2022 NFL Previews: Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts had a pretty good season in 2021. They finished 9-8 and just barely missed out on making the playoffs. They have some of the best young talent in the league. They also lost a game in week 18 to the Jacksonville Jaguars which caused them to miss the playoffs. Yes, they lost to the worst team in the league and that directly caused them to miss the postseason.

Unfortunately, despite all the good things that happened last year the 2021 Colts will be remembered for that utterly embarrassing loss. It led them to get rid of starting quarterback Carson Wentz and try to figure out the best way to avoid that level of disappointment in 2022.

Obviously, the best way to do that is to give the ball to running back Jonathan Taylor. Taylor was the best running back in football last year. Just straight up, he was the best. In his second year as a pro, he completely dominated the league.

There is no doubt that he will be the focal point of the offense once again, and this will be his year to prove he was not just the best running back of 2021 but the best running back in the game. With a healthy Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry this year, the competition for the title of the best back will be stiff but Taylor is more than worthy of earning that title.

He may not be able to top his 1,811 yards and 18 touchdowns that he racked up last season but if he gets close to it again then he will have a strong case that he is better than McCaffrey and Henry. He doesn’t have any glaring flaws he needs to improve upon but if he could fumble less (four times last year) or start the season faster (his four worst games all came in the first five weeks) then he will essentially be a perfect running back.

Having a player like Taylor in the backfield is music to a quarterback’s ears, especially when that quarterback is coming into his first season with the team. Indianapolis traded for quarterback Matt Ryan from the Atlanta Falcons to take over for Wentz in a move to add more stability to the offense.

The veteran certainly is good enough to run an offense without a generational talent at running back (he did it for many years in Atlanta), but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t help to have one. It will allow Ryan to act as more of a veteran game manager and not have to try to win games on his own.

Ryan should experience instant success in Indianapolis because he is an experienced and very talented quarterback that knows how to run an offense. Even though the Colts’ offensive weapons other than Taylor aren’t elite by any means, the offense is still an upgrade over what Ryan was working with previously.

For one thing, the offensive line is substantially better than his old unit. Guard Quenton Nelson is undoubtedly the best guard in the league and is in the conversation for top linemen in general. He is joined by center Ryan Kelly, also one of the best at his position, and tackle Braden Smith, who has been an above-average starter for the Colts since his rookie year in 2018.

There will be two holes on the line to fill due to the losses of tackle Eric Fisher and guard Mark Glowinski. Fisher was already a fill-in following the retirement of left tackle Anthony Costanzo in 2021 so his loss won’t be as damaging. But Glowinski was a reliable and effective starter, making 55 starts in his four seasons in Indianapolis.

The Colts already seem to have Fisher’s replacement with rookie tackle Bernhard Raimann. There are also veterans in place to start if Raimann isn’t ready right away, but he is going to be a part of the team’s long-term plans on the line. There is no clear option to take over at guard but even if one of the spots is underwhelming, the offensive line figures to be great once again.

The rest of the talent around Ryan is where it gets a bit more questionable. The tight end position is completely up for grabs due to six-year starter Jack Doyle’s retirement. It seems like either rookie tight end Jelani Woods or second-year tight end Kylen Granson will be the one to earn the starting role but there is still veteran option Mo Alie-Cox in place as well.

The uncertainty at tight end wouldn’t be as big of a deal if the wide receiver group was a lot more proven. Ryan played with great receivers such as Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley during his time as a Falcon. Now he will be throwing the ball to Michael Pittman, Alec Pierce, and Parris Campbell.

That is not a knock on Pittman at all. He actually has been developing into a great number one wide receiver despite the inconsistent play at quarterback he has had to deal with. He could fully unlock the best version of himself this year with Ryan under center. Pittman is very worthy of being the lead dog in the receiver room and will flourish this season catching passes from the best quarterback he has had in his career.

It is the wide receivers behind Pittman that should make Ryan feel uncertain. Campbell is an electric college player that has yet to figure it out at the next level. Keke Coutee is in a similar spot but on his second team. Ashton Dulin, Mike Strachan, and Dezmon Patmon have been decent in flashes but haven’t proven themselves as anything beyond fourth or fifth options.

