Grading Every Indianapolis Colts Starter's 2013 Regular Season
Well, the season is in the books. After 17 weeks of football, the NFL's regular season has come to a close, and the Indianapolis Colts have once again made the playoffs with an 11-5 record. Unlike 2012, however, the Colts will host a playoff game this time , the benefits of winning the AFC South.
It was a roller-coaster season, but the Colts started to figure things out as the season closed and enter the postseason on the back of a three-game winning streak, including a 23-7 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, who they'll host next week.
So, in light of a successful season, which of the Colts starters most contributed to the team's success? Which ones disappointed? Find out in our final report card of the regular season.
Note: For this piece, "starters" will be counted based on how many snaps they played overall this season.
Andrew Luck: B+
Let's start by saying this: Andrew Luck was in a bad situation this season. With injuries to key offensive starters (Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen, Donald Thomas, Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw), a sieve-like offensive line and a receiving corp lacking in every possible way, Luck had less help than the vast majority of quarterbacks in the league.
Confounding the issue was Pep Hamilton's offensive scheme, which relied on the run and power-I formations too often while attempting to force-feed Trent Richardson for much of the season. Hamilton finally opened up the offense at the end of the season, and Luck excelled, but for too long the Colts offense failed to take advantage of Luck's tremendous skill set.
That being said, Luck himself had his own issues this season. After Wayne's injury, Luck became incredibly inconsistent for a good six-game stretch. The pass rush began to affect him quickly without a safety blanket like Wayne to rely on, and Luck began rushing reads and sailing throws.
Luck finished the season strong, however, with as impressive a stretch as he's ever had over the last three weeks. Luck posted a 99.9 quarterback rating over the last four weeks, and the Colts finally moved the ball consistently on offense.
Luck finished the season with significant improvements in his completion percentage, DVOA, passer rating and his sack, touchdown and interception rates. But, he finished with worse marks in other advanced stats, like WPA, EPA, yards per attempt, net yards per attempt and total QBR.
Overall, Luck made strides in his second season, but there is still room to grow. An offense with more no-huddle and shotgun concepts would do wonders for his growth, as would a more consistent offensive line. But Luck can also improve on his own: There are some pre-snap read issues and progression inconsistencies that can be improved.
Given what he's shown in two short years, however, Colts fans have every confidence in him going forward.
Donald Brown: A
Despite being delegated to the third-back role in the preseason, behind Ballard and Bradshaw, Brown finished the season as the Colts' leading rusher (537 yards) while also leading the team in touchdowns (eight combined rushing and receiving). Brown finished at 5.3 yards per carry, the highest average for a Colts' back since 1961, per Kevin Bowen of Colts.com.
Brown offered the Colts the threat of the big play both on the ground and through the air throughout the season, carrying the Colts offense at times and overall looking as good as he ever has throughout his career. Brown hit holes hard and ran through tackles all season, and should finish the season with Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) best mark for yards after contact per carry.
Trent Richardson: D-
Though he showed some improvements by the end of the season, the trade for Richardson ultimately proved to be a huge mistake for GM Ryan Grigson. Richardson's yards per carry of 2.92 while with Indianapolis was the worst in franchise history for a player with at least 150 carries (14th-worst in NFL history).
Coby Fleener: B+
There were some concerns about Fleener prior to the season, namely about his hands and his ability to catch contested passes. It's still not his strong suit, as a dropped ball down the seam against the Jacksonville Jaguars evidenced, but Fleener was a reliable receiver this season. His drop rate of 1.92 percent was first among tight ends with at least 50 percent of their team's tight end targets, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Fleener was underutilized in Hamilton's offense and wasn't used down the seam as much as he should have been, but he finished with 52 catches for 608 yards, just the fourth Colts tight end to finish with 50/600 (Dallas Clark, three times; John Mackey, twice; Jacob Tamme, once). He's a liability in run blocking, but Dwayne Allen will retain that role next season.
T.Y. Hilton: A-
Hilton gets a bit of a downgrade because of his disappearance for a few games during the middle of the season, but he finished the season with 82 catches for 1,083 yards, both impressive totals. Hilton is the first wide receiver not named Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne to finish with 80-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards since Reggie Langhorne in 1993 (the only other receiver to do it).
Hilton likely won't ever be an elite No. 1 receiver, but he can be a very effective No. 2, and should be a long-term answer in the Colts' receiving corp.
Darrius Heyward-Bey: F+
The biggest bust of the 2013 Colts free-agent class, Heyward-Bey was brought into Indianapolis to be a starter opposite Wayne and be a more consistent version of 2012 Donnie Avery.
