The Colts are set up for future success: here’s why

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 27: Jack Doyle #84, Marlon Mack #25 and Quenton Nelson #56 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrate after Mack ran for a touchdown in the third quarter of the game against the Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 27, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 27: Jack Doyle #84, Marlon Mack #25 and Quenton Nelson #56 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrate after Mack ran for a touchdown in the third quarter of the game against the Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 27, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images) /

The Colts’ young talent can only go up; here’s why the team is set up for success in the future.

One of the most common things said when discussing the Colts’ roster is youth. It’s no secret that the team has an incredibly young roster. At times, it creeps to the side of a negative connotation. Youth leads to inexperience, which in turn leads to “rookie mistakes”.

Ironically, the forefront of one of the two main problems last season was the opposite: age. The special teams unit, headed (and crumbled) by 47-year-old Adam Vinatieri, was the main cause for most of the Colts’ early struggles until his move to Injured Reserve.

On the other hand, Jacoby Brissett’s inexperience at the starting quarterback position (as well as his injury) led to sub par play following his return to action in Week 10. This of course has led to the general offseason conversation being centered on a new signal-caller for next season.

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Amidst all of the conversation, the Colts have quietly put together a quality roster overall, centered on youth. In the eyes of some, it’s one of the best young rosters in the NFL right now, minus the success. Let’s take a look at some of the key points in the roster and go in-depth on how the Colts are set up for success in the coming seasons ahead.

Young dominance with the offensive line and linebackers

According to the Pro Football Focus 2019 season grades (provided by, 9 Colts players ranked in the top 10 at their respective positions. 7 of those 9 players are under the age of 25.

All of the players listed above for the Colts have flourished at their respective positions. All of these young players have come in and immediately performed for the team. Included in this list of 9 are four out of five of the Colts’ starting offensive lineman; they are regularly deemed, “one of the best young offensive line groups in the NFL”.

A correction to this statement can be made, however. The Colts have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, period. Both Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly made the Pro Bowl this season; Anthony Castonzo was right outside of the cut and Braden Smith is well on his way to appearing in the Pro Bowl as well.

It’s increasingly obvious that the team’s biggest strength at this moment is their offensive line and using it to become the brick wall in front of the backfield that has only been previously dreamed about in Indianapolis.

With the offensive scheme being primarily run-based, this offensive line will be crucial next season and beyond as the majority of it has yet to enter the primes of their careers. The unit will only continue to reign at the top of the league and is one of the main building blocks in the team’s blueprint for success.

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Another young unit on the roster, albeit an underrated one as a group, is the linebacker position. The league has now gotten truly introduced to Darius Leonard after leading the league in tackles in 2018 and earning Pro Bowl Honors in 2019, all while leading all linebackers in interceptions this past season.

He is a clear candidate for the league’s top linebacker moving forward, all the while being just 23 years old. This Colts group is also headed by a more underrated player, one entering his sophomore season.

Bobby Okereke quietly finished as the NFL’s 8th-best linebacker, only one spot behind Leonard. The 3rd Round draft pick appeared in all 16 games in 2019, starting half. He finished with 58 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, and a sack.

Okereke has shown a ton of promise in his rookie season for the team to be confident in him moving forward. Another underrated piece, not on this list, is Anthony Walker. The 24-year-old was a 16-game starter next to Darius Leonard all season.

He finished with 123 tackles in 2019 and his 83 solo tackles were good for 10th amongst all linebackers. He also added an interception, 6 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. The lone bright spot for the defense last season was the run defense.

The team ranked 7th in rush yards allowed per game, mostly due to the linebacking group, as well as Edge defender Justin Houston, who ranked 11th among all edge rushers in PFF’s 2019 grades. The trio of Leonard, Walker, and Okereke will do nothing but develop and continue to push the Colts defense near the top of the rankings in rush defense.

Major development at Special Teams

The major blow that contributed to a large majority of the Colts’ losses this past season was the special teams unit, headed by Adam Vinatieri. His kicking woes, coupled with Ballard’s keeping of Vinatieri as the starting kicker until Week 13, was the major catalyst in the unit ending as the worst-ranked unit in the league. However, PFF’s player grades conclude that the unit itself wasn’t the issue; it was solely the inconsistency of Vinatieri that dragged the unit to the bottom. Now that Chase McLaughlin has all but kept his starting kicker job over Vinatieri going into next season, this shows that the 3 primary special teamers in the Colts unit were top-10 at their respective positions.

Colts Special Teams unit (All-NFL):

  • Chase McLaughlin, Kicker
    • PFF Grade: 68.2
    • Position Rank: 10
  • Rigoberto Sanchez, Punter
    • PFF Grade: 73.4
    • Position Rank: 5
  • Nyheim Hines, Kick Returner
    • PFF Grade: 77.0
    • Position Rank: 4th

McLaughlin, the kicker, was ranked 10th out of all kickers and ranked as the top kicker in the 2019 draft class. The third-year punter, Rigoberto Sanchez, was ranked as a top-5 punter in the league (5th). Finally, Nyhiem Hines was graded as the 4th-best kick returner in the NFL.

This goes to show that the special teams unit for the Colts did perform very well if Vinatieri is factored out of the equation. If McLaughlin retains his job as the starting kicker, this special teams unit will undoubtedly improve in 2020, especially considering the return of both Chester Rogers and Zach Pascal as returners along with Hines to further bolster the return unit.

Starting signs of growth in the secondary

The secondary was the weakest part of the defense last year and was the main contributor to the Colts’ tumble to 23rd in pass defense after being a respectable 16th the year prior. This was, in large part, due to the extreme youth at the position.

There were 3 rookies in the secondary at times: Khari Willis at safety and cornerbacks Rock Ya-Sin and Marvell Tell III. All of them, while not playing spectacular did produce decent numbers in their first years. According to PFF, the defensive backs were among the better players in their draft class at their positions.

Colts PFF Grades (2019 draft class):

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With the three DBs ranking around the top five in their class, they’ve shown their potential and room for growth. This unit underperformed as cornerback Kenny Moore and safety Malik Hooker missed time with injuries, but as the unit returns to full health and gains more experience this offseason (as well as gaining depth through the draft), it is positive to say that this unit can improve next year to return back to the middle of league in pass defense and hopefully improve further from there.