State of the Franchise
The arrival of QB Andrew Luck heralded one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history, as the Colts went from a league-worst 2-14 in 2011 to an 11-5 playoff team in 2012. But the improvement was even more impressive because head coach Chuck Pagano missed 15 weeks of the season after undergoing treatment for leukemia.
Indyís post Peyton Manning revival was led by Luck, who set an NFL rookie record with 4,374 passing yards along with 23 touchdowns, while adding five rushing scores. Fellow newcomers RB Vick Ballard (814 rushing yards) and WR T.Y. Hilton (eight touchdowns) also made an immediate impact, as new GM Ryan Grigson enjoyed a productive first draft. Veteran wideout Reggie Wayne, who surprisingly decided to return to the team in 2012, thrived amidst the youth movement, recording 1,355 receiving yards, while being the second-most targeted receiver in the NFL.
While most of the teamís offensive skill players return, the Colts will have some coaching changes. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians took over as head coach last season while Pagano was away, leading the team to a 9-3 record before Pagano returned for the final game of the regular season and the teamís playoff loss at Baltimore. Arians left to become the head coach at Arizona, and the Colts brought in Luckís former offensive coordinator at Stanford, Pep Hamilton, to replace him.
Indyís success came despite a shaky offensive line that had Luck among the most pressured quarterbacks in the league and resulted in a mediocre rushing offense. To upgrade the line, the Colts signed G Donald Thomas and OT Gosder Cherilus in free agency and then drafted G Hugh Thornton.
Indianapolis moved to a 3-4 defense last season and improved to 21st in points allowed from 28th, but it wasnít an easy transition, as the Colts still allowed more points than they scored. Given that it was the first year moving to the new scheme from the 4-3 employed during the Bill Polian era, Grigson was forced to work with some personnel that didnít totally fit the switch. LB Robert Mathis adapted well to the move from defensive end, recording eight sacks, but he struggled against the run. To improve in that area, the Colts signed DT Ricky Jean-Francois. Meanwhile, long-time pass-rushing ace LB Dwight Freeney was let go, as his five sacks didnít live up to his $10 million salary. This offseason, the Colts brought in a new wave of talent suited to the 3-4, in first-round pick LB Bjoern Werner and free agent LB Erik Walden. Moreover, they hope that the additions of S LaRon Landry and CB Greg Toler will help boost a secondary that will count on Vontae Davis, a late-August acquisition last year, emerging as a shutdown corner.
Bjoern Werner - DE, Florida State
(Round 1, 24th overall)
Will try to replace Dwight Freeney as an outside pass rusher.
Darrius Heyward-Bey - WR, Raiders
Brought in to replace Donnie Avery as a deep threat after wearing out his welcome in Oakland.
LaRon Landry - S, Jets
Productive when healthy, the Colts hope heís an upgrade over the departing Tom Zbikowski.
Kerwynn Williams - RB, Utah State
(Round 7, 230th overall)
The versatile back brings pass-catching and kick return ability to the table.
Ahmad Bradshaw - RB, GIANTS
Should upgrade the running attack in concert with an influx of talent on offensive line.
Donnie Avery - WR, Chiefs
Had a strong season, but the emergence of T.Y. Hilton made him expendable.
Dwight Freeney - LB, Chargers
The move to the 3-4 defense wasnít kind to Freeney, who was miscast as a linebacker.
Austin Collie - WR, FA
His season ended again in injury and a promising career could be over.
DOES Andrew Luck HAVE ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT?
While the NFLís No. 1 overall pick set a rookie record for passing yards, some of his other numbers look pedestrian. He had just a 54.1 completion percentage and a 76.5 QB rating. But those numbers hide the degree of difficulty that he faced while playing behind a poor offensive line and a scheme that focused on a deep passing game, with Luck topping the league in attempts of 20 yards or more. Meanwhile, Luck was sacked 41 times and was under pressure 38.1 percent of the time he dropped back, both fourth-most in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. He also led the league in getting hit while making a throw, plus he was victimized by a league-high dropped passes directed to his intended targets. Luck was able to thrive despite the defensive pressure, thanks to a Fran Tarkenton-like scrambling knack, surprising rushing ability and his accuracy on deep passes. And Luckís uncanny field awareness for a rookie resulted in a league-leading seven game-winning drives. Luckís passing numbers could improve in 2013, as Indianapolis made moves to improve the offensive line, which could result in three new starters. New offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton will also move to a version of the West Coast offense. While he says the scheme will be flexible, calling it ďno coast,Ē itís likely to result in more running plays and fewer deep balls in an effort to keep Luck under less duress and provide him with more time in the pocket.
WHEREíS THE RUNNING GAME?
In 2012, the Colts were below average rushing the ball, as they averaged 3.8 yards per carry, which placed them 22nd in the NFL. After a breakout season in 2011 in which he recorded an impressive 4.8 yards per carry, Donald Brown began the season as the starter at running back, but he had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his knee after Week 5. Vick Ballard took over the job and had 437 yards rushing over the final four regular season games and the teamís playoff loss, but he only averaged 4.1 YPC. On top of that, Delone Carter only played 10 games, as he was hampered by an ankle injury, while being limited to mostly short-yardage situations. The Colts also didnít involve their backfield in the passing game much, as only 10 percent of the teamís passes went toward the running backs. The team signed Ahmad Bradshaw to boost the rushing attack and he should quickly become the starter if healthy (not a given, since Bradshaw has chronic foot issues including offseason surgery). Bradshaw is a more talented runner than Ballard as demonstrated by a YPC equal or higher than Ballard in each of his six seasons. Bradshaw is also an outstanding blocker, which should keep him in the game on passing downs. Ballard will likely become the primary backup, while Brown and Carter may have limited roles.
Rising: T.Y. Hilton emerged as a big play threat last season on offense and special teams (six TDs of 36 yards or more) and should be more of a focus as the teamís No. 2 passing option after Reggie Wayne.
Declining: Donald Brown missed six games last year with injuries and enters camp as the No. 3 running back.
Sleeper: Ahmad Bradshaw should take over the starting running back job if healthy and his strong pass blocking should keep him on the field.
Supersleeper: Kerwynn Williams may lack ideal size, but the seventh-round steal is a speedy back who could give Andrew Luck a nice pass-catching weapon out of the backfield.
Robert Mathis - LB
Heís still a disruptive force after moving to LB in the new 3-4 scheme, recording eight sacks in 12 games last season.
Jerrell Freeman - LB
The former CFL star took over a starting linebacker role and recorded a fantasy-friendly 145 tackles.
Vontae Davis - CB
Was limited to 10 games due to injuries, but showed he can be dominant against the pass late in the season with three interceptions in the final two games.
RotoWire Rank: 28