Early Projections for the Indianapolis Colts' Final 53-Man Roster
With rookie minicamp starting last week, the Indianapolis Colts have officially started their 2014 season with a new roster. With free agency and draft additions, the 2014 squad will be noticeably different from the one that lost to the New England Patriots in the divisional round of last year's playoffs.
Several upgrades have been signed, and the team has high hopes to finally break into the rank of Super Bowl contenders this season.
Who can we expect to be on the final roster come September? The current roster has over 90 players listed, while the final roster will include just 53. Who will last all summer and who will be starting when the regular season starts? We look at all those questions in this week's roster projections.
Andrew Luck (starter), Matt Hasselbeck
The Colts drafted Andrew Luck No. 1 overall in 2012 to be the quarterback of the present and future, and that's exactly what he'll be as long as he is healthy. He has the ability to be a legitimate top-10 quarterback and was one of the league's best during the first half of last season. He struggled to carry the load consistently after Reggie Wayne went down, but he should have more help this season.
While it's possible that one of the younger quarterbacks could beat out Hasselbeck in camp, it's certainly unlikely. The 38-year-old veteran is a good voice to help guide Luck and still can play at a passable level for a backup quarterback.
I've discussed in the past my inclination to lean toward Richardson as the starter in Week 1, but if healthy expect a varied mix of Richardson, Bradshaw and Ballard. All three have significant starting experience in Indianapolis, and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's run-heavy offense should lean on the "hot hand" in any given game.
A significant competition for the final running back spot should occur between Dan Herron, Chris Rainey and Zurlon Tipton. Rainey showed the most promise with the Colts last season, but I don't see more than just a depth guy there. Tipton is the one I'll be rooting for during training camp, he has good vision at the line and sneaky-quick acceleration through the hole.
You didn't think Hamilton and Chuck Pagano were going to let their prize fullback get away did you?
Seriously, the Colts used Havili too much in odd situations last season. On 3rd-and-10, for example, Havili shouldn't even be an option to get onto the field. There is value in using a fullback, but he shouldn't be getting in the way of a playmaker like T.Y. Hilton getting onto the field.
Reggie Wayne (starter), Hakeem Nicks (starter), T.Y. Hilton, Da'Rick Rogers, Donte Moncrief, Griff Whalen
Similarly to running back, the top three wide receivers (Wayne, Nicks and Hilton) should receive the lion's share of the snaps next season, if healthy. I list Wayne and Nicks as the starters here because they'll likely be in the base offense as bigger receivers with better blocking ability. However, Hilton, by the end of the year, will most likely be on the field for more snaps than the other two.
Moncrief, this year's third-round draft choice, is a lock to make the final roster, and based on upside Rogers likely will too. The final spot, if the Colts choose to keep six receivers, will come down to LaVon Brazill and Griff Whalen. Sure, one of the undrafted free agents could earn their way on to the team, but Brazill and Whalen have the inside edge.
While Brazill has a higher ceiling, Whalen's role as a more traditional slot receiver may give him the edge come September.
Dwayne Allen (starter), Coby Fleener (starter), Jack Doyle
Allen returns to the fold after missing 15 games last season, while Fleener looks to take a more versatile role in the Colts' offense. When healthy, the pair is one of the better tight end tandems in the league.
The third tight end spot should come down to Doyle and Weslye Saunders. Saunders was cut after receiving a suspension from the league for using performance-enhancing drugs last season, an issue that has plagued him throughout his career. The Colts did sign him midway through the season to fill in, but Doyle has the edge over him for the spot to start 2014.
Anthony Castonzo, Donald Thomas, Khaled Holmes, Hugh Thornton, Gosder Cherilus (starters)
Jack Mewhort, Joe Reitz, Xavier Nixon, Jonotthan Harrison
While Mewhort could certainly challenge Thornton for the starting right guard position, if everybody is healthy the rest of the line should be set. When it comes to Mewhort and Thornton, I still think Thornton's year of experience will give him the edge for 2014. Mewhort will get his snaps, but they may not come in the starting lineup on Week 1.
Nixon and Reitz both contributed to the Colts last season at critical times, and should make the final roster. Lance Louis is a tough cut, but with Mewhort's drafting and Nixon's ability to slide inside, Louis is a luxury. The Colts would likely rather have a true backup center in Harrison than yet another backup guard.
Cory Redding (starter), Arthur Jones (starter), Ricky Jean Francois (starter), Josh Chapman, Zach Kerr, Fili Moala, Montori Hughes
I don't know exactly who the Colts' three defensive linemen on the field will be come opening week against the Denver Broncos, but the team's starters, by any practical sense of the word, are set. Redding, Jean Francois and Jones all got paid very well to come to Indianapolis, and it wasn't just to be a rotational player.
The Colts do have Chapman and Kerr at nose tackle for more traditional base sets, but they won't reach near the snap count as the aforementioned three.
Moala and Hughes make for a nice little group of depth players, but there's no room for Jeris Pendleton, unless a different position carries fewer players than I have on these particular projections.
Outside Linebacker: Robert Mathis (starter), Erik Walden (starter), Bjoern Werner, Jonathan Newsome, Daniel Adongo
Werner will likely fill in for Mathis while he is suspended for the first four weeks of the season, and we will likely see a player like Andy Studebaker take Mathis' roster spot for those weeks. Adongo may be a long shot to make the roster after not playing much last season, but local beat writers are excited about him, noting his increased muscle mass.
Adongo and Newsome's development as pass-rushers will be key both in 2014 and beyond if Werner doesn't turn a corner. The Colts desperately need help in pass rush to complement Mathis, and they have not had luck finding any thus far.
Inside Linebacker: Jerrell Freeman (starter), D'Qwell Jackson (starter), Andrew Jackson, Josh McNary
The former Cleveland Brown D'Qwell Jackson joins Freeman in the starting lineup to lead the Colts' defense. While he has slowed down some, Jackson still has experience, leadership and adaptability to contribute.
The depth linebackers will be interesting to watch. Andrew Jackson, the Colts' sixth-round pick of the draft, is a hard-hitting run-stopper while McNary is a pass-rushing, athletic inside linebacker.
Vontae Davis (starter), Greg Toler (starter), Darius Butler, Josh Gordy, Qua Cox
The Colts' starters of Davis and Toler are set in stone, while Butler has a role carved out as the nickel corner in the slot. When healthy, this group did a decent job last season, but it isn't a shutdown unit by itself. They need help from the pass rush in order to really be effective.
Gordy is a likely roster member based on his experience in Indianapolis and his work as a depth corner last season, but the fifth spot is completely up for grabs.
Cox has impressed the media early at the Colts' rookie mini-camp, picking up a pick-six late last week. There's a long road ahead before final cuts, but plays like that are how you get noticed.
LaRon Landry (starter), Delano Howell (starter), Sergio Brown, David Sims
After failing to find Landry a real partner for the safety position, the Colts look like they'll be starting both Landry and Howell next season. Landry was a major disappointment during his first season in Indianapolis, while Howell was surprisingly effective when filling in for Landry early in the season.
Brown, Sims and Colt Anderson will all be competing for both roster spots and a starting spot, but Howell clearly has a leg up on them.
Pat McAfee (punter), Adam Vinatieri (kicker), Matt Overton (long snapper)
Three dependable special teamers who also put in countless hours of work in off-the-field community work.
It's everything you'd hope for from your specialist.