Unfortunately, he was even worse than Avery. Heyward-Bey's infamous hands of butter struck again and again, and he finished with an absurd drop rate of 23.7 percent, per PFF (subscription required).
Avery at least gave Indianapolis some production along with his invisible games (or mind-numbing drops). Heyward-Bey was a dead zone. It was no coincidence that the Colts offense started clicking after he was benched.
Reggie Wayne: Inc.
It's hard to grade Wayne given the abrupt end to his season, but the veteran was as good as ever during the first half of the season. Through seven games, Wayne had over 500 yards and 38 catches, with a catch rate of 66.7 percent.
Wayne was Luck's safety blanket, the only receiver he trusted would get open on any given play. It's paramount to the Colts' success next season that Wayne finishes his career as strong as ever, as the team doesn't have a potential No. 1 to replace him currently on the roster.
Anthony Castonzo: B+
As the years go by, Colts fans are more and more thankful that Bill Polian didn't draft Rodger Saffold in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft. Instead, the Colts were able to draft Castonzo the next year, who has been a solid left tackle for Indianapolis.
He's not an elite player, but he's an above-average left tackle. Castonzo was the team's best run-blocker and a decent pass-blocker. He'll give up a sack now and then, and is ideally a right tackle, but Indianapolis is more than happy with him starting.
Hugh Thornton: D+
The rookie guard out of the University of Illinois started 12 games for the Colts after an injury knocked left guard Donald Thomas out of the lineup for the season. Thornton certainly has promise, but he was arguably the Colts' worst lineman this year in pass protection.
He should improve next season, but it was a very rough rookie season, and the Colts have been better off protecting the quarterback with him on the bench.
Samson Satele: D
What is there to say about Satele at this point? The former Raider has been a fan whipping boy in each of his two seasons in Indianapolis, and for good reason.
Satele rarely gets a push in run blocking and has trouble picking the correct assignment in pass protection. His cluelessness on the field has even led to weekly "WTF is Samson Satele Thinking?" moments for Ben Gundy's offensive line charting at Colts Authority.
Mike McGlynn: D+
McGlynn is a versatile lineman who knows the plays and blitz pickups and can fill in at center in a pinch. That pretty much takes care of the positive side.
McGlynn has been the worst offensive lineman in Indianapolis for the last two years, but continues to start due to a sheer lack of talent. He finished 53rd out of 58 guards in PFF's Pass Blocking Efficiency, which measures pressures allowed per snap (worst on the Colts; Thornton 52nd). McGlynn's contract is up this season, and there's no reason he should be starting again next season.
Gosder Cherilus: B+
The second half to a strong pair of bookend tackles for the Colts, and the best free-agent signing of Ryan Grigson, Cherilus is a consistent pass protector who isn't a complete liability in the run game. Is he worth the third-highest right-tackle contract in the league? Probably not, but he's been a highly positive addition to an otherwise sickly offensive line.
Cory Redding: B+
The heart and soul of the Colts defensive line, Redding was surprisingly good against the run this season, finishing as PFF's sixth-best 3-4 end in run defense. Redding was merely average at best in pass rush, but his success against the run offsets that. Add in his leadership and voice in the locker room, and you have a player as important to the Colts' postseason defense as anybody.
Ricky Jean Francois: C
Jean Francois was supposed to be a high-impact defensive end in the Colts' 3-4 scheme, but ended up being just another body on the offensive line. Like Redding, Jean Francois was good against the run and average at best in pass rush, but Jean Francois wasn't anywhere near as active against the run. It's hard to ignore the lack of pass rush with that in consideration.
Fili Moala: C
With neither Josh Chapman or Aubrayo Franklin playing enough snaps to qualify, Moala was the third defensive lineman for Indianapolis. A rotational lineman, Moala probably offered the most pass rush of any down lineman, and was decent against the run. He didn't excel at any one thing, but was a decent rotating piece.
Robert Mathis: A
Prior to the season, we wondered if Mathis would be able to have success as a pass-rusher without Dwight Freeney across from him. Mathis had never had this little help when it comes to pass rush, and there were legitimate concerns about him being able to handle that kind of attention.
All that seems a bit silly now, as Mathis came out and had his most statistically impressive season ever. Mathis finished with 19.5 sacks, the most in the league, broke Freeney’s career and single-season franchise records and moved into the top 20 all time in career sacks.
