Indianapolis Colts: Biggest Snubs and Surprises from 53-Man Roster Cuts
"Cut day," as it's affectionately (or not so affectionately) known, is one of the most intriguing, frustrating, disappointing and unpredictable days of the NFL season.
Media members and fans spend hours scratching out final rosters, rarely getting them exactly right (especially after waiver claims).
The Indianapolis Colts today waived the following players: OLB-Daniel Adongo, S-Larry Asante, C-Thomas Austin, CB-Marshay Green, DE-Lawrence Guy, QB-Chandler Harnish, FB-Robert Hughes, T-Ben Ijalana, TE-Dominique Jones, WR-Jeremy Kelley, LB-Josh McNary, DT-Drake Nevis, CB-Sheldon Price, WR-Jabin Sambrano, WR-Lanear Sampson, LB-Monte Simmons, T-Bradley Sowell, NT-Martin Tevaseu and T-Lee Ziemba.
The team also waived-injured T-Emmett Cleary, LB-Shawn Loiseau and CB-Daxton Swanson. If Cleary, Loiseau and Swanson clear waivers, they will revert to the Colts Injured Reserve list.
With the cutting of RB Kerwynn Williams and claiming of TE Jack Doyle just a day later, the Colts' final roster seems set (although that's not ensured).
While most of the final roster isn't surprising, there are a few players that seemed to get the short end of the stick when the cuts were announced and a few that many fans saw as head-scratchers on the final roster.
So who was snubbed and who surprised? Why did they make, or not make, the final roster?
Snubbed: Ben Ijalana
It's understandable why some Colts fans were upset with the team's cutting of Ben Ijalana.
The former second-round pick was one of the few depth tackles with high upside, and he played well in the preseason. Despite two freak ACL injuries, Ijalana looked like he still had a possible future in the league. Combine that with the Colts' lack of backup tackles (Jeff Linkenbach and Joe Reitz function as the two backups currently, and both are probably better fits inside), and you have circumstances that lined up well for the third-year lineman.
But Ijalana reportedly struggled in practice and is more raw than Reitz or Linkenbach. Plus, those pesky ACL tears and multiple hip surgeries make him a risk going forward. It wasn't a surprise that the Colts let him go.
Surprise: Delano Howell
While it may not be a surprise if you've been watching the Colts defense closely, Delano Howell wouldn't have been a popular pick to make the Colts' final roster back in the spring.
Howell was a former UDFA who spend most of his rookie year in Buffalo but was signed by the Colts in late November to play a special teams role. The former Stanford Cardinal didn't turn any heads in that role, but he took advantage of a golden opportunity in the preseason to solidify a role.
With LaRon Landry, Joe Lefeged and Sergio Brown all missing time in the preseason, Howell functioned as the starting safety in three of the four preseason games (as well as most of training camp) and impressed fans. Howell finished with a positive 6.0 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Colts' highest overall defensive grade.
Snubbed: Drake Nevis
Out of all the Colts' roster cuts, third-year defensive tackle Drake Nevis was the one that produced the most outrage from Colts fans, and understandably so.
Nevis, the Colts' 2011 third-round pick, has played well during his time in Indianapolis—when he's gotten onto the field. He's missed 19 games over the past two years, which has hurt his stock, but was healthy during training camp and preseason.
Unfortunately for Nevis, the Colts stocked up on defensive ends during the 2013 offseason, re-signing Fili Moala, signing Ricky Jean-Francois and trading up to draft Montori Hughes in the fifth round.
Don't be deceived: Nevis' cut isn't a knock on him as a player. He's a good player who was claimed immediately by San Diego on Sunday, but the Colts chose to keep a few players who were more prototypical fits for the 3-4 defense.
They may regret the move. I understand the desire not to give up on someone like Hughes (whom they traded next year's fourth-round pick for), but I think Nevis is, and will be, a superior player.
Nevis might not be a perfect fit for the 3-4, but the Colts play with four down linemen often, and Nevis has been productive in the scheme, both in this year's preseason and last season.
Surprise: Ricardo Mathews
It's not that Mathews shouldn't be on the final roster; if you watched closely during the preseason, it's clear that he should be. The reason most fans are surprised is because Drake Nevis was a higher draft pick and a more recognizable name.
Mathews has played well in a rotational role for Indianapolis during the past three years after being selected in the seventh round of the 2010 draft, and he had a strong preseason.
Yes, Drake Nevis had two sacks and played well in his own right. But Mathews' six total pressures in the preseason (one sack, one hit and four hurries) were more than any other Colt defensive lineman. That resulted in Mathews' positive 1.0 pass-rush grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), higher than every Colt but Caesar Rayford and Cory Redding.
Add in Mathews' stout play in run defense and his more ideal size for the 3-4 (two inches taller than Nevis, giving him length ideal for a 3-4 end), and you have legitimate reasons for his spot on the roster.