Pierce, who was drafted in the second round this year, has the best chance of being the guy behind Pittman. He’s a strong and athletic pass-catcher that is coming off of a great career for a great team (University of Cincinnati).

His second-round status suggests that Indianapolis believes he could produce right away (Pittman was also drafted in the same round) so that is what he will be expected to do this year. He won’t have to be the best receiver from the draft in order for his selection to be deemed a success but he will have to show that he can be a solid starter in the NFL this year.

The Colts’ defense is a much more reliable group than the offense, with most of the key players from last year returning. The best of the bunch is linebacker Shaquille Leonard (no, that is not a new player, Darius Leonard is now requesting that he be referred to as Shaquille, which is what he has been called most of his life).

Leonard is arguably the best off-ball linebacker in the league right now (I’m the one arguing that because I believe it is true) and is the leader of the defense despite heading into just his fifth season. He is a true all-around backer that can defend all facets of the game extremely well and is also a freak at punching the ball out (eight forced fumbles last year).

Next to Leonard is linebacker Bobby Okereke who may get outshined by Leonard but is certainly worthy of his own praise. Okereke is much more of a traditional middle linebacker but is still adept at dropping into pass coverage. He is also young (he’s going into his fourth season in the league) so he may still be getting even better.

Indianapolis didn’t think they needed to address the linebacker position in free agency, which was the correct move, but they didn’t have that same feeling about the secondary. They weren’t bad in pass coverage by any means last year. They were around the middle of the pack in most categories although they did allow the second-most touchdowns.

The Colts took a huge swing during that period when they signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore. While the former Defensive Player of the Year is not quite operating at that level anymore, he is still a very impactful addition to the secondary. Gilmore will certainly be able to help Indianapolis reduce the touchdowns through the air this year as well as elevate their performance in the other categories.

Gilmore won’t have the pressure of being the number one cornerback this year, which is one reason why he could have a better year than he’s had recently. That spot belongs to Kenny Moore, who might be the best cornerback that a lot of people don’t know about.

Moore has quietly been playing really good football lately. He has intercepted four passes and recorded 13 pass breakups in each of the last two seasons and he earned his first Pro-Bowl nod in 2021. The presence of Gilmore on the other side of the field will only improve Moore’s production on the field, which should be a scary thought for opposing quarterbacks this season.

The secondary is rounded out by safeties Julian Blackmon, a talented young player that has been a great player, Khari Willis, a reliable starter for the past few years, and Rodney McLeod, an experienced veteran.

The defensive line is another area that the Colts have invested resources into lately. They added defensive end Yannick Ngakoue this offseason to a group that was not great at getting to the quarterback last year. Ngakoue’s elite sack production (he had 10 last year) will be a huge addition after the Colts recorded the seventh-fewest sacks last year.

Although they weren’t able to get to the quarterback successfully in 2021, that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent present. DeForest Buckner is an elite defensive tackle who has excelled against the run and the pass during his time in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much help around him. He led the team with seven sacks, which is great for an interior pass-rusher but should not be the most on the team.

The Colts need someone to step up as a pass-rusher opposite of Ngakuoe this year. The most likely candidate is defensive end Kwity Paye, their first-round pick from last year. Paye is the guy that the team wants to claim that spot as he is the most talented but he is going to have to improve on his four sacks from his rookie year if he wants to prove he is a starting pass-rusher.

I think the Colts have made the right type of moves this offseason and are a better team than the one we saw in 20021. Ryan, Ngakoue, and Gilmore were all huge additions this offseason that will directly lead to more success and there are multiple rookies that should produce from day one.

I see this as a 10-6 team and the best team in the AFC South. Although I am predicting them to have the same record as last year, I do still believe they are a better team. They just have to play the AFC West this year, which is easily the best division in football and have other tough games against the Cowboys, Patriots, and Bills. Having four games against the Jaguars and Texans is a great way to rack up some wins though.

Winning the division isn’t the big test for this team, though, because they should be able to actually make some noise in the playoffs. If Ryan can play like a top-half quarterback this year then he should be good enough to lead this dominant rushing offense pretty far. And if the defense does improve on its weaknesses from last then it should be a unit that can hang in the postseason. I don’t think this team is a Super Bowl contender just yet but they have all the pieces in place to win a game or two in the playoffs.