Considering everything they've went through over the past two years, the Indianapolis Colts have to consider this past season a success.
Despite numerous injuries, a new offensive coordinator and obvious weaknesses, the Colts still found a way to go 11-5, win the AFC South title and advance the the divisional round of the playoffs. Of course, they ended up losing quite badly to the New England Patriots, but overall this was a promising season that bodes well for the future.
At the same time, the team's star players have some things that they need to work on, so let's take a look at the most important area each player must focus on before the 2014-15 season.
With 11 game-winning drives and 55 total touchdowns in his first two seasons, Andrew Luck is off to a great start to his career. The improvement was definitely there this past season, as he cut his interceptions in half, completed 6.1 percent more passes and increased his passer rating by 10.5 points.
At times, Luck throws some of the most beautiful passes I've seen. His two touchdown passes to T.Y. Hilton in the Wild Card Game against the Kansas City Chiefs were things of beauty, and some of his throws on the run against the Patriots were incredible.
But while he usually makes terrific throws, sometimes Luck defies logic and makes some very bad decisions. On his first interception against the Patriots on the team's first drive, he was staring down his receiver the whole way. Sometimes he sails throws, and while those went away for a bit at the end of the year, it was a concern during the middle part of the season.
Luck has already been to the Pro Bowl and helped lead some terrific comebacks, but in order for the Colts to be a Super Bowl contender, he's going to have to be more consistent with his throws.
From being the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft to carrying the ball just four times for one yard in the playoffs, it's safe to say that Trent Richardson is dangerously close to becoming a huge bust that the Colts traded a first-round pick on.
His regular-season numbers were not pretty. He ran for just 563 yards and three touchdowns, averaging a lowly 3.0 yards per carry.
It doesn't take a genius to understand why Richardson has struggled. When he sees an open hole, he hesitates at the line of scrimmage and gets eaten up by defenders. Some will say that it's because of the run blocking, but Football Outsiders had the Colts as the No. 15 run-blocking team in the league. Donald Brown averaging 5.3 yards per carry doesn't help that case either.
When rewatching the game film from the Patriots game, I found a play that perfectly describes why fans are so frustrated when watching Richardson play:
Want to know why people can't stand Trent Richardson? This play went for -1 yards because he just stopped. pic.twitter.com/wsoPYhXzwf— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 14, 2014
Will an offseason with the team help Richardson turn things around? Maybe, maybe not. Unless he can figure out how to hit a hole at full speed, it's going to be very hard for him to keep his job after next season.
The future for T.Y. Hilton is extremely bright in Indianapolis. In his first two seasons, he's caught 132 passes for 1,944 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 14.7 yards per reception. Those numbers compare to future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, who caught 137 passes for 1,702 yards and 14 scores in his first two years.
First 2 Seasons: Reggie Wayne: 76 rec, 1,061 yds, 4 TD Marvin Harrison: 137 rec, 1,702 yds, 14 TD T.Y. Hilton: 132 rec, 1,944 yds, 12 TD— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 14, 2014
Of course, Hilton isn't perfect. Despite his size, he's still a very good outside receiver, but he needs to focus on being a more reliable pass-catcher and avoid dropping so many balls.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Hilton had seven drops this season, and while it was still down from 12 in his rookie year, that's still a pretty high number. Among wide receivers with at least 25 percent of the team's targets, Hilton is tied for third in PFF's drop rate statistic with another former Colts player with hands issues in Donnie Avery.
With how well he's played over the past two seasons, Hilton has a chance to be one of the best receivers the Colts have ever had, and that's saying a lot considering the names that came before him. If he can continue to cut the drops, then we will see an even more impressive Hilton next season.
Coming out of college, there was a lot of hype on Coby Fleener, especially due to his connection with Luck at Stanford. In his senior year with the Cardinal, Fleener finished with 34 receptions for 667 yards and 10 touchdowns, giving him a ridiculous 19.6 yards per reception as a tight end.
While his rookie season was a bit disappointing, Fleener looked better this year. He finished with 52 receptions, 608 yards and four touchdowns. He was a productive pass-catching tight end, but still wasn't the same red-zone threat fans were hoping for this year.
At 6'6'' and 247 pounds, Fleener is at times one of the biggest players on the field with the exception of the offensive and defensive linemen. He creates a huge mismatch based off of size alone, but he doesn't use his size to manhandle defenders like he could. Players with his size should be able to position their body on a consistent basis to get to the ball given his skill set, but we just haven't seen it that often.
Let's face it. Reggie Wayne isn't going to be playing forever. He's going to be coming back from an ACL tear at 35 years old, and there will be big questions about whether or not he can play at a high level next season.
Before the injury, things were looking good for Wayne. He caught 38 passes for 503 yards and two touchdowns in just seven games played. Wayne has also always been a reliable target, as he hadn't missed a game since his rookie year back in 2001, and even then he still played in 13 games.
With players like Adrian Peterson and Wes Welker having miracle recoveries from the same injury, fans now expect players coming off of torn ACLs to be back at 100 percent as soon as the season begins. Those expectations are what arguably killed Robert Griffin III's season, as it felt like he was rushed back far too quickly.
But the Colts need Wayne to be productive when he comes back. Hilton has been great, but the rest of Luck's options have been inconsistent, and a reliable player like Wayne on the field could be a big lift to the offense. Of course, it's unclear how effective Wayne will be, so we just have to wait and see.