The Indianapolis Colts have seen moderate improvement on both side of the ball three of the past four years, but they have to focus on becoming more consistent and it start with personnel.
For the past four seasons, the Colts have routinely been let down by the efforts of their defense. They can shut down inferior opponents, but struggle against competent quarterbacks.
Speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday, GM Ryan Grigson talked about the focus of the team this offseason. He acknowledged the work that needs to be done on this side of the ball.
“Now I feel like we need to build that defense,” Grigson said. “I feel like we have a lot of really good pieces on offense.”
He certainly isn’t wrong. The offense was heavily focused on in the early years of Grigson’s tenure in Indianapolis. The Colts have made far more moves on that side of the ball than they have on defense, but we’ve started to see the shift in focus recently.
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Last season the Colts made three free agent signings on the defensive side of the ball that produced mixed results. Defensive end Kendall Langford and safety Dwight Lowery were both great additions to the team who lived up to (or exceeded) their contracts. But Grigson loses points for outside linebacker Trent Cole, who was essentially a non-factor last season. The splashy moves (Andre Johnson, Frank Gore) were on offense, but clearly the better signings were made on the other side of the field.
In the draft, the Colts used five of their eight picks on the defensive side of the ball. Two of those players, Henry Anderson and David Parry, ended up starting from Week 1. Both played well and have promising futures, especially Anderson (whose rookie season was cut short due to a torn ACL) and their presence makes the needs along the defensive line less important.
Safety Clayton Geathers showed flashes of being an impact player and could be a starter this season. But the other two defensive picks from this draft are still question marks.
Cornerback D’Joun Smith was injured for most of the season, and what little we saw of him wasn’t particularly encouraging. Linebacker Amarlo Herrera spent most of the season on the practice squad before being called up in the waning weeks of the season due to injuries to other players.
It also doesn’t help that the Colts had the most expensive defense in the NFL last year and nothing to show for it. They ranked 26th in yardage, 13th in efficiency, and 25th in points allowed in 2015. Considering the $77 million price tag on that unit and it is simply unacceptable. There were certainly issues with the offense that impacted the defense, but you should get better results when you’ve spent that much money on one unit.
The good news for the Colts is that there is a lot of defensive talent in this year’s draft. The Colts are going to have to start leaning on the draft more heavily in the future as Andrew Luck‘s upcoming contract will eat up a fair amount of the cap. Couple that with the defense getting older, and it is past time to infuse this unit with some young talent.
If we want to rank needs on defense:
- Edge rusher
- Inside linebacker
- Defensive line
The problem is that there isn’t a lot of top end talent at edge rusher that will be available to the Colts. They don’t want to reach in the first round for one like they did with Bjoern Werner in 2013.
Cornerback is a high need with Smith being a question mark, Greg Toler (hopefully) on his way out, and not having much depth on the roster. Vontae Davis also had foot surgery recently, and while it isn’t considered serious it reminds the team they are an injury away from total disaster.
Inside linebacker will be partly determined by the contract situation with Jerrell Freeman, but at the same time the team needs to look for D’Qwell Jackson‘s replacement. Frankly they should look for Jackson’s upgrade at this point (they could save $5 million by cutting him). Either way, this is a position where the Colts need to find a reliable backup.
Safety will depend on whether or not the team thinks Geathers is ready to start. Lowery is a free agent, but certainly played well enough to earn another contract. Mike Adams is 34 and only has a year left on his contract meaning it is time to look for his replacement (even though he’s played improbably well the past two years).
Defensive line isn’t as big a concern considering the two draft picks spent on the position last year, and the success of the Langford deal. The Colts also have a lot of young rotational talent at the position and will hopefully get Art Jones back this season as well. That said, this is a great draft for defensive line talent and finding another impact player (maybe as an insurance policy against Jones’ seemingly inevitable ankle injury) wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The Colts need to make smarter investments on defense, and luckily this is a good year to start doing it.