The Colts came out of the NFL Draft with eight new players. That roster will balloon to 90 men this summer before trimming down to 53 by September. Jobs will be up in the air, for rookies and veterans alike.
Some positions are settled and others are up in the air. Here’s a look at where each position group stands after the draft:
Starter: Matt Ryan
Backup: Sam Ehlinger
Other depth: Jack Coan*, James Morgan
Analysis: The Colts did not select a quarterback in this draft. It wasn’t a surprise, as it was widely considered a weak class, and Matt Ryan is locked in financially to start for at least the next two seasons, and he and the franchise would like for it to be even more than that.
Ryan will be 37 years old by the time this season starts, which sounds old on the surface, but the sport is different for a certain number of established veterans. The Colts don’t believe Ryan has lost anything physically, which is why they were motivated to trade for him. They’re over band-aids after five starters in five years. Ryan is also motivated to keep his career going, both financially and competitively as he seeks his first Super Bowl championship.
The only decision here is whether to bring in a veteran backup or to roll with Sam Ehlinger. The Colts like Ehlinger as a developmental prospect, but that’s a step from filling in for Ryan and keeping AFC South hopes alive. Ryan has missed just one game in 12 years, so Indianapolis might gamble on him staying healthy every game. It could play it safer by signing a veteran like Nick Foles to add insurance to the most important position.
More:Undrafted free agent tracker: Colts UDFA class headlined by Notre Dame QB Jack Coan
Starter: Jonathan Taylor
Backup: Nyheim Hines
Other depth: Deon Jackson, D’Vonte Price*, C.J. Verdell*, Jah-Maine Martin*, Max Borghi*
Analysis: The Colts have been firmly set at running back for a couple of years now. Jonathan Taylor has emerged as the best runner in the game, fresh off a rushing title with 1,811 yards and 18 touchdowns. Nyheim Hines offers a capable spell while bringing some of the best receiving skills at the running back position.
The Colts will lean on Taylor less this year with a more balanced offense, and they expect to make Hines much more involved after his touches faded down the stretch last year. Expect to see him in lots of motion and working out of the slot in addition to the screen game.
All that’s up for grabs in camp will be the third running back spot. Marlon Mack is gone, so it’s between Deon Jackson, who held the role down the stretch last year; and quartet of undrafted rookies. The Colts have praised Jackson, but Verdell is an interesting case. He was an explosive athlete with two 1,000-yard seasons at Oregon before injuries and COVID-19 limited him the past two seasons. He’s working back from a broken fibula, but he’ll have a chance to steal this role.
More:Insider: Why Nyheim Hines is so important to a successful Colts offense
Starters: Michael Pittman Jr., Alec Pierce*, Parris Campbell
Backups: Ashton Dulin, Dezmon Patmon, Michael Strachan, Keke Coutee
Analysis: The Colts went after the need everyone knew they had to fill by trading back in the second round and drafting Alec Pierce. The position group isn’t entirely set, but it’s easy to see the roles forming in an ideal scenario.
Michael Pittman Jr. will be back as the ‘X,’ lining up in isolation to his side of the field often. He’s fresh off his first 1,000-yard season, but Indianapolis will look to use him more as a yards-after-catch threat across the middle of the field, which requires the proper speed and spacing elsewhere.
Pierce will be the ‘Z’ receiver, tasked with stretching secondaries vertically and making contested catches along the sidelines, which he did to collect 884 yards and eight touchdowns at Cincinnati last season. His underneath routes and understanding of zone coverages are raw, so expect him to stay outside with a limited route tree as a rookie.
The slot is wide open, and that’s where Parris Campbell will start. The Colts still like the potential in a player they drafted in the second round in 2019 but who has played just 15 games due to a rash of injuries. They know they can’t count on him, which is why Hines and tight ends will also be slot options.
Indianapolis could use a veteran in this room, which is why T.Y. Hilton is still a possibility. Julio Jones could be another, as he has history with Ryan but is no longer a durable player. Michael Strachan and Dezmon Patmon will battle to make the roster, and Ashton Dulin will find some snaps while focusing primarily on special teams.
More:What new Colts WR Alec Pierce has to master to make immediate impact
Starter: Mo Alie-Cox
Backups: Jelani Woods*, Kylen Granson
Other depth: Drew Ogletree*, Farrod Green, Michael Jacobson, Nikola Kalinic, Eli Wolf
Analysis: The Colts went after this position in the draft and now have a pretty set group for the 2022 season.