But, again, it wasn’t just the total sacks that was so impressive for Mathis. He was stouter against the run than his past reputation and he had zero help in the pass-rush department, something other Defensive Player of the Year candidates didn’t have to deal with.
By forcing fumbles and changing games, Mathis wasn’t only the Colts’ pass rush this season, he was their entire defense.
Jerrell Freeman: B
Freeman probably deserves higher than this, but it’s difficult to lavish too much praise on a player who has disappeared for entire games this season, especially against the run. Nevertheless, Freeman finished with the team lead in forced turnovers and tackles, was second in sacks and forced fumbles and was third in interceptions.
When he was on, he was all over the field and was one of the Colts’ best turnover creators. His emergence as a blitz weapon this season has really rounded out his play well, and he’ll be a long-term piece for Indianapolis’ defense.
Pat Angerer: C-
Props to Angerer for fighting through an injury all season, but the young linebacker was ineffective for most of the season and was eventually benched in favor of surgery. Angerer, like Freeman, disappeared at times, especially behind bigger offensive lines, and won’t be a long-term answer at inside linebacker.
Erik Walden: B-
So, Walden didn’t finish with as poor of a season as was feared he might when he signed his four-year, $16 million contract this offseason. Walden still isn’t a great player and desperately needs to improve his pass rushing to be a viable long-term option as a starter, but he is decent enough against the run and in coverage that you can live with (although not be happy with) his contract.
Vontae Davis: A
While Davis got some flack at times from fans, and deservedly so, he had one of the best seasons in recent history for a Colts cornerback. Davis had consistent coverage throughout the season, even if he was prone to allowing big plays over the top at times. With the consistent coverage from one side, the Colts don’t really have to worry about Davis’ side of the field, rarely doubling an outside receiver.
Davis was third overall in PFF's grades prior to Week 17, including first in coverage. While he's not actually a top-three corner, he falls in the top 20 without a doubt.
Darius Butler: B
As the nickel corner, Butler has been a phenomenal piece to the defense. Early in the season Butler was putting together a great year, shadowing slot receivers all over the field and using his physicality to his advantage.
But with Greg Toler leaving with injury, Butler was forced into a more consistent role, one that he relished. He didn’t succeed as much on the outside, but he still gave more good than bad, and led the team with four interceptions.
Greg Toler: Inc.
Like Wayne, it’s hard to judge a season that ended so quickly, as Toler received a groin injury in Week 7 that would keep him out for the rest of the regular season.
Toler wasn’t playing great prior to the injury, but he was comfortable in press-man, which is slightly less comfortable for Cassius Vaughn. It never really seemed like Toler was worth the $5 million a year that he signed for, but getting him back should allow the Colts to be much more flexible on defense.
Antoine Bethea: C+
It was a roller-coast season for both of the Colts safeties, especially for Bethea, who had the best safety next to him he’s had since Bob Sanders. But Bethea’s age certainly showed; he looks to be a player slowing down, not speeding up. Bethea is straight-up bad in coverage, with zero ball skills with the ball in the air. He can have success if one-on-one with a tight end near the line of scrimmage, but anything else is free game.
Bethea is still a strong run supporter, however, and finished fifth in the league among safeties in tackling efficiency, per PFF.
LaRon Landry: C-
Another high-price free agent brought in to be a playmaker, Landry wasn’t terrible, but he was kind of invisible. He was just below average to the point where you didn’t notice him until he took a poor angle in run support or had an occasional big hit.
The problem was those big hits came few and far between. He rarely made plays or forced turnovers, he was just kind of there for Indianapolis. Landry was counted on to be the stud safety for Indianapolis, but Bethea had better numbers in coverage, run support and pass rush.
Adam Vinatieri: A
It’s hard to say, but I was dead wrong on Vinatieri this season. I thought he’d slow a bit, but the grizzled veteran was as good as he ever has been, hitting 35-of-40 field-goal attempts and being as consistent as they come. Vinatieri also moved into the fifth all-time scoring spot with 2,006 career points. If there’s one kicker I want in the playoffs, it’s still Vinatieri.
Pat McAfee: A
Here’s all you need to know about McAfee’s year: He broke the franchise records for punts inside the opponent’s 20 and kickoffs inside the opponent’s 20, per his teammate Andy Studebaker.
It’s hard to quantify punters due to the different factors like field position they’re kicking from, punt coverage team, etc, but McAfee is a weapon for Indianapolis. It’s easy to see every week, as he consistently flips the field and has improved tremendously at pinning opponents inside their own 10.