Predicting the Last 5 In, Last 5 out for the Colts' Final 53-Man Roster
Roster battles aplenty litter the Colts' offseason activities and the upcoming training camp. As always we'll be posting our final roster predictions and tweaks throughout the next two months, and there's no time to start like the present.
The bottom of the roster is where the true battles are, and the difference between making the roster and not can mean a difference of about $300,000 at the very least (if said player makes the practice squad).
Today we look at those bottom-dwellers, the players battling for the final spots on the final 53-man roster. We look at 10 players today, the last five to make the roster, and the last five to miss the cut, based on the players' talent and the available players at their respective positions.
In reality, the margins separating these players are razor-thin and any of these players could make, or miss, the cut. But based on what we know right now, here are our predictions for who sticks around come September.
In: RB Zurlon Tipton
I've been riding the Tipton train for a while now, and I still lean toward the 6'1", 220-pound running back out of Central Michigan when looking at that fourth spot. Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson should be the defaults for the first three spot and only the fourth spot is up for grabs.
With Dan Herron and Chris Rainey each having a year of NFL experience over Tipton, it's difficult imagining either bringing anything to the table that hasn't already been experimented with.
Tipton was a phenomenal runner at Central Michigan, especially during his junior year. If he can get healthy and run at that level for Indianapolis, the team may actually have a shot at having a dependable running game. Tipton has the frame and size that the Colts prefer, but that means nothing without putting the talent together.
In: WR LaVon Brazill
The battle for the final two wide receiver spots (assuming they keep six) will be one of the most intense, well-watched battles of training camp. With Da'Rick Rogers, Brazill and Griff Whalen all battling for, at most, two spots, the Colts will be cutting somebody with definite talent come September.
In the end, I think Rogers will almost certainly make the team. He has the highest ceiling between the three, and has flashed that big-play ability during his 2013 season.
So it comes down to Brazill and Whalen, and I think that once again the ceiling wins out. Brazill has shown the ability to come in as a fourth or fifth receiver and provide big plays off of the bench in each of the last two years. In 2012, it was a deep touchdown against Detroit to help facilitate a miraculous comeback win. In 2013, it was six catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs as the Colts' offense took off.
Brazill has natural talent that Whalen does not, and he was taken with a sixth-round pick in 2012, making him slightly more difficult to give up.
EDIT: Brazill was suspended for one year on July 3, making his chances to make the final roster officially zero.
In: NT Brandon McKinney
A few weeks ago, had you told me that Brandon McKinney would make the 2014 roster, I probably would have laughed and shrugged you off. Not that it was completely unreasonable, but I just wouldn't have seen the need.
McKinney, after all, last played in a real game in 2011.
But with the lack of bodies on the defensive line, it's hard to envision a scenario in which McKinney doesn't make it now. Currently, the Colts have seven defensive linemen who were not undrafted free agents this season. I expect the team to keep all seven: Cory Redding, Arthur Jones, Ricky Jean Francois, Josh Chapman, Montori Hughes, Jeris Pendleton and McKinney.
The Colts need healthy bodies as depth, and for now, McKinney is still healthy.
In: ILB/FB Mario Harvey
The Colts can only keep five inside linebackers, six at most, and Harvey's ability to contribute on offense as a fullback greatly improves his chances of making the roster. While running backs coach David Walker has spoken about Harvey potentially being a full-time fullback, via Marcus Dugan of Colts Authority, I don't think Stanley Havili is getting usurped just yet.
Either way, Harvey has put himself into a heck of a position for the 2014 season. He's been decent in reserve as a linebacker as well, finishing with positive grades from Pro Football Focus in both 2012 and 2013 in limited snaps.
Though he finished 2013 on the injured reserve list, watch for Harvey to enter 2014 on a strong note and make the final roster come September.
In: CB Qua Cox
Along with those final receiver spots, the last cornerback spot on the final roster should be quite the battle. The competitors for the spot are undrafted free agents Qua Cox, Kameron Jackson and Loucheiz Purifoy, as well as veterans Sheldon Price, Marcus Burley, Johnny Adams and Brandon Burton.