After Jack Doyle retired this spring, the Colts re-signed Mo Alie-Cox to a three-year deal to be the experienced blocker and receiver of this group. He’ll man the starting ‘Y’ spot, and a second ‘Y’ spot will go to Jelani Woods, a player the Colts loved in the second round. They think his blocking is fairly refined and will bank on Ryan to catch him up as a receiver to even a fraction of the way he did for Kyle Pitts last season in Atlanta.
Kylen Granson is the one true ‘F’ tight end on the roster, and he’ll get a better chance to grow as a receiver with Ryan.
Sixth-round Youngstown State product Drew Ogletree has ‘Y’ and ‘F’ traits as a converted receiver with a physically mature body at 6-foot-5 and 261 pounds. He has the best special teams traits of the group, so it’s likely all four make the roster.
More:Colts badly need a tight end, but don’t expect them to get immediate impact from the draft
Starters: LT Matt Pryor, LG Quenton Nelson, C Ryan Kelly, RG Danny Pinter, RT Braden Smith
Backups: OT Bernhard Raimann*, OG Will Fries
Other depth: OT Ryan Van Demark*, C Alex Mollett*, OT Wesley French*, OT Brandon Kemp, OT Jordan Murray, OT Shon Coleman, OT Carter O’Donnell
Analysis: The Colts had one question mark along the starting offensive line and addressed it in the third round with Central Michigan tackle Bernhard Raimann, creating one of the more interesting battles of training camp.
They’ve promised the first crack at left tackle to Matt Pryor, who signed a one-year deal to see if he could lock into a position instead of just being a versatile backup. It builds a natural runway for Raimann, who has top-shelf athletic and competitive traits but has only played tackle for two seasons. Raimann could move to guard if he doesn’t impress at tackle, but that feels like a last resort.
Raimann starting at left tackle would open up Pryor to serve as the backup at four spots and for Danny Pinter to be able to slide over to center if anything happened to Ryan Kelly. Pinter is the other new starter this year, but he’s a player the Colts have raved about.
Ryan Van Demark received the highest bonus among undrafted players from the Colts at $175,000 guaranteed. It helps his chances of making the roster but doesn’t guarantee anything, as players with those guarantees become roster cuts regularly.
More:Colts find potential left tackle of the future in Bernhard Raimann at No. 77
Starters: DEs Yannick Ngakoue and Kwity Paye; DTs DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart
Backups: Dayo Odeyingbo, Tyquan Lewis, Ben Banogu, Curtis Brooks*, Eric Johnson*
Other depth: Scott Patchan*, McKinley Williams*, RJ McIntosh, Kameron Cline, Chris Williams
Analysis: The Colts made their big splash on the defensive line with the trade for Yannick Ngakoue, and everything else since then has been about depth and allowing youth to prosper.
The plan is for Kwity Paye to start opposite Ngakoue as the “big end” in Gus Bradley’s defense. On obvious passing downs, Grover Stewart will then slide out in favor of Dayo Odeyingbo, who should also be able to spell Paye on the edge. Tyquan Lewis should as well.
Fifth-round Missouri State product Eric Johnson has a lane to be the backup nose tackle, though he could be more in line for a redshirt season. Sixth-round Cincinnati defensive tackle Curtis Brooks is more physically developed and should contend for backup reps behind DeForest Buckner.
More:Yannick Ngakoue, the edge rusher Colts have long needed, hopes he’s finally found a home
Starters: Darius Leonard, Bobby Okereke
Backups: EJ Speed, Zaire Franklin
Other depth: JoJo Domann*, Forrest Rhyne*, Malik Jefferson, Jordan Glasgow, Brandon King
Analysis: Linebacker was the smallest need for the Colts entering the draft, and they acted that way. They did not draft one and only signed Nebraska’s JoJo Domann and Waynesboro’s Forrest Rhyne among the undrafted crop.
That’s because the top four are set, and the Colts won’t plan to play more than that with so many subpackage sets. Darius Leonard and Bobby Okereke will run things with the first team, playing more of the man-match principles that come with Bradley’s scheme. EJ Speed and Zaire Franklin will fill in behind them while maintaining important roles on special teams.