Fans are free to be disappointed to see Nevis go, but don't mistake Mathews to be the "wrong guy." He earned his spot as much as any other player did.
Snubbed: Kerwynn Williams
After surviving the initial roster cuts, rookie RB Kerwynn Williams was waived Sunday in order to make room for TE Jack Doyle, reminding us once again of the harsh realities in the NFL: Your job is never safe.
Williams, a seventh-round pick in 2013, was slotted to be the Colts' fourth running back: an occasional third-down contributor and kick returner. Now, however, Williams will likely be a practice squad member, unless he's claimed by another team.
It's a bit of a surprise that the Colts would enter the season with just three running backs, especially when two of those backs (Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown) have notable injury histories. When you consider that Williams ran surprisingly well when given room behind a suspect offensive line, it's difficult to see why he was left off the roster.
With other positions (like safety, with five) seeming a bit crowded, Williams being cut was one move that I did not anticipate.
Surprise: David Reed
The aforementioned cutting of Williams was a hint that the Colts trust newcomer David Reed with return duties.
Reed, a receiver who joins the Colts after spending three years in Baltimore, hasn't been in Indianapolis long (just 12 days) but has the confidence of the coaches already. The Colts' depth receivers failed to separate themselves behind Griff Whalen during training camp, and Reed was the player who reaped the benefits.
While he likely won't contribute on the field (just five catches in three years in Baltimore), he should be handed the return duties after Williams' cut.
Reed averaged over 29 yards per return as the primary kick returner in Baltimore in 2010 and 2011, something that has never been done by an Indianapolis returner with at least 15 returns.
Snubbed: Dominique Jones
The Colts' coaches have preached versatility all summer, and actions (like keeping Joe Reitz and Jeff Linkenbach) have generally reflected that.
So the release of Jones, while not completely unexpected, was a bit against the grain.
Jones is able to play both fullback and tight end, and he showed his versatility during the preseason by getting involved in all three aspects of the game: receiving, pass blocking and run blocking.
Don't get me wrong, Jones didn't set the world on fire and fullback Stanley Havili is probably a better option in the passing game. But Jones had a strong training camp, and injuries have left some questions at tight end for Indianapolis. All things considered, Jones was considered a strong possibility for the final roster.
The Colts did sign Jones to the practice squad, and he'll likely be available to be pulled up if injury does occur.
Surprise: Caesar Rayford
Again, it's not a surprise if you watched the last four games, but Rayford wasn't on many people's radars prior to the preseason.
Rayford, a 6'7", 265-pound player who spent most of his five professional years in the CFL and AFL, doesn't have great speed or technically sound pass-rushing moves, but he has fantastic length and strength that helped him notch five sacks in the preseason, more than any other player in the league.
Sure, Rayford is extremely raw and in all likelihood won't contribute much once the games count. But he played very well for much of the preseason, can contribute on special teams (that length is ideal for punt/kick blocking) and absolutely earned his roster spot.
On a team that is weak at outside linebacker, Rayford was a pleasant surprise and now a fan favorite.
Snubbed: Emmett Cleary
This wasn't a snub as much as it was a smart move by Ryan Grigson.
When looking at the projected roster, it became clear as time went on that the Colts likely wouldn't have room for the UDFA out of Boston College. But the Colts liked Cleary, playing him on the second-string offensive line throughout training camp and the preseason (both at tackle and guard), and wanted to see him stay in Indianapolis.
So with a mild injury suffered in the final preseason game, Cleary was waived-injured, meaning that he'll revert to the Colts' injured reserve list should he pass through waivers unclaimed (which he did). The Colts could work out an injury settlement with Cleary and let him go, but it seems much more likely that they'll keep him around, allowing him to work with coaches and trainers throughout the season. He'll enter 2014 with a year of coaching under his belt and another chance to earn a roster spot.
Surprise: Jack Doyle
The Colts' sole waiver claim, Doyle wasn't on anyone's radar until the claim was announced Sunday afternoon.
He just gets it ... He has a really good feel for the game. He’s obviously raw in a lot of areas and hasn’t done a lot of things we do. But you can tell him, and he figures out how to do it quickly. He has very good instincts.
He is an interesting guy, and he has worked hard. And he’s a great kid.
Unfortunately, those raw areas showed up in the preseason and Doyle lost his shot at a roster spot. It was speculated that he would get a practice squad spot in Tennessee, but he gets an active roster spot in Indianapolis instead.
Doyle has great promise, although he needs polishing, but is an odd choice for the Colts. The team already has three young tight ends on the roster (Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are second-year players, while Justice Cunningham is a rookie). The Colts' two backup tight ends are both rookies, and both need to grow quite a bit. The unit could use some dependability behind the starters in case of injury, and Cunningham and Doyle don't offer that.
But Grigson has a tendency to go after high-potential players to fill the bottom of his roster, so it fits. Whether it works out remains to be seen.