STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Colts proved in 2013 that their dramatic turnaround the year before was no fluke, as they put together a second consecutive 11-win effort to win the NFC South. However, an offseason that failed to fill sizable holes on the offensive line and defensive backfield, along with a suspension to Robert Mathis, could put a third consecutive playoff appearance in jeopardy.
Despite dealing with depth issues at wide receiver and an erratic ground game, quarterback Andrew Luck was able to cover up many holes with his game savvy and sneaky running ability. Luck managed to throw for 3,822 yards despite losing Reggie Wayne to a torn ACL in the seventh game of the season. T.Y. Hilton picked up the slack by increasing his production in his second campaign. After Hilton, however, the receiving corps was in constant flux. Darrius Heyward-Bey was a bust as a free agent signing. Da'Rick Rogers, Griff Whalen and LaVon Brazill each had big games but lacked consistency. To help the unit, the Colts signed former Giants star Hakeem Nicks. Meanwhile, tight end Coby Fleener contributed by increasing his production in his second season to 608 receiving yards with four touchdowns. He nearly doubled his targets, in large part due to Dwayne Allen suffering a season-ending hip injury in Week 1. Allen looks healthy heading into training camp, so the two may work in a timeshare this year.
Indy's running game ended up being a game of musical chairs after Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw suffered season-ending injuries over the season's first three weeks. The team traded a first-round draft pick for Trent Richardson after Ballard's injury, but he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry in 14 games with the Colts. Donald Brown took over the bulk of carries after Richardson stumbled, but he departed in free agency, leaving Richardson, Bradshaw and Ballard to compete for the starting role in 2014.
And if instability at running back and receiver weren't enough, Luck guided the Colts to the playoffs despite a shaky offensive line that had him throwing under pressure on 37.5 percent of plays, the 10th highest mark in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Guard Jack Mewhort was taken in the second round to address a weak interior line.
Indy's defense improved in coach Chuck Pagano's second season to ninth in points allowed from 21st in 2012. The Colts were better against the pass (13th in yards allowed compared to 21st the prior season) mostly due to 19.5 sacks from Robert Mathis. However, that element will be missing to start the season, as Mathis was suspended for four games for taking a performance-enhancing substance. D'Qwell Jackson was signed to shore up the linebacking corps, but the secondary could be a major problem with no notable moves to replace departing free agents Antoine Bethea and Cassius Vaughn.
Hakeem Nicks WR, Giants
The Colts hope he'll give the offense a boost as their No. 2 receiver.
Jack Mewhort T, Ohio State (Round 2, 59th Overall)
He'll add depth to the offensive line and could start at tackle or guard.
D'Qwell Jackson LB, Browns
The team hopes that the tackling machine will shore up a shaky linebacker corps.
Donte Moncrief WR, Mississippi (Round 3, 90th Overall)
Has the size (6-2) and speed to be a factor, but may develop slowly after an inconsistent college career.
Donald Brown RB, Chargers
Indy's only reliable running back last season moved on to San Diego.
Antoine Bethea S, 49ers
His departure has created a void in the secondary that has yet to be addressed.
Cassius Vaughn CB, Lions
Provided depth in the secondary that wasn't replaced with any high-profile acquisitions.
Darrius Heyward-Bey WR, Steelers
The search for a reliable No. 3 WR continues after DHB was a bust.
RICHARDSON TRADE DOESN'T SOLVE RB MESS
The Colts made a bold move after Week 2 last season, when they traded a 2014 first-rounder to the Browns for Trent Richardson. In the wake of the deal, the Colts had visions of a QB/RB duo that would rival Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James in their prime. However, Richardson failed to show the breakaway skills that led to him being made the third overall draft pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He subsequently fell to second on the depth chart late in the season and only notched four carries in the team's two playoff games. Despite the high price paid to acquire him, the Colts' starting running back job is wide open heading into the coming season, with Richardson slated to battle Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard for the assignment. Ballard went down last season with a torn ACL in Week 2, but is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. Meanwhile, Bradshaw was impressive in 2013 when given a larger role but was forced to undergo season-ending neck surgery to remove a bulging disc. The unsettled running back group has caused offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to switch from the planned "power running attack" he wanted to implement last season to a "score first" offense that will likely result in a more pass-oriented focus.
HOW WILL THE COLTS UTILIZE A DEEP WR CORPS?
The Colts would seem to have significant depth in their receiving corps after signing Hakeem Nicks who managed a respectable 8.9 YPT while playing in a disastrous Giants' passing offense and with veteran Reggie Wayne set to return to the mix. Meanwhile, T.Y. Hilton improved in his second year with the team to the tune of 82 receptions for 1,083 yards with five touchdowns. On paper, they would appear to form a formidable trio of weapons for quarterback Andrew Luck. However, neither Nicks nor Wayne are locks to play a full 2014 slate. Although he played 15 games last season, Nicks has regularly missed games with knee and foot injuries. Wayne will be 35 and is coming off a torn ACL. Da'Rick Rogers, Griff Whalen and LaVon Brazill could end up being pressed into larger roles as a result. Rogers was impressive last season, with 14 receptions for 192 yards and two touchdowns in just five games. Whalen saw added work over the Colts' final three games and responded with 15 receptions for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Brazill had two games with two touchdowns, including a playoff game, and has outstanding speed (4.4 40-yard dash). Finally, the Colts also added 2014 second-rounder Donte Moncrief to the mix, but he's likely more of a long-term project at this stage.
Rising: Andrew Luck will benefit from the upgrades at wideout, plus his offensive coordinator may abandon the team's obsession with the run.
Declining: The Colts made an aggressive trade for Trent Richardson, but his poor 2013 showing doesn't assure him the starting job.
Sleeper: At 26, Hakeem Nicks is still near his physical prime and at 6-1, he could emerge as a red-zone threat for Indy.
Supersleeper: The team's wideout corps carries injury risk and Da'Rick Rogers showed enough flashes last season to potentially surprise in a larger role.
Robert Mathis - LB
Set a career high mark with 19.5 sacks but will miss four games due to a PED suspension.
Jerrell Freeman - LB
Though his tackles dropped from 145 to 126 in his second season, he had a better overall year with more sacks and interceptions.
Vontae Davis - CB
Indy's most effective defensive back was re-signed to a four-year, $39 million deal.
RotoWire Rank: 22