The Indianapolis Colts are known for their ability to put together teams that are young and competitive on the field with a chance to win the Super Bowl every year. The team has accomplished this by finding jewels in the draft that other teams simply overlook. As a Colts fan I have nothing but respect and admiration for the front office of the Colts and thank them for the product they consistently put on the field for Colts fans to cheer. It’s time for the next step, and at this point in Peyton Manning’s career it’s now or never for the Indy. Unlike many of the experts out there, I do not believe that Peyton is anywhere close to the end of his career. I do believe that he is at the point where the team can’t just wait for young talent to develop around him.
Starting with the offensive line, Ryan Diem has been rode hard this year for the false starts and his mental mistakes, but I’m one who believes that a lot of his issues were because of having to play through injuries all year long with a lack of depth behind him. The same could be said for left tackle Charlie Johnson. The hope in the franchise should be that Ryan Diem will work with the front office on restructuring his $5.4 million deal that would allow the team to pay him on incentives as opposed to cutting him as cap casualty.
Regardless what happens with Diem, the best answer for the Colts is to not miss out on a chance to get an anchor left tackle early in the draft such as Anthony Castonzo, Boston College, Nate Solder, Colorado, Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin, or Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State. There is also the option of landing a couple solid free agents with both Tyson Clabo of Atlanta and Matt Light being available, Clabo being ideal because of his youth. At guard the best answer without question is to find a way to sign Logan Mankins out of New England. Adding an all pro will allow you to let Jamey Richard and Mike Pollak fight for the starting spot next to Mankins with the loser backing up both the center and guard spots.
Ideal line: LT-Tyson Clabo, LG- Logan Mankins, C- Jeff Saturday, RG- Mike Pollak, and RT- Gabe Carimi.
The backfield could be the most notable change next season with there being two main options to choose from. 1) Keep Joseph Addai and start over in the backfield, or let Addai walk and start over in the backfield. There is going to be a chance that some team like the Saints or Packers jump in the running and snag a guy like Addai to fit into the system they already have in place — the idea of Addai and Ryan Grant in the same backfield is scary. Peyton Manning has openly commented on the value Addai brings to the backfield, and it’s hard to believe that Bill Polian will not keep that in mind. Combining a free agent signing and later draft pick seems to be the best answer here as well.
Whether we lose Addai to free agency or not, the team should make a strong run at DeAngelo Williams out of Carolina. Unlike Colts running backs used to facing defenses focusing on stopping the pass, Williams has put up solid career numbers with no passing game to speak of with the Panthers. His time splitting carries with Jonathan Stewart also shows his willingness to be a team guy. Another free agent option here could be Leon Washington of Seattle who would provide the Colts with as good a return man as there is in the league — not named Hester. There will be plenty of prospects that are projected to fall that could do real damage as well — Noel Devine of West Virginia would fill the same type of role as Leon Washington, and Dion Lewis of Pitt, DeMarco Murray of Oklahoma, and Mike Leshoure of Illinois, may all be available in the lower rounds.
Ideal backfield: Joseph Addai, DeAngelo Williams, Mike Leshoure
Injuries hurt the team most at the receiver/tight end positions. Luckily for the Colts, health is all that is needed for this group to get better. Defensive coordinators are already having nightmares on how they will have to account for both Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme in a double tight set. Austin Collie should be back with Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, and Anthony Gonzalez all being in the mix at receiver. If the club did decide to dip in free agency, Brad Smith of the Jets or James Jones of the Packers would fit in very well. Smith and Jones would both have value on special teams.
Ideal lineup: WR- Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, Brad Smith TE-Dallas Clark, Jacob Tamme.
To finish off the offensive side of the ball, the Colts could take a shot on a player like Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech to sit behind Peyton — and if he doesn’t work out at quarterback we can always use him as another Brad Smith or Antwaan Randle El type. Otherwise, the team is set at QB for the next five to six years. Brady Quinn would also be an interesting player to have sitting behind Peyton and learning how to be a pro.
Ideal: Peyton Manning, Peyton Manning, Peyton Manning.
When it comes to the defense, I’m not on board with analysts who have been calling for the Colts to take a defensive lineman. In the last two drafts they have drafted four already. The defensive end spots are locked up with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The team will also use defensive end Jerry Hughes in a larger role in year two as they did with defensive tackle Fili Moala.
Defensive tackle is an interesting position for the colts. The continued development of Moala is critical for the group. If he can make the next step in year three, the line will be outright scary. Dan Muir and Antonio Johnson are both serviceable but neither looks as if they have a Pro Bowl in their future. It is also an interesting year in free agency for the position, with arguably the best player at DT being available in Haloti Ngata. It is unlikely that he finds his way out of Baltimore though and would probably cost too much. Other options the team should look at are Richard Seymour, Aubrayo Franklin, or Pat Williams.
Seymour would be the ideal player to land if the price is right. He is familiar with the Patriots and would provide even more leadership to the defense. Franklin is a young player that has blossomed in San Fransisco and looks to have a bright future — he has a low center of gravity that gives offensive lineman fits. Williams would be the most realistic signing with his age bringing down his value. He would play a similar role as Anthony McFarland did for the Colts in their super bowl winning year.
Dangerous lineup: LE- Robert Mathis, LT- Fili Moala, RT- Richard Seymour, RE- Dwight Freeney
Linebacker is another position for the Colts where the future looks as bright as it has in a long time. Both Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner showed up and played their hearts out as rookies, both were on pace to rack up more than 100 tackles if they would have started all 16 games. The development also allows the team to let Clint Session walk, freeing up money for the team. Gary Brackett anchors the linebacker corps and provides great leadership to the young group.
Line up: LLB- Pat Angerer, MLB- Gary Brackett, RLB- Kavell Conner
The Colts secondary is another young unit that was devastated by injuries — 9 players from the group ended the season on injured reserve. There is no question that this is the year that the team decides what it is going to do with Bob Sanders. He can either restructure his contract, or walk. We sat and watched his body break down (two bicep tears may indicate the potential of previous steroid use?) for too long now. The city loves him for how he plays, but enough is enough.
Like the receivers, health will be the biggest issue here. There are some interesting options out there that could come into the mix as well. Champ Bailey is aging and would benefit from a change to a contender, and Bernard Pollard could add some much needed Safety dept and provide the kind of run support that we lose in Bob Sanders. Some other interesting signings for the safety spot could be Tom Zbikowski (BAL) or Brodney Pool (NYJ).
Colts special teams are in an unusual spot this year. The choice must be made on whether or not we are going to pay Adam Vinatieri again, or if we are going to head in another direction. Pat McAfee was a solid field goal kicker for West Virginia and could serve as both punter and kicker if needed. If we did decide to let Vinatieri leave there is also the option of Ryan Longwell from Minnesota whose attempts were down this year, but he still only missed once. With one of the worst average starting field positions in football, the team needs to find someone who can return kicks. Part of this issue could be addressed with the free agent signings of Courtney Roby, Darren Sproles, or Leon Washington.