5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make the Indianapolis Colts' Final 53-Man Roster
The most popular activity for writers, and fans, during the offseason is predicting a team's final 53-man roster. Mark it down as an annual tradition, because it's as much a part of the NFL as the draft, tailgating and incomprehensible Jim Irsay tweets.
After months without football, after all, NFL diehards can't wait for some competition, even if it's in-house competition. That competition is what makes roster predictions so popular. Who emerges from the crowd of unknowns to catch the attention of coaches during training camp and the preseason?
We've looked quite a bit at the favorites to win these battles, but today we look at five players who are dark horses to make the team in September. These players aren't popular favorites and have less of a chance to make the team than others that have been discussed this offseason.
Still, due to specific traits or circumstances, each of these players have a better chance to make the Indianapolis Colts roster than your average fan may think.
WR Tony Washington
With the announced suspension of LaVon Brazill last week, the road to a roster spot for the Colts undrafted free-agent wide receivers became much smoother. Brazill, Da’Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen were the three receivers primed to compete for either one or two roster spots, depending on how many receivers the Colts keep on the 53-man roster.
Considering the depth the Colts have at the position and the injury concerns at the top (Reggie Wayne coming back from an ACL tear, Hakeem Nicks’ history of bumps and bruises), keeping six receivers doesn’t seem improbable. Da’Rick Rogers is the fan favorite to lock down the fifth receiver position, although Whalen did play twice as many snaps in the postseason (105 compared to 49).
Regardless, if the Colts keep six receivers, they’ll need their primary kick and/or punt returner to be one of those players. While Whalen can take these duties in a pinch, he’s not a dynamic threat, just a safe bet to not turn it over.
Enter Tony Washington.
Not only did the small, quick receiver out of Appalachian State consistently get separation from defenders, but Washington also was a productive returner. Washington finished 11th in the FCS in kick return average last season and 21st in punt returns.
Seemed like Washington made a play every day practice was open to media this spring. Also worked at KR. #Colts— George Bremer (@gmbremer) July 4, 2014
If Washington shows any promise as a receiver to go along with his return skills (which he has), he could be an attractive option to replace Rogers or Whalen at the bottom of the roster.
RB Chris Rainey
While Brazill has just 11 combined kick and punt returns in the last two years, his suspension brings to attention the lack of established playmakers the Colts have at returner. The need for special teamers is one that will affect positions outside of receiver, including running back.
With Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard and Trent Richardson slated to control the top three spots, the Colts’ fourth running back slot is up for grabs. Four backs is not a necessity in the NFL, but with the Colts’ emphasis on the run and the injury history of Ballard and Bradshaw, it’s safe to assume four will make the roster before fullbacks are even considered.
Dan Herron, Chris Rainey and undrafted free agent Zurlon Tipton will battle for that final spot, and while I’m bullish about my crush on Tipton, Rainey brings something the other two do not: Return ability.
Tipton hasn’t returned a kick since his sophomore year at Central Michigan in 2011, and Herron’s lone NFL return (a 13-yard kick return for the Colts last year) was his first since his sophomore year at Ohio State (2009).
Rainey, on the other hand, has extensive NFL return experience (at least, in comparison) with 52 combined punt and kick returns over the last two season with Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. His career kick return average of 25.9 is better than anybody currently on the roster (although he did average just 21.8 in six chances last season).
The negative with Rainey is ball security. Rainey has six career fumbles in just two seasons, three while running the ball and three while returning punts. Fumbling returns is generally a zero-tolerance issue, so it could be an enormous hindrance to Rainey’s chances. Still, when it comes to returners, the Colts don’t have many options.
CB Sheldon Price
One of the more high-profile battles to make the roster will take place at cornerback come August, where the lack of established depth at the position will make for crucial decisions at the back end of the position.
Vontae Davis, Greg Toler and Darius Butler (slot) are the expected starters, while veteran Josh Gordy should coast to the dime cornerback position.
But one corner remains from last season’s squad that may get a long look from Indianapolis coaches: Sheldon Price. Price was an undrafted free agent out of UCLA last year who spent most of the year on the practice squad. Price was signed to the active 53-man roster for the final game of the regular season and both playoff games, but was not part of the 45 active game-day roster in any of those three games.
But Price worked hard throughout the season and earned the respect of the coaching staff, something that goes a long way in deciding which bottom-dweller will make the roster. At 6’2”, 198 pounds, he has the frame the Colts love at corner.
While he’s not a favorite to make the roster, don’t be surprised if it’s the rookies that are on the practice squad in September while Price remains on the active roster.
LB Daniel Adongo
Is it really fair to call Daniel Adongo a “dark horse” to make the roster at this point? Perhaps not considering the hype he’s received from fans and the exposure he has received.
Adongo, of course, is a former rugby player from Kenya whom the Colts surprisingly signed last offseason. His story became nationally carried, and Adongo became, possibly, the country’s most well-known practice squad player.
But name recognition aside, Adongo is still a long shot to make the final roster. He rode the practice squad for most of the season last year before being activated prior to the Colts’ Week 14 game in Cincinnati. Adongo participated on special teams for two games (recording zero tackles and a negative-0.1 grade from Pro Football Focus), but was then inactive for the rest of the season.
I currently have Adongo as one of the final players cut (and then placed on the practice squad), but he definitely has a real chance at making the roster. Not only did he progress greatly throughout the last year, but he’s bulked up to over 280 pounds this offseason while reportedly keeping his speed and quickness.
While he won’t be a contributor right away, the Colts may need to keep him active in order to prevent him from being claimed by another team.
SS Dewey McDonald
During the offseason, the Colts filled their void at strong safety by signing veteran safeties to complement their young depth players from last season. While LaRon Landry will start at free safety, the adjacent starting spot was empty with Antoine Bethea moving to San Francisco.
Last year’s third safety, Delano Howell is the favorite to start, while special teams ace Sergio Brown will likely make the roster as well (and reportedly wants a tryout for the starting position). To supplement the position, the Colts signed veterans Mike Adams and Colt Anderson, both likely to compete for the starting spot and serve as depth at the very least.
Often left out of the conversation is undrafted free agent Dewey McDonald, a strong safety out of California University of Pennsylvania. McDonald is a big, hard-hitting safety at 6’0”, 220 pounds. From available film, McDonald’s quickness to the ball, physicality (although sloppy fundamentals, at times) and instincts reading plays were apparent.
According to Chuck Pagano, via Craig Kelley of Colts.com, McDonald showed off good range and ball skills at rookie minicamp, among other things.
McDonald’s work ethic is apparent not only on the field, but off it as well. McDonald graduated from Cal (PA) as the first person from his family to graduate with a college degree. In fact, McDonald has four degrees, including bachelor’s in business management, sports management and marketing as well as a master’s in business administration.
While McDonald’s ceiling isn’t as high as some, prompting his going undrafted, he has size and a work ethic that may just get him a spot as a special teams player in 2014, with the possibility of filling in as a strong safety.