointing in 2012, is the emotional leader of the defense and a key part of the mental makeup of this team. He'll need to be regularly rotated out to stay effective, but he is one of those players who makes the unit go.
Fili Moala will back up Redding at the 5-technique defensive end spot, while Drake Nevis backs up free-agent acquisition Jean Francois at 3-tech defensive end (also called defensive tackle).
Rookie Montori Hughes is eligible for the practice squad, but he should get a roster spot, as his upside is simply too promising to risk losing him on the waivers.
Ricardo Mathews and Lawrence Guy will compete for a spot, but there are just not enough spots for everybody. Both are talented enough to fill a rotational role, but I can't see the Colts keeping them over any of the other five.
(2): Josh Chapman, Aubrayo Franklin
Analysis: The Colts have high hopes for Chapman after sitting out his rookie season while recovering from his ACL injury suffered at Alabama. Chapman is a massive specimen who should be able to anchor the defensive line and stuff the run.
Franklin comes from San Diego after spending time in Baltimore, San Francisco and New Orleans prior to 2012. He has a lot of experience and still has the talent to be a key player on the line, and he is a prototypical nose tackle for a 3-4 defense.
(4): Robert Mathis, Erik Walden, Bjoern Werner, Lawrence Sidbury
Analysis: Longtime Colt Robert Mathis is the face of the defense, and the one that the Colts will depend on to get a consistent pass rush. He has three more years on his contract, and while he may not stick around for each of those years, he certainly will be a key player in 2013.
Erik Walden was signed to play strong-side outside linebacker while Mathis switches to rush outside linebacker. Walden is a poor pass-rusher, but he can hold the edge against the run. He'll likely get the start while Werner focuses on passing downs at the beginning of the season.
Sidbury was brought over from Atlanta with high potential as a pass-rusher, but it hasn't translated into production yet. Quinton Spears and Monte Simmons are dark-horse candidates to make the roster as outside linebackers, but they likely would have to beat out Sidbury to do it.
(5): Jerrell Freeman, Pat Angerer, Kavell Conner, Kelvin Sheppard, Justin Hickman
Analysis: Freeman should get another starting position in 2013 after bursting onto the scene in 2012. Freeman struggled at times to get through offensive linemen but should be flying to the ball once again with an upgraded defensive line in 2013.
Angerer played hurt in 2012 but should be completely healed in 2013 and poised for a big season. Sheppard was traded for Jerry Hughes in late April, and the former LSU standout likely will be the nickel linebacker in 2013. Kavell Conner is very good against the run, but he may get buried by the other three when all are healthy.
Justin Hickman is versatile, playing outside linebacker last season but playing inside linebacker this summer. He also is a strong special teams player and should make the team unless he suffers an injury.
Other competitors include UDFA C.O. Prime, Mario Harvey and Scott Lutrus.
(5): Vontae Davis, Greg Toler, Darius Butler, Cassius Vaughn, Teddy Williams
Analysis: Davis and Toler should make a pretty strong starting duo if both can play consistently. Davis came on very strong during the last few weeks of 2012 and has the potential to be a No. 1 corner if he can improve his consistency. Toler has great ball skills and just needs to show he can take on the load of being a full-time starter.
Darius Butler should be the slot corner after playing well there last season, but the Colts' coaches seemed to irrationally like Vaughn in 2012, and he could leapfrog Butler on the depth chart. Vaughn deserves to be on the roster as a depth corner, but the less time he's actually on the field, the better.
The fifth cornerback spot is the one that's up for grabs, with Josh Gordy underwhelming last season. Teddy Williams has a lot of potential; the former track star impressed coaches last season and is a strong special teams contributor.
UDFAs Daxton Swanson, Sheldon Price and Allen Chapman will compete for the spot, along with Gordy and Marshay Green.
(4): Antoine Bethea, LaRon Landry, Joe Lefeged, John Boyett
Analysis: Bethea and Landry are the penciled-in starters and should be a better duo than the Bethea-Zbikowski duo last season. Landry is a significant upgrade to Tom Zbikowski and should allow Bethea to take on a more natural role at free safety in 2013.
Lefeged recently was arrested on gun charges, but he has been released from jail and likely won't be cut because of the incident. He's the first option when either of the safeties go down and can play both strong and free safety.
Boyett is coming off of surgery to fix partially torn patella tendons, playing very little in 2011 at Oregon. That being said, he has great instincts and could compete on special teams and as Bethea's backup.
If the Colts decide to keep six safeties, if Lefeged is let go or if Boyett can't play this season, watch for UDFA Daxton Swanson to snatch the job up. Swanson can play both safety and cornerback, and that versatility should be valuable.
(3): Adam Vinatieri, Pat McAfee, Matt Overton
Analysis: Vinatieri was inconsistent in 2012, but he still has the mental fortitude to hit the clutch kicks when necessary. He's the Colts' lone kicker on the roster outside of camp leg Brandon McManus.
Pat McAfee is a well-known figure around the community and is currently the franchise player. He wasn't signed to a long-term contract before the deadline, but he's a fan favorite and a key locker-room presence.
Matt Overton won the long snapping job from Justin Snow last season, and the Colts don't have another one in camp for 2013. Overton's job is safe for another year.
Last Five to Make It
LB Justin Hickman
While I love Hickman's versatility, he shouldn't play much even if he makes the roster except as injury insurance. If one of the younger linebackers sticks out in training camp, he's the first inside linebacker to lose his position.
OLB Lawrence Sidbury
Sidbury has potential as a pass-rusher, but at this point it's only potential. Through four years, he has 14 tackles and five sacks, and his spot is far from guaranteed.
OT Ben Ijalana
It's all about the knees when it comes to Ijalana. He also has a lot of potential, but an ACL injury has kept him from proving himself on the field. If he struggles at all in preseason, he'll lose his position.
OL Jeff Linkenbach
Linkenbach can play both guard and tackle, and the Colts' roster on their website lists him as a tackle. But he was playing as the third-string guard in OTAs, and he may get passed up for a younger tackle.
CB Teddy Williams
There are all kinds of competitors for the fifth cornerback spot, and Williams probably doesn't have a high chance of making it. That being said, I like Williams' ceiling and think he takes a step forward this season.
Last Five to Be Cut
OT Emmett Cleary
Anthony Castonzo's former roommate Emmett Cleary was one of the top UDFA prospects, as evidenced by his $20,000 signing bonus, the second-largest signing bonus for UDFAs. He may make a perfect practice squad member, but if he impresses at all in camp, don't be surprised if he passes a veteran for a backup tackle spot.
OT Justin Anderson
One of the Colts' seventh-round draft picks last season, Anderson also had to sit out 2012 due to injury. While he's been ignored for most of this offseason, Anderson may be an underrated prospect for depth on the offensive line. He can play inside or out, and could be a popular name come August.
CB/S Daxton Swanson
Swanson can play anywhere in the defensive backfield and could fill another space in a thin depth chart. Every year there is a surprising UDFA who makes the team—could Swanson be that guy this year?
LB C.O. Prime
Prime got an unprompted shout-out by Cory Redding during OTAs, and if he flies around during the preseason, he just might play his way onto the roster.
DE Ricardo Mathews
The fourth-year lineman played 500 snaps last season, but higher-potential guys will pass him this season. Mathews, however, has talent, and the coaches evidently trust him. If an unexpected injury happens, Mathews can step in and take their place.