Updated 53-Man Roster Projections for the Colts After Week 3 of the Preseason
With just one preseason game left before the final cuts have to be made, the Indianapolis Colts are beginning to look more and more like the final product that will take the field in Denver on September 7.
The Colts recently made the moves necessary to move down to 75 players, moving four to the injured reserve and Physically Unable to Perform lists and waiving 11 players. With more moves to come, the Colts will get down to 53 active players next week.
Plenty of factors play into these decisions, but it's important to remember the different injury situations at each position, as well as the mix of veterans and young, dynamic talent. After preseason and training camp, here are our predictions for the final roster in Indianapolis after cuts next week.
Starter: Andrew Luck
The Vet: Matt Hasselbeck
Nothing changes here from last season. Luck is the future, Hasselbeck the insurance. Luck is projected to take a step forward this season with upgrades in targets, and Hasselbeck has played well in the preseason with the second team.
The Last Cut: Chandler Harnish
Chuck Pagano has talked up Harnish recently, per Conrad Brunner of 1070 The Fan, but he's still not at Hasselbeck's level, and there's not room for three quarterbacks on this roster.
Depth: Dan Herron, Zurlon Tipton
There may be questions about Richardson and his effectiveness on the field, but there are no questions about his role as the starting back, at least not to start the season. Bradshaw will be mixed in as well, especially on passing downs, as long as he's healthy.
But it's Herron and Tipton that have played the best in the preseason, especially Herron. Herron is the one back on the roster that can break a long run at any time, and Tipton is a big, powerful back with quality vision.
The Last Cut: Mario Harvey
Pep Hamilton and Chuck Pagano love their fullbacks, but it's hard to project Harvey making the final roster based on his play in the preseason. With Stanley Havili on the PUP, the Colts can use Dwayne Allen as a temporary fullback in heavy sets while Havili recovers.
Starters: Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener
Depth: Jack Doyle
The two 2012 draft-mates, Allen and Fleener, are once again the starting tight ends and should play a bigger part in the offense in 2014. Doyle came on strong as a run-blocker last season, and he is versatile enough to catch a ball here and there.
The Last Guy Cut: Weslye Saunders
The difference between Saunders and Doyle is slight. Saunders has more potential as a weapon in the passing game, but Doyle is a better blocker. But with Saunders' history of multiple PED violations and suspensions, Doyle gets the edge.
Starters: T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks
Depth: Donte Moncrief, Griff Whalen, Da'Rick Rogers
The incumbent starters (Hilton and Wayne) gain a new face in former Giant Hakeem Nicks in 2014, who should be a notable upgrade from Darrius Heyward-Bey in 2013 and Donnie Avery in 2012 as a third option. Hilton looks to continue where he left off in 2013, which was, of course, the best postseason receiving performance in franchise history. Meanwhile, Wayne is attempting to bounce back from an ACL tear that cut his 2013 season in half.
The depth is a trio of young, talented receivers, all with their respective strengths. Moncrief, who was drafted in the third round of the 2014 draft, is a big, fast receiver with limitless potential. Rogers is in a similar mold, although not as polished, while Whalen is an instinctive possession receiver with distinct timing with Andrew Luck.
The Last Cut: Josh Lenz, or Rogers/Whalen
The next receiver after Rogers is second-year pro Josh Lenz, but he is significantly behind Rogers and Whalen. There is a possibility, however, that one of the Rogers/Whalen duo is cut so the team can keep just five receivers. I've been a proponent of keeping both, due to their distinct roles, but nobody in Indianapolis would be surprised if the team cut one. With Whalen getting first-team snaps over the last two weeks, it would seem that he has the edge over Rogers in that case.
Starters: Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, Khaled Holmes, Hugh Thornton, Gosder Cherilus
Depth: Joe Reitz, Lance Louis, Jonotthan Harrison, Josh Walker, Xavier Nixon
Andrew Luck hasn't had a consistent offensive line in front of him since he was drafted but can 2014 be the year that things finally come together? At the very least, the starting line has potential, with Castonzo and Cherilus providing consistency on the edges while the young guns in the middle are all strong, athletic players who could become solid players.
The depth, however, is lacking. Only Reitz and Nixon played at all last season, both around 150 snaps for Indianapolis. Harrison and Nixon are both undrafted free agents, while Louis missed all of 2013 with a knee injury.
The Last Man Cut: Josh Walker?
Teams don't always keep 10 offensive linemen, some preferring just nine with a couple of versatile players that can fill in at different positions. But the Colts have some key injury history that could force them to keep 10, at least to start the season. Holmes, Reitz and Louis all have significant injury history, and Mewhort and Nixon have been injured this preseason.
Walker has been a pleasant surprise at times this preseason, but he's still a notch below the other nine on this list. If the Colts want to keep a fullback or a fourth tight end, he's likely the first offensive player cut.
