Indianapolis Colts: 5 Players Who Should See Their Roles Expand in 2014
With the least amount of draft picks in the league in 2014, the Indianapolis Colts will be looking for some of last season's fringe contributors to step up. Fortunately, the upside to having some minor injuries throughout the season allowed for some lesser-known players to get some time on the field.
But, these players still don't have much on their NFL resume, and they were bits and pieces players at best for Indianapolis last season.
Who can we count on to take on bigger and better roles in 2014? Here are five players whose development is critical for the Colts' championship hopes next season.
S Delano Howell
Almost by default, Howell figures to be a more important player for Indianapolis next season. The third-year safety played in just four games last season, although he started all four as the Colts' free safety in place of an injured LaRon Landry.
In 2014, Landry (knock on wood, cross fingers, pray) may not be injured, but Howell will still be a key part. He may end up being the starting safety next to Landry, depending on how the Colts choose to replace Antoine Bethea. After going through all of Howell's film from 2013, I think he has some things to fix before he can be a reliable starter, but it's not the worst option.
Even if the Colts do draft a safety early, Howell still figures to get his snaps. Whether it's filling in via injury, coming in for dime packages or contributing on special teams, Howell should be a key contributor for 2014. If he does start effectively, it will take a lot of pressure off of general manager Ryan Grigson.
Key Stat: Howell had the highest run stop percentage of any Colts safety in 2013, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
C Khaled Holmes
The 2013 fourth-round draft pick was a notable disappointment last season, namely because he couldn't get onto the field. Despite Samson Satele being both injured and the fan whipping boy for most of the year—and the rotating door at guard—Holmes never really got a shot at contributing.
But now, Holmes looks to compete with newly signed Phil Costa for the starting center spot. Even if Costa is the starter in September, look for Holmes to contribute as a reserve guard, something that was rare in 2013.
If Holmes pans out as a starter, the Colts' championship hopes will be much more realistic in coming years.
Key Stat: Holmes 91 percent success rate on his blocks was the highest on the team, according to Colts Authority's Ben Gundy. Granted, he only had 11 blocks, but still, it's a positive sign.
LB Josh McNary
A former Army lieutenant, McNary is one of GM Ryan Grigson's "diamonds in the rough" and somebody who should continue to develop into a rotational player in 2014.
McNary didn't play a single snap until the Colts' home win over Tennessee in Week 13, but his playing time quickly rose down the stretch. McNary played 34, 33, 23 and 17 snaps in the Colts' final four games (including the two playoff games), and he finished the season with positive grades in every category from PFF (subscription required).
The only linebacker on the roster with positive grades in each category, McNary functioned as the Colts' nickel linebacker at the end of 2013. He should emerge as the favorite for the third inside linebacker spot, behind Jerrell Freeman and D'Qwell Jackson in 2014.
Key Stat: McNary rushed the passer on over 23 percent of his 110 snaps on passing plays, according to PFF. No other inside linebacker on the team reached over 12 percent.
DL Montori Hughes
A freakishly talented athlete, Hughes was the product of one of many Ryan Grigson draft pick trades, as the Colts gave up their 2014 fourth-round pick to draft Hughes in the fifth round last year.
Hughes played in just four games this season, but he should see more time on the field in 2014 as a rotational nose tackle with Josh Chapman. Hughes can play any position on the Colts' defensive line, but he played mostly nose last season, which also happens to be where the most snaps will be available next season.
Colts Authority's Ben Gundy loved Hughes' combination of mobility and strength, even if he didn't live up to some pre-season hype.
The lofty praise Grigson and Pagano threw at Hughes before the season suggested he would be an immediate playmaker. That didn’t happen, and when he finally got on the field, he was invisible more often than not. But there’s reason for optimism. Hughes is as powerful and quick as advertised, and his effort level and awareness look good.
Key Stat: Hughes had the highest run stop percentage of any of the Colts' nose tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus, but he didn't record a single run stop when lined up as a defensive end.
OLB Bjoern Werner
The Colts' perplexing first-round pick in 2013, Bjoern Werner was a disappointment as a rookie, but he was also known to be a project. If all goes according to plan, he should play a bigger role—with more effectiveness—in 2014.
Nearly half of Werner's pressures in pass rush came while being unblocked in 2013, as pointed out by Steve Palazzolo of PFF. He'll need to be more effective against NFL competition in 2014 to continue to be a part of the team's long-term plans.
Werner was decent against the run, improving as the season moved along, and he dropped back into coverage smoothly when asked to do so. But Werner is a pass-rusher first and foremost, and he won't live up to his draft status until he does that effectively.
Key Stat: Werner lined up at both defensive end positions and both outside linebacker positions almost interchangeably. His linebacker/defensive end splits were about 45/55 percent, while left and right sides were split at 54/46 percent, according to Palazzolo.