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Colts Ranked 21st in ESPN’s “Futures” Power Rankings

As you may have heard by now, the worldwide leader recently came out with its 2014 NFL Future Power Rankings, which is an annual ranking of how each NFL team ranks in it’s projection over the next three seasons.

The methodology was simple: Have the panel of NFL experts (John Clayton, Mel Kiper, Louis Riddick and Mike Sando) rate the teams in five weighted categories and then use those rankings to create team scores (out of 100). This year’s graders seem to have been a bit harsher than in previous years–the Bengals ranked 13th in this year’s poll with a score of 76.91, which would have put them 5th last year–so it’ll be a little bit difficult to compare scores across years, but we can do a comparison of rankings fairly easily.

These kinds of things always have some surprises and controversy, but I was surprised when scrolling through at just how low the ESPN panel put the Colts. After being tied for eighth in last year’s rankings, the Colts dropped all the way down to 20th in this year’s rankings:

The overview: A great QB can cover a lot of weaknesses in an organization. Our rankings suggest Andrew Luck will have to do just that in Indianapolis. Luck’s presence on the roster equated to a No. 2 ranking at QB, but the Colts averaged a No. 27 ranking across the other categories. The 25-spot gap between those figures was by far the largest in the NFL and well ahead of the 17-spot gap between Dallas’ No. 13 QB ranking and No. 30 average across the other categories. At least the Colts know they can win with their QB, regardless of whether they have a strong defense or running game. That is a rare luxury in the NFL. Indy’s No. 32 ranking in the draft would seem to have its roots in the team’s widely panned decision to send its 2014 first-round pick to Cleveland for running back Trent Richardson. Overall, the Colts dropped 12 spots in the future rankings since a year ago. That tied with Houston for the largest drop. –Mike Sando

The Colts dropped from 13th to 32nd in the draft portion of the grades, from 10th to 27th in front office scores.

I have two main issues with the grades, which I’ve generally found to be pretty fair since their inception in 2011.

First, the Colts aren’t going to be the 20th-best team over the next three years, because Andrew Luck. This system places just a 20 percent weight on quarterback, while weighting the roster 30 percent, coaching 20 percent and draft and front office 15 percent each. It’s a slight tweak from previous years, where quarterbacks were weighted 17.5 percent and roster was 32.5 percent, but it’s not enough in my opinion.

Quarterback is the single most important factor in having a winning team. Teams with bad quarterbacks don’t win, and teams with elite quarterbacks rarely have bad seasons. That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions, but to me, it’s worth more weight than an even 1/5th of this  score. Luck was ranked as the second-best quarterback in the league for “future” purposes, and no team with him on its roster is going to be 20th in the league over three years.

Second, while I’ve been critical of Ryan Grigson, the drastic swing in the draft section of the grades is perplexing. By all accounts, the Colts’ 2012 draft was still a good draft, especially if you include Luck in the draft (which for these purposes you should). The 2013 draft didn’t look good at the time, and it still doesn’t right now, but it’s been just a year. I don’t know if the panel took the 2014 draft into account or not, but regardless, we haven’t seen those players play yet.

So, really, you’re basing a 19-spot drop on seven players’ rookie season. I understand that while it’s far too early to judge the players, you have to make an attempt, but dropping that far based on that limited information doesn’t sit well with me at all.

In the end, these kind of rankings don’t matter. It’s something to talk about in the offseason, it doesn’t affect what happens on the field.

The Trent Richardson Decision looms large when analyzing Grigson.

The Trent Richardson Decision looms large when analyzing Grigson.

But, it’s interesting to me just how much the perception of Ryan Grigson and the Colts’ front office has changed over the last year and a half. With a few perplexing free agency periods, drafts that haven’t yet panned out and one big, failed Trent Richardson trade, the national media has really soured on Grigson.

Outside of Luck, the Colts’ roster is universally recognized as poor (Evan Silva recently ranked them 11th, but noted that without Luck they’d be down in the 20s. Personally, I’d rank them about 25th if we took quarterbacks out of the equation.). Put it this way, if you put Luck on any other roster in the AFC South, which is unanimously the worst division in the league, doesn’t that team win the division and quite possibly win a home playoff game? Anyway, back to Grigson.

After one year, Grigson was hailed a genius. After another year (and two offseason periods), Grigson has been uniformly criticized, despite making the playoffs again and winning a playoff game. In a culture that puts so much emphasis on winning and results, it sticks out as a rare occurrence where a GM is judged more on the process than the results.

If you’ve read me consistently, you know that I have significant concerns about Grigson. At the same time, when looking at the entire franchise, including Luck, any “Futures” ranking outside of the top 10 doesn’t sit well with me.

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.

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