Projected Indianapolis Colts' 53-Man Roster, Pre-Training Camp Edition
Football is almost upon us.
The Indianapolis Colts report to training camp in less than a week, on July 23. Holding camp at Anderson, Indiana, the Colts' training camp will be held through Aug. 13.
Finally, we will have on-field results to analyze and discuss.
Just like any team, the Colts have to cut down from 90 men to 53 for the opening week of the regular season, and training camp is one of the biggest factors in those cuts. As the season approaches, predictions of who makes that final group of 53 will increase.
We've done this once before, so with no further ado, here are my pre-camp predictions for the Colts' 53-man roster.
Starter(s): Andrew Luck
Reserve(s): Matt Hasselbeck
No explanation is necessary here. Andrew Luck is the present and future for the Colts, and for the league.
Since there's no explanation, here's a fun fact: Luck and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady are the only two quarterbacks to finish in the top five in Win Probability Added in both 2012 and 2013, via Advanced NFL Analytics.
Matt Hasselbeck is making too much for a backup quarterback ($3.75 million), but there's nothing to be done about it at this point.
Starter(s): Trent Richardson
Reserve(s): Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, Chris Rainey
I wrote about the battle for a starting spot earlier this week:
For the starting spot, it's difficult to anticipate how effectively Bradshaw and Ballard will bounce back from season-ending injuries. Bradshaw has faced injuries for much of his career and has recovered quickly in the past, but never one quite this serious. Ballard, on the other hand, is coming off of an ACL tear, which makes it near impossible to gauge how his explosiveness and lateral agility will shine in 2014.
With that in mind, we look at Richardson. The front office is invested in him, having traded a first-round pick in him last year. Richardson will reportedly get his chance in 2014, despite a historically bad year in 2013, according to Mike Wells of ESPN.com. He may have a short leash, but the team wants, perhaps even needs, him to succeed.
The battle to make the final roster, however, comes down to three backs fighting for that fourth and final spot. Special teams will likely play a large part in the decision, which likely favors Chris Rainey. While Dan Herron has some return experience, it's very limited while Rainey has over 50 returns in two years.
If it was just pure running ability, I'd be in favor of keeping Zurlon Tipton, a rookie out of Central Michigan University. But, Tipton can sit on the practice squad if he impresses; special teams is too critical for the bottom-of-the-roster players to ignore the difference here.
Starter(s): Stanley Havili
While the Colts have been using former linebacker Mario Harvey as a fullback during the offseason, it's going to take a very impressive offseason for him to leapfrog the incumbent, Stanley Havili.
Sure, Harvey is a better lead blocker than Havili, but in Pep Hamilton's offense, the fullback position isn't just about blocking. Hamilton wants versatility in his offense, and the ability to run any kind of play from any formation to catch defenses off-guard. Havili's flexibility to pass protect, run routes and be a pseudo-weapon in the passing game gives him a distinct advantage there.
Starter(s): Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener
Reserve(s): Jack Doyle
The starters need no introduction: Allen and Fleener were picked adjacently in the 2012 draft to be the Colts' two-headed monster at tight end, and they'll continue to be that in 2014. There is some concern over how well Allen will perform in the wake of a season-ending hip injury last season, but if he's completely healthy and Fleener continues to progress, they could be one of the better tight end duos in the league.
The third, and likely final, tight end spot is up for grabs, with Jack Doyle and Weslye Saunders competing. Saunders will be hampered by his history: He's been suspended twice for PED use and another violation will result in a one-year ban.
Even after Saunders returned from suspension last year, Doyle continued to get more playing time. Saunders is the better receiver, but Doyle played twice as many snaps (23 to Saunders' 10) in the playoffs, despite the Colts trailing for the majority.
Starter(s): Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton
Reserve(s): Hakeem Nicks, Donte Moncrief, Da'Rick Rogers, Griff Whalen
The top three receivers going into the season will be Wayne, Hilton and Nicks, barring injury. The three have the most experience on the roster and all three have had high levels of success throughout their careers. It's a strong, diverse group, one of the most evenly-weighted groups in the league.
But there is also depth behind them. Moncrief was drafted in the third round this season to be a dynamic, long-term addition to the team. Rogers has route running and effort issues at times, but he has the size and speed to be a threat at any time. Whalen is a hard-working, dependable possession receiver, but he isn't a big-play threat. Still, he has very good chemistry with Luck and seems to consistently produce in key moments.
Still, Rogers and Whalen are not guaranteed to make the roster. There are two scenarios where one of the two would be cut. First, the Colts could choose to keep just five receivers. This is not uncommon among NFL teams, but with the Colts' depth, it would be a crime to, for example, cut a receiver to make room for a second fullback. Second, one of the undrafted free-agent receivers, like Tony Washington, could make the team, likely on the back of their special teams ability.
While those possibilities do exist, my money is on Whalen and Rogers.
Starter(s): Anthony Castonzo, Donald Thomas, Khaled Holmes, Hugh Thornton, Gosder Cherilus
Reserve(s): Xavier Nixon, Jack Mewhort, Joe Reitz, Lance Louis
The starting lineup will depend completely upon the health of Donald Thomas. If he is fully recovered, this should be the lineup we see, unless Mewhort, the Colts' second-round pick in 2014, beats out Thornton.