One wildcard is if Ben Banogu sees any action with this group. The Seahawks used Bruce Irvin in a pass rush role as a standup linebacker, and since Banogu hasn’t fit anywhere on defense yet, it could be something to experiment with in training camp.
More:‘I needed to work on me’: Colts’ Darius Leonard took on mental health in offseason
Starters: Stephon Gilmore, Kenny Moore II, Isaiah Rodgers
Backups: Brandon Facyson
Other depth: Chris Wilcox, Will Redmond, Alexander Myres, Tony Brown, Rodney Thomas II*, Marcel Dabo*, Dallis Flowers*, Marvel Tell III, Anthony Chesley
Analysis: The Colts made their cornerback additions prior to the draft by signing five-time Pro Bowler Stephon Gilmore to replace Rock Ya-Sin as the No. 1 outside option and by signing Brandon Facyson to be a starter or a backup.
Facyson and Isaiah Rodgers should battle for the other outside spot. At 6-foot-2, the fifth-year Facyson has more length and experience, with nine starts last year for Bradley with the Raiders. Rodgers is just 5-10 and 176 pounds, but he has electric speed and made great strides at the position late last season. They’ll likely form a rotation in the end.
With Kenny Moore II manning the nickel spot again, the rotation is mostly down, though the Colts could use a fifth option with 17 games to survive. Don’t be surprised to see a veteran addition here so as not to press young players into action before they are ready.
Rodney Thomas II was the team’s seventh-round pick, but he’s experimental, having moved from linebacker to strong safety at Yale and now looking at a possible cornerback role. He’s a good candidate for the practice squad along with Marcel Dabo, a player acquired from Germany through the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program. He will not count toward the 90-man roster limit this summer and can also be a free practice squad player in the fall, so that’s likely where he’ll develop his eye-popping athletic traits.
More:How Stephon Gilmore showed he was the total package in visit with the Colts
Starters: Julian Blackmon, Khari Willis
Backups: Rodney McLeod, Nick Cross*, Armani Watts
Other depth: Sterling Weatherford*, Trevor Denbow*
Analysis: The Colts have reshaped much of their safeties room this offseason despite returning two starters. It makes the present and the future harder to figure out.
The one thing that’s clear is that Julian Blackmon will start once he’s recovered from the Achilles he tore last October. It’s a brutal injury, and that likely contributed to the one-year deal for Rodney McLeod to create some insurance at free safety.
Khari Willis comes with his own durability questions, having missed 10 games in three seasons. That could be partly why the Colts felt compelled to trade next year’s third-round pick to acquire Maryland’s Nick Cross in the third round. It could also be that Willis is entering a contract year, and with some limitations in coverage, they wanted to chase a higher ceiling with a safety with 4.34-second 40-yard dash speed and sharp ball skills.
Either way, Cross is likely to play this year. He comes with three years of starting experience in the Big Ten and a versatile skill set. He should challenge Willis for the starting safety spot in the box, though it’s a new responsibility to him.
Armani Watts is here to play a heavy special teams role like George Odum did, but he can provide a little depth as well.
More:Colts trade up and draft Maryland safety Nick Cross in the third round
Kicker: Rodrigo Blankenship
Punter: Rigoberto Sanchez
Longsnapper: Luke Rhodes
Kick returner: Isaiah Rodgers
Punt returner: Nyheim Hines
Other depth: K Jake Verity, K Grayson Atkins*
Analysis: The Colts have yet to touch the special teams group, though that doesn’t make it entirely set.
Rigoberto Sanchez, Luke Rhodes and Isaiah Rodgers all have secure jobs, at least. All three are among the best at what they do.
Nyheim Hines is a capable punt returner, but he’s going to take a bigger role on offense this year, and the Colts could chase more upside in that role. It will depend on who is available on the roster, but it could be something to experiment in training camp with rookies like Cross and Dabo.
Kicker is the spot that should see the most competition. Rodrigo Blankenship is back, but the Colts did not turn to him when he recovered from a hip injury last season. They let Michael Badgley hit free agency. They did sign Jake Verity from the Ravens practice squad and Grayson Atkins as an undrafted free agent from North Carolina. That could create a three-man competition in training camp, and it’s possible the Colts add someone else to the mix.