Despite a number of injuries and holes on their roster, the Indianapolis Colts have officially improved over last season with a successful 2013-14 campaign that includes an 11-5 regular season record and a playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
The good news for the Colts is that regardless of what happens for the rest of the postseason, they have a ton of emerging young talent that will likely be staying put for the next few seasons. The bad news is that there are still some obvious weaknesses that need to be addressed to make this an elite team, either through the NFL draft or free agency.
The NFL draft is four months away, but the Colts likely have been scouting college players for quite some time. They won't have a first-round pick after trading for Trent Richardson, but there are still some key names in later rounds that Colts fans should get to know, as they could be ideal prospects for the team to target in May.
It's been clear all year that the Colts need help on the interior of their offensive line. Hugh Thornton, Mike McGlynn and Samson Satele have all struggled, and while the team will be getting Donald Thomas back next season, they're still going to need to find a second offensive guard.
Currently, there are three offensive guards who are generating a lot of buzz in Baylor's Cyril Richardson, Notre Dame's Zack Martin and Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson. Martin and Richardson have been projected to either go late in the first round or early in the second, but Jackson is a player who fans should be praying falls to them with their first pick in the draft.
Jackson is a monster on the line at 6'3'' and 340 pounds. With that kind of size, he has some top-tier strength, but he's also surprisingly quick, which helps a ton in pass protection. He's not the best option in run-blocking, but he's arguably the best guard in the passing game, thanks to his long limbs and nice footwork.
With Thomas and Jackson on the line in 2014, Andrew Luck could finally have a year where he's not running for his life.
It was a harsh reality check this season, but the Colts saw what the offense could turn into once Reggie Wayne is done for good after he tore his ACL against the Denver Broncos back in October.
The Colts are going to take a wide receiver in the draft, and although they may not take one in the second round, they might pull the trigger if Brandon Coleman is on the board.
The first thing you notice when see watch Coleman play is his size. He's listed at 6'6'' and 220 pounds, yet he's surprisingly fast for his size. He's obviously not the speedster that T.Y. Hilton is, but given his ability to make tough catches while using his size to dominate defenders, his speed is definitely an asset.
Coleman will have to work on being a more consistent route-runner at the next level, but he's an ideal prospect given his size. He won't be drafted too early, with other physical receivers like Kelvin Benjamin and Mike Evans out there, but he could be a serious red-zone threat for the Colts.
Satele wasn't able to get the job done this year, and with A.Q. Shipley now playing for the Baltimore Ravens, the Colts had to use McGlynn as their center when Satele got hurt. That needs to change quickly, so the Colts should be looking for a potential replacement at center.
The most realistic option the Colts have would be Travis Swanson out of Arkansas. He's a big guy at 6'5'' and 318 pounds, but he showed in school that he's fast enough to be pulled in the power running game.
Much like Gabe Jackson, Swanson is well-suited to help in pass protection. He has some solid balance and lower-body strength to keep in front of defenders, and while he can be a pulling blocker in the run game, I'm worried about what would happen if he had to block a player like J.J. Watt.
Swanson's draft projections are all over the place, but if he was to go in the second or third round, the Colts would be getting an instant upgrade at the position.
Robert Mathis has had the best regular season of his career, but the Colts need another pass-rusher. Bjoern Werner is still developing, but even when he's ready to go, the team is going to need more help.
In 2011, Aaron Lynch was a premier defensive end for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He was a terrific five-technique end who many thought could be a first-round pick with his strength and ability to get to the ball-carrier in the backfield.
After transferring to South Florida, things went downhill for Lynch. He didn't show the effort that he did back at Notre Dame and questions have been brought up about his character. While that talk is mostly speculative, moving to a 4-3 scheme probably didn't help much either.
With a defensive-minded coach like Chuck Pagano, Lynch could fit right in with the Colts. If there is an issue with character, Pagano is the guy to turn him around. Teams will likely pass on Lynch early on, but he's an option the Colts could be looking at in the third round, or maybe even the fifth round if they're lucky.
Coming off an inconsistent season, Antoine Bethea may very well leave via free agency. The Colts secondary is already thin enough, so taking a safety with one of their draft picks this year might not be a bad idea.
