The Indianapolis Colts suffered a lot of adversity in 2010, as they had to put 18 players on injured reserve last season. It wasn't just the quantity of players who were injured, it was the quality of the players who missed time. It's hard to have a successful season when you are missing guys like Dallas Clark, Bob Sanders and Austin Collie for long periods of time.
Peyton Manning is still going strong, and he is the main reason that the Colts made the playoffs in 2010, despite missing so many players. He hasn't shown many signs of slowing down, but he most likely won't be playing for too much longer so the Colts will look to find a long term replacement for him in the next few seasons. The running game should be better in 2011, as long as both Donald Brown and Joseph Addai can stay healthy. The combination of the two gives the Colts a nice tandem at running back that adds another dimension to the Colts offense.
The wide receiver group was hit hard by injuries too, as Anthony Gonzalez and Collie missed a big chunk of the season. If they can stay healthy, the give the Colts one of the best groups of receivers in the league, along with Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon. Clark is one of the best tight ends in the game, but Jacob Tamme showed he's no slouch either. The combination of the two make the passing game just that much more dangerous.
The offensive line is a big trouble area that needs multiple upgrades. Jeff Saturday will be back at center, but every other offensive line position could be upgraded.
Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney both were pro bowlers last season at defensive end, and they give the Colts one of the best pass rushing duos in all of football. Jerry Hughes struggled as a rookie, but he's got a lot of pass rushing talent. The group at defensive tackle is not as impressive as the end position, and it's a position that could be upgraded. Fili Moala and Dan Muir will both probably be back, but the question is whether or not the Colts bring in some competition for them.
Clint Session and Gary Brackett are solid veteran linebackers who will be starters again in 2011. The Colts have some young talent at this position though, as 2010 rookies Kavell Conner and Pat Angerer played well last season and will probably compete for the other starting linebacker spot. The secondary suffered a lot of injuries last season, and they have some questions moving forward into 2011. Jerraud Powers, Kelvin Hayden and Jacob Lacey have talent and give the Colts decent depth but the question is whether or not they can stay healthy. Antoine Bethea is a pro bowl caliber player at free safety, and Melvin Bullitt will start at the strong safety position after Bob Sanders was released.
1. (31) DE Jerry Hughes, TCU: Hughes really struggled as a rookie, but he should be able to contribute more in 2011. 12 GP/ 0 GS
2. (63) ILB Pat Angerer, Iowa: He was a big contributor as a rookie, and he contributed at multiple linebacker positions. 16 GP/ 11 GS
3. (94) CB Kevin Thomas, USC: He injured his knee in training camp, but the Colts have high hopes for him in 2011. 0 GP/ 0 GS
4. (129) OG Jacques McClendon, Tennessee: He didn't get many chances, despite poor play by the other guards. 4 GP/ 0 GS
5. (162) TE Brody Eldridge, Oklahoma: Eldridge has some potential, but he may see less opportunities this year with Clark returning. 14 GP/ 6 GS
7. (238) DT Ricardo Matthews, Cincinnati: He became part of the rotation towards the end of last season. 8 GP/ 0 GS
7. (240) OLB Kavell Conner, Clemson: He filled in nicely for Clint Session, and will battle for the starting spot this season. 12 GP/ 9 GS
7. (246) CB Ray Fisher, Indiana: He didn't look good in training camp and he didn't make the roster. 0 GP/ 0 GS
Summary: This draft class wasn't overly impressive last year, but they did get good contributions at linebacker from both Angerer and Conner. The struggles of Hughes is what lowers the grade for this draft class. I think that he'll get better with time, but he looked mostly lost last season.
Daniel Muir and Fili Moala are adequate starters at defensive tackle, but the Colts are lacking that big body up front. They really struggled against the run last season due to that lack of a big body, as neither Moala or Muir have the size to occupy blockers up front. The best plan for the Colts, in my opinion, would be to draft a space eater to start up front at nose tackle, while Moala and Muir rotate at the other tackle position.
It'll be interesting to see how early the Colts address this need in the draft. I see it as a more pressing need, but some people don't even consider an immediate need. I expect to see a nose tackle taken by the Colts by the time day two of the draft is over.
Round 1: Phil Taylor, Stephen Paea, Corey Liuget
Round 2: Marvin Austin, Jurrell Casey
Round 3: Jarvis Jenkins, Kenrick Ellis
Round 4: Sione Fua, Terrell McClain
The Colts will most likely have some intriguing options in round one if they look at a defensive tackle. Yet I think they'll wait until Round 2 or Round 3 to select someone like Austin or Jenkins, as they have some more pressing needs to address in Round 1.
The offensive tackle position is in flux, after both Charlie Johnson and Ryan Diem struggled in 2010. The left tackle position is a more immediate need, as Charlie Johnson is also a free agent. The Colts will need to address this issue, because as Peyton Manning gets older, his body will become more fragile which means the Colts need to provide him with some better protection.