Purifoy and Cox's names are the ones that have been thrown around most often thus far into the offseason, but it may be closer than we are making it seem.
Still, Cox showed some intriguing polish in college, and it's showed up in Indianapolis as well as Cox has already turned in some big plays.
This may be more of a coin flip if anything, but Cox currently gets the edge from me over Purifoy.
Out: TE Jack Doyle
Last year's "hammer" tight end, Doyle will have a real shot at making the team in 2014, but he may be the odd man out with Weslye Saunders not facing a suspension this season.
Saunders was suspended for eight games for PED abuse last season, and Doyle was brought on as the third tight end after the news broke. That became the second tight end when Dwayne Allen was injured.
Doyle played nearly 200 snaps and was a force in run-blocking, but he was relatively useless in the passing game. If the Colts want more of a blocker from the third tight end, Doyle is their man. But if they want somebody to give them more flexibility to pass out of run-heavy sets, Saunders makes more sense.
Considering that Saunders came in halfway through the season and still played 120 snaps, I'd say he has the inside track right now.
Out: OT Ulrick John
Yesterday we broke down why Ulrick John makes for an ideal practice squad player during his rookie season, and it makes sense as to why he'd be one of the final cuts. The Colts need depth at tackle, with just Xavier Nixon as a real tackle behind the starters.
But John isn't quite ready to be playing against NFL competition yet, and the Colts can slide players like Joe Reitz and Jack Mewhort over to tackle if necessary this season.
John needs to take a year to adjust to the speed of the NFL, adjust his mechanics and develop his natural ability as much as possible. If the team desperately needs depth, they can bring him up, but there's no reason to do that at the beginning of the season.
Out: WR Griff Whalen
I'm a big fan of Griff Whalen, as every Indianapolis fan is. He came up with some very big moments during the Colts' playoffs last season, and he had multiple catches in each of the team's last five games. He has a notable repertoire with Andrew Luck and Pep Hamilton, has dependable hands and reminds fans of other successful possession receivers.
But the only reason why Whalen even saw targets last year was because the team literally had no other options for a possession receiver near the end of the year. Now that Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks are entering the fold, there's not really a place for Whalen.
That's not to say he won't make the roster. He's been a valuable asset during the last year, and the difference between he and LaVon Brazill isn't that large. But if I had to pick which of the Colts' young receivers was expendable, it would be Whalen.
Out: OLB Daniel Adongo
The former rugby player has become a fan favorite before even taking meaningful snaps, but the reality is that Daniel Adongo may not see the defensive field next year either.
Due to some hype by the team and Adongo bulking up to 282 pounds, fans have been raving about Adongo this offseason. Most are just excited to see him in camp, while some expect him to pick up slack for Robert Mathis during the latter's four-game suspension.
My pre-training camp predictions currently have the Colts keeping five inside linebackers and four outside linebackers. Among the OLBs are rookie Jonathan Newsome and Cam Johnson, but not Adongo. He'll definitely be considered for a final spot, but his polish will need to have taken an enormous step forward to be a real candidate for a rotational outside linebacker role.
Out: ILB Kelvin Sheppard
If both Mario Harvey and Stanley Havili make the final roster, it's going to be difficult for Kelvin Sheppard to make his way onto the 53-man squad. With Harvey able to play ILB, Jerrell Freeman and D'Qwell Jackson starting and young, upstart linebacker Josh McNary and Andrew Jackson likely to make the squad, Sheppard may see himself passed up.
While Sheppard played more snaps than McNary last season, the team has specific uses for McNary as a nickel linebacker and blitzer. Sheppard is a run-stopper, and he may be replaced by sixth-round pick Andrew Jackson.
If Jackson is slow to adjust to the NFL or one of the fullbacks is cut, Sheppard likely is back in 2014. But if not, there's nothing about Sheppard's play in 2013 that screams "must-keep." Of all Colts returning from last year's squad, Sheppard's negative 10.7 grade from Pro Football Focus is easily the lowest.