There might not have been a more entertaining defensive back to watch this season than Lamarcus Joyner at Florida State. On one of the best defenses in the nation, Joyner was one of the best players for the Seminoles, finishing the season with 69 total tacks—including seven for loss, 5.5 sacks and two interceptions.
Teams will pass on Joyner because of his size, but he makes up for his 5'8'' frame with some top-tier instincts. He does a great job of reading plays and has the athleticism to be an excellent player in pass coverage.
Joyner already plays with the mentality of an NFL player, but his size will likely make him a third-round pick. However, if the Colts don't keep Bethea, they should take a long look at Joyner.
Jerrell Freeman and Kavell Conner haven't been bad at the inside linebacker position, but with Pat Angerer not being able to stay healthy, the Colts could go for another prospect at the position late in the draft to add some depth and possibly hope for an impact player there.
Max Bullough was the team captain for Michigan State this season, leading the way with 76 total tacks, including 9.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks, but a suspension for the Rose Bowl game kept him from playing in the last game of his college career.
Even with the suspension, however, Bullough is still going to be an NFL linebacker. He was the smartest player on the field for the Spartans, leading a defense that allowed an average of just 13.2 points per game in 2013. He has solid size at the position and is capable of sticking to his assignment and wrapping up ball-carriers.
Bullough could land somewhere in the fifth or sixth round of the draft. If the Colts do decide to draft him, they could very well be getting a player who could be a leader for the defense in a few years.
If the Colts don't pull the trigger on a receiver in the earlier rounds of the draft, you can bet that they will be looking a lot more closely with their fifth-round pick and beyond.
One of the most fascinating prospect I've watched play is Missouri's L'Damian Washington, who has the potential to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. He's a lanky and tall receiver listed at 6'4'', 205 pounds, but his explosive speed is what catches my eye. He finished the season with 50 receptions for 893 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 17.9 yards per catch.
His combination of size and speed could give Washington the potential to be what Colts fans wished Darrius Heyward-Bey would have been as an outside receiver who is capable of making big plays. Washington still needs to develop as a route-runner, but the upside on this prospect would be enormous as a fifth-round pick.
When Vontae Davis is out, the Colts secondary is thin, and it's still no guarantee that he will be back in 2014, as he will be a free agent once this season is over.
Meanwhile, Greg Toler hasn't been able to stay healthy, Darius Butler is best suited to be a nickel corner and Josh Gordy shouldn't be forced into the starting lineup.
While he's not the biggest name for Alabama, Deion Belue was still a very valuable part of the Crimson Tide defense over the past two seasons. His 2012 campaign was a great one, as he finished with 40 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and a defensive touchdown.
Belue is an aggressive and physical corner who thrives on limiting separation between himself and opposing receivers. He doesn't have the most fluid hips, but he has solid footwork and isn't afraid to make tackles.
While his upside isn't huge, Belue knows what it's like to play on a pro-caliber defense and he could be a solid contributor on defense for the Colts if they take him in the sixth round.
Adding depth to the defensive line is important, especially in a 3-4 scheme that keeps switching out players. The Colts have a number of developing players on the line, but adding another one wouldn't hurt.
California's Deandre Coleman was a force in the middle of the line this season. He finished with 39 tackles, including 8.5 for loss, and two sacks. He can plug up rushing lanes at 6'5'' and 315 pounds and already has the physical traits of a defensive lineman in the NFL. He does a nice job of locking out his arms to maintain separation from offensive linemen and latch onto ball-carriers.
Unfortunately, Coleman isn't an explosive player on the line and isn't a premier pass-rusher, but if the Colts want to stop the run, he'd be a nice sixth-round selection to add some depth on the defensive line.
I've already said several times that the Colts need help on the interior of their offensive line. While they likely won't find a Day 1 starter in the seventh round, they could find a versatile backup in Jonotthan Harrison out of Florida.
Harrison played center in 2013, but he also has previous experience at left guard. He has the size at 6'3'' at 310 pounds to be a next-level offensive lineman, plus he's one of the first players off of the snap.
Given Harrison's versatility as an interior offensive lineman, he's the perfect late-round prospect for the Colts to bring in and add depth to their depleted O-line.