The depth is no certainty, either, but the rest of the Colts' linemen are undrafted free agents. Louis, Nixon and Reitz all have significant NFL experience and can play both inside and outside, making this an easy decision.
Could one of the free agents excel in training camp? Absolutely. My best bet would be Jonotthan Harrison, a center formerly of Florida. But unseating Holmes in the starting lineup would take a miracle, and keeping a backup center on the roster when the Colts have three players who can snap the ball (Holmes, Thomas and Mewhort) wouldn't be prudent.
Starter(s): Cory Redding, Josh Chapman, Arthur Jones
Reserve(s): Ricky Jean Francois, Jeris Pendleton, Montori Hughes, Brandon McKinney
These seven players are all of the defensive linemen the Colts have on their roster that are not undrafted free agents. I expect all of them to make the roster, with only UDFA Zach Kerr possessing real potential to unseat one of the veterans (likely Brandon McKinney).
The Colts' main rotation of Redding, Chapman, Jones and Jean Francois is a talented one, especially if Chapman improves during his second active year in the league. It's a unit that is built on it's run-stuffing capacity, but the addition of Jones should improve the pass-rushing threat as well.
This is the unit that head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson wanted to build around, and now they have all the pieces they desired. It should be the year that we see results.
ILB Starter(s): Jerrell Freeman, D'Qwell Jackson
Reserve(s): Josh McNary, Andrew Jackson, Henoc Muamba
The Colts added D'Qwell Jackson to the roster in free agency to start alongside upstart Jerrell Freeman. While I've been cautious of Jackson, who is aging and overpaid, he's clearly an upgrade over a hobbled Pat Angerer and a disappointing Kelvin Sheppard.
In fact, Sheppard may not even make the team this season, at least, not if former CFL linebacker Henoc Muamba plays well. Muamba was signed to a three-year contract by Indianapolis, with $107,000 guaranteed. That's extremely uncommon for a guy with no NFL experience coming out of Canada. The Colts clearly think he can play, and they may not want to risk losing him to a waiver claim.
Sheppard continued to get snaps through the end of last year, despite his struggles, but sixth-round draft pick Andrew Jackson and Muamba have legitimate chances to beat him out. Fans should be hoping that they do, if only to provide a higher level of talent to the linebacking corp.
OLB Starter(s): Erik Walden, Bjoern Werner
Reserve(s): Jonathan Newsome, Cam Johnson, Robert Mathis*
With Mathis suspended for the first four games of the season, I have Cam Johnson making the team in his place. But taking his place on the field is second-year player Bjoern Werner, who struggled last season.
Werner was taken in the first round last season in order to eventually replace Mathis as the primary pass-rusher on the team, and 2014 is his chance to live up to some of those expectations.
The Colts' fifth-round selection from Ball State, Newsome could be a dark horse to give the Colts a pass-rushing boost. It's difficult to predict such a thing, as rookie pass-rushers drafted that late rarely produce during their rookie year, but stranger things have happened.
Starter(s): Vontae Davis, Greg Toler
Reserve(s): Darius Butler, Josh Gordy, Qua Cox
The Colts return nearly their entire cornerback squad from 2013 this season, with depth CB Cassius Vaughn the only rotational player missing, having signed a contract with the Detroit Lions this offseason.
Part of the reason the Colts allowed Vaughn to sign elsewhere was the play of Josh Gordy. Gordy stepped up to the plate late in the season, joining Davis as the Colts' only defensive back to finish with a positive Pro Football Focus grade in 2013 (min. 30 snaps). Gordy also allowed a passer rating of just 68.3, by far the best on the team.
For the main rotation, Davis, Toler and Butler return. Davis had a very strong year last year, his best in his short career, earning him a four-year $39 million contract. If he can continue to provide that level of play, he'll be well worth it. Butler is a decent slot corner, but if he has to move outside because of injury, he will be taken advantage of. Toler is the real wild card, having missed much of last season due to injury.
Then there is the final spot, up for grabs among several undrafted free agents and career special teams players. I have Qua Cox, UDFA out of Jackson State, filling that role, but it will be one of the more interesting battles to follow throughout training camp.
Starter(s): LaRon Landry, Mike Adams
Reserve(s): Delano Howell, Sergio Brown
The safety position is going to be an experiment in 2014.
Not only is LaRon Landry, easily the most disappointing member of the 2013 secondary, returning, but long-time stalwart Antoine Bethea has departed, leaving a massive void in his absence.
Delano Howell, last year's unknown to step up to the plate in free agency, may have a shot at taking his place but so will Mike Adams, who the Colts signed in June. Now, normally I wouldn't predict a June signee to start in September, but Adams has started 39 games over the last three seasons, including seven for the Denver Broncos last year.
Rounding out the group is Sergio Brown, who is too important on special teams to let go. He can play safety in a pinch, but his real value is on special teams.
Starter(s): P Pat McAfee, K Adam Vinatieri, LS Matt Overton
Again, no explanation needed.
It's the most consistent unit on the team and all signed to reasonable contracts.