I would really be surprised if the Colts didn't take an offensive tackle in either Round 1 or 2, as the need an upgrade at both offensive tackle positions. They could go the free agent route, as they may have a win now mentality due to Manning's age. Yet they also need to think long term, so look for them to take at least one tackle in this draft.
Round 1: Nate Solder, Anthony Castonzo, Gabe Carimi, Derek Sherrod
Round 2: Marcus Cannon, Ben Ijalana, James Brewer
Round 3: James Carpenter, Orlando Franklin, Marcus Gilbert
Round 4: Lee Ziemba, Joe Barksdale, DeMarcus Love, Jason Pinkston
The most likely position that I think the Colts will target in Round 1 is offensive tackle, so guys like Castonzo and Solder will be strongly considered if they are still available. I think that both of those guys could come right in and start right at either the left or right tackle position. I also think that they should look at Love or Barksdale in Round 4 or 5 as long term replacements for Ryan Diem.
This unit has a lot of talent heading into next season, but they also have some concerns. Reggie Wayne will be 33 during the season and his production may start to slow down. Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez have some injury concerns, and Pierre Garcon is hot and cold. Blair White gives the team depth, but the unit was really hurting last season with both Gonzalez and Collie injured.
This isn't a position that will be addressed early on in the draft, but it's something the team should consider in the mid to late rounds. The Colts need somebody who can help pick up the production if the Colts have some injury issues yet again in 2011.
Round 3: Dwayne Harris, Randall Cobb, Austin Pettis, Vincent Brown
Round 4: Niles Paul, Cecil Shorts, Greg Salas
Round 5: Ronald Johnson, Ryan Whalen, Terrence Tolliver
Round 6: DeAndre Brown, Armon Binns, Dane Sanzenbacher, Jeff Maehl
I love the potential of this year's crop of wide receivers, especially in the middle rounds. I think that guys like Salas, Paul and Brown will be able to make immediate impacts in the NFL, despite the fact that they won't be first or second round draft picks.
This is yet another position that suffered injury problems in 2010, but the talent level wasn't the same even when guys were healthy. Kelvin Hayden and Jacob Lacey have struggled at times in recent years, and it's entirely possible that they are upgraded. The one thing that the Colts are lacking is a shut down cornerback, which is a position that they could look to improve early on in the NFL draft.
The depth is actually fairly solid at this position, but as I said before, the Colts don't have a top cornerback who can consistently shut down opposing team's top pass catchers. Getting 2010 rookie Kevin Thomas back will only help improve this depth, but he still won't give them a top notch cornerback.
Round 1: Brandon Harris, Aaron Williams, Jimmy Smith
Round 2: Curtis Brown, Ras-I Dowling, Brandon Burton
Round 3: Jalil Brown, Davon House, Rashad Carmichael
I think that if the Colts want to get a top cornerback, guys like Smith and Harris have the potential to be the playmaker that their defense is lacking. Due to the fact that the depth is solid on this team, I don't expect the Colts to strongly consider a cornerback after Round 2 or 3 because the odds of finding a shutdown cornerback after then aren't very good.
The Colts could look to upgrade both offensive guard positions in this year's draft, as all of the guards were inconsistent last season. Mike Pollak has been a bust for the Colts, and Kyle DeVan and Jamey Richard haven't been much better. The Colts need to provide Manning with better protection, so this is a position that I expect the Colts to draft at some point.
The offensive line has been the main weak spot on the Colts offense, so I expect them to seriously address it in this year's draft. They should be able to find one or two guards in this draft who can challenge or take over for the current group of offensive guards, who haven't performed as expected.
Round 1: Mike Pouncey, Danny Watkins
Round 2: Clint Boling, Rodney Hudson, Marcus Cannon
Round 3: Will Rackley, John Moffitt
Round 5: Zach Hurd, David Arkin
I could see the Colts drafting two guards in this year's draft to try and upgrade both of the guard positions. Someone like Marcus Cannon could be an interesting option for the Colts, as he has the potential to fill the need at either offensive guard or tackle.
Center: Jeff Saturday will be 36 by the start of the 2011 season, so the Colts should look to find a long term replacement for him later on in this year's draft.
Linebacker: The starting spots are solid, but the depth is somewhat of an issue. Look for the Colts to consider a linebacker later on in the draft.
Quarterback: It may be a bit early to find Manning's successor, but it's something the Colts will have to address sometime in the near future.
The Colts have the talent to contend for another Super Bowl title in 2011, but the question is if they can stay healthy over the course of a season. I don't expect to see 18 players on injured reserve again, so the Colts should be right in the thick of things. However, they do have some issues that need to be addressed for them to become a more complete football team.
The main problem for this team is on the offensive line, where they have been plagued by inconsistent play over the past few seasons. I think that you will see multiple offensive linemen taken in this draft because if the Colts want to make a run at a title now, they have to get some better players up front to block. With all of that said, look for the Colts to bounce back from a down season last year to yet again contend for the Lombardi trophy.