Starters: Cory Redding, Josh Chapman, Arthur Jones
Depth: Ricky Jean Francois, Montori Hughes, Zach Kerr
While Ryan Grigson has had his critics over the last two seasons, he's done an admirable job of filling the interior defensive line with more talent than Indianapolis has seen in years. The starting lineup of Redding, Chapman and Jones should be consistent, with Chapman having legitimate star potential between the two veterans.
The depth is impressive as well. Jean Francois is one of the better depth linemen in the league, although he disappointed as a starter. Hughes and Kerr are both flexible, able to play nose tackle or 3-tech defensive tackle and have played well in the preseason.
The Last Guy Cut: Brandon McKinney
The veteran nose tackle still has some value, but the youth and upside of Hughes and Kerr make him an unnecessary luxury for the Colts.
Starters: D'Qwell Jackson, Jerrell Freeman
Depth: Kelvin Sheppard, Josh McNary, Henoc Muamba
The addition of Jackson was an expensive one but a notable upgrade from the last two seasons in Indianapolis. Both Freeman and Jackson can play all three downs, as well as rush the passer, giving the Colts flexibility in their defensive sets.
Sheppard was a mess last season, but he has looked much improved in run defense in the preseason. Injuries have kept McNary sidelined this month, but he looked very good to end last year, with the ability to pass rush with the best of the Colts. Henoc Muamba has been healthy and taken advantage of his opportunities, being named to Pro Football Focus' "All Preseason Team" for depth players.
The Last Guy Cut: Andrew Jackson
While he may be put on the injured reserve list or the PUP, the fact is that it would be a surprise for Jackson to be active in Week 1 at this point. The 2014 sixth-round pick has potential as a thumper in the run game, but he didn't impress in training camp and has not played at all in the preseason due to injury.
Starters: Bjoern Werner, Erik Walden
Depth: Cam Johnson, Jonathan Newsome
The starting duo of Werner and Walden will attempt to hold down the fort while Robert Mathis is suspended for the first four games of the season. While Walden could have improved in the offseason, it will really be up to Werner to pick up the pass-rushing slack with Mathis out.
Both Johnson and Newsome are edge pass-rushers with upside but little history to depend on. If they can develop quickly and contribute, the Colts will be much better off. The pass rush was lacking against the New Orleans Saints in Week 3 of the preseason and more edge rush will be key for the defense to start the season.
The Last Man Cut: Andy Studebaker
Studebaker is a versatile linebacker that can play both inside and outside, but his preseason play has not made him indispensable. Keeping him would be a depth move only and with injury questions at both inside linebacker and secondary, the roster spot would be better used there.
Starters: Vontae Davis, Greg Toler, Darius Butler
Depth: Josh Gordy, Loucheiz Purifoy
While Davis and Toler are the base starters, the Colts' extensive use of nickel will give Butler his time on the field as well. The starting cornerbacks have been very impressive in the preseason and have a high ceiling. If they can stay healthy, they could be a strength of the defense.
Gordy is an underrated depth player who can hold his own on the outside in a pinch. He played well last season when called upon, and he allowed Butler to go to his more natural position in the slot. Purifoy is a high-ceiling, athletic corner, the type the Colts coaches love. He impressed right away in both camp and the preseason, and he also can contribute as a returner.
The Last Man Cut: Marcus Burley
While Burley has been just as impressive, if not more than Purifoy, Burley wasn't as highly regarded in college and may be easier to sneak through waivers. But make no mistake, Burley has been a surprise in the preseason, and his selection over Purifoy would surprise no one.
Starters: LaRon Landry, Mike Adams
Depth: Sergio Brown, Colt Anderson, Dewey McDonald
The quest to find a starting safety seems to have stopped at Adams, a veteran with 10 years of NFL experience. With Delano Howell sidelined with neck issues, Adams has taken advantage. Alongside him is Landry, who has looked much better this preseason than he did in 2013. The Colts will need him to continue his bounce back once the games actually count.
Four safeties is generally the norm for Indianapolis, however, with Brown and Anderson being key special teams players and McDonald blowing up all preseason, it was difficult to pick one to cut. The team could try to stash McDonald on the practice squad, especially if the coaches want to keep six cornerbacks.
The Last Guy Cut: Delano Howell
My assumption here is not that Howell is cut, but that he is put on the PUP or injured reserve list. Howell's issues with his neck keep popping up, and it's very concerning. While Mike Wells of ESPN.com has reported that the injury is not career-ending, the Colts will be very cautious with it.
Punter: Pat McAfee
Kicker: Adam Vinatieri
Long Snapper: Matt Overton
No surprises here, especially since the trading of Cody Parkey left no other options for the specialists. Options aren't necessary when you have a trio like this, fortunately. Vinatieri is always dependable, and McAfee has been punting as well as ever during the preseason. He was the only Colts starter named on Pro Football Focus' "Team of the Preseason."