Indianapolis Colts' Most Under and Overrated Offseason Additions
While the Indianapolis Colts have had a busy offseason, they haven't added as many new faces as they have in recent years. The team (wisely) focused on its own free agents and had just five draft picks to work with in this year's draft.
But despite the lack of change, the new faces that were brought in all have been signed for specific purposes, often to play large roles in 2014 and beyond. Today we look at those roles and find out who is qualified and who may be in over their heads.
To determine underrated versus overrated, we'll be looking at a few key factors. If the player was a free agent, we'll look at contract size. If they were drafted, the draft pick they were selected from will be considered. The overall name recognition and hype surrounding the player will also be considered.
The 2014 season is rapidly approaching, and it's time to separate the best from the rest.
Underrated: Henoc Muamba
It's easy to underrate a player when you've never heard of him before.
Coming into the league via the same path that Jerrell Freeman did in 2012, Muamba was signed to the Colts in February out of the Canadian Football League (CFL), where he'd played for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the last three seasons.
Winnipeg selected Muamba with the first overall pick in the 2011 CFL draft. Muamba finished 2013 with 106 tackles (second in the league), a sack, interception, fumble recovery and a defensive touchdown.
Though the Colts were the first to contact him, Muamba worked out for several teams, including the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. ESPN's Field Yates called Muamba, "coveted" when reporting his contract (three years, $107,000 guaranteed).
While Muamba is yet another ex-CFL player trying to make the jump, the amount of interest shown to him, and the money given to him by the Colts, demonstrates a very real amount of talent in the 25-year-old linebacker.
Muamba is an aggressive tackler in run defense with an uncanny knack for slipping between blockers. His pass coverage in the CFL wasn't always stellar, so he may be limited to spot duty in the NFL. But, if you can get anything out of a signing like this, you're beating the average.
Ryan Grigson has done a great job with the "diamond in the rough" signings thus far, and Muamba could be the next diamond-studded notch on his belt.
Overrated: D'Qwell Jackson
The most common error in analysis of D'Qwell Jackson is faulty name association. Fans and some analysts associate Jackson with his stellar play from three years ago—and high tackle numbers—instead of with his most recent play in the Cleveland Browns' 3-4 defense over the last two seasons. That play, when examined closely, paints a different picture than a seasoned veteran primed to vault the Colts run defense to new (acceptable) heights.
In reality, Jackson has been a poor run defender during the last few seasons. He is still, however, an above-average defender in coverage and will bring experience and leadership to the squad. He should be an upgrade over Kelvin Sheppard and Pat Angerer, but is Jackson the kind of player that should receive a four-year, $22 million contract with $11 million guaranteed?
Not at 30 years old.
Jackson tied with Oakland's Nick Roach at 42nd out of 55 starting inside linebackers last season in Pro Football Focus' grades with negative-11.6. He had a negative grade in every category except for penalties.
Jackson is a dependable tackler, finishing fifth in PFF's Tackling Efficiency for inside linebackers, but his tackles often come after a running back has already gained a "successful" amount of yards. Jackson was a garbage man, cleaning up the junk his teammates didn't stop (much like Freeman did for Indianapolis).
In my film review of Jackson for Colts Authority, I found that his aging legs and struggles in taking on blockers were the biggest weaknesses. There is hope that those will be offset by an improved defensive line in Indianapolis and a rangy linebacker in Freeman next to him, but it doesn't change who Jackson is.
He's a decent player, one who should still be starting. But at that price, the Colts will need more than just decent play.
Underrated: Arthur Jones
In well-versed NFL circles, former Baltimore defensive lineman Arthur Jones is valued very highly, but among the casual NFL fan, his name is not one that will likely excite anybody.
While the rest of the nation may not take notice this season, Jones' play will catch the eye of ever Hoosier if he continues to play like he did in 2013. The Colts defensive line needed something else to truly be effective, and Jones is the kind of player who consistently does his job to make things easier for everybody on the defense.
To quote from my film review of Jones:
He’s consistently pushing, consistently attacking, and that leads to plays. He isn’t an elite playmaker, but he’ll give you that reliable space-eating in the run game and occasional burst of pass rush.
The best word I can use to describe Jones is “solid.” And consistent. Did I mention he was consistent?
Consistency may not be the sexy trait that gets on SportsCenter and leads to All-Pro selections, but it's extremely valuable in the workings of a defensive system, especially for Indianapolis. The biggest issue for the Colts defense, both as a unit and for its most important individuals, has been consistency. If they can have a big-time player to lean on, those valleys may not be so painful.
Overrated: Jonathan Newsome
I have nothing against former Ball State edge-rusher Jonathan Newsome. However, fans expecting him to step in and provide instant pass-rush relief for Robert Mathis are likely going to be disappointed.
Now, that doesn't mean that Newsome doesn't have talent. He has an explosive get-off at the line of scrimmage and has the balance necessary to dip his shoulder and bend around the edge in pass rush. That balance also played a large part in Newsome's success in stunts at Ball State.
But, he also has flaws, as NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki points out:
Strength-deficient and gets hammered in the box. Thin-legged and narrow-based. Too light to set the edge. Limited cover skills -- is tight in the hips and not natural moving in reverse or coming out of breaks.
Newsome was projected by CBS Sports and NFL Draft Scout to go in the seventh round or as an undrafted free agent. Draft Countdown predicted a late pick or undrafted. While it's not uncommon for late picks to jump and fall all over the board, the pick here was extremely surprising for Newsome.
Could he develop into something useful in the front seven? Possibly. But expecting that this season is putting far too much weight on Newsome's shoulders.
Underrated: Donte Moncrief
Based on Donte Moncrief lasting late into the third round in the 2014 NFL draft, the 20-year-old out of Ole Miss was underrated by 31 other teams. Seen as a second-round prospect by many, Moncrief was knocked down a peg by teams for having a more inefficient season (aka drops) and not being as dominant in 2013 as others.
But then you remember that Moncrief was just a junior and is only 20 years old. You remember that he racked up over 1,900 yards, 125 catches and 16 touchdowns over the last two seasons against SEC competition. You remember that he's 6'2", 221 pounds and was a top performer in the 40-yard dash, the vertical jump and the broad jump at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
Once you remember that, it all makes sense why Moncrief has been tearing it up in camp:
Out here at practice, Donte Moncrief is having quite a day. Nice catch vs double coverage in red zone— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) June 18, 2014
Even if his ceiling is just the No. 4 receiver this season (assuming all stay healthy), Moncrief looks to be the the No. 1 receiver prototype the Colts have been looking for (and will also compete to be the team's kick returner). Obviously development still needs to occur, but right now, fans should just be thankful that the deep receiver class and Moncrief's occasional drop issues were enough to help him fall to the third round.