Predicting which Colts will become 2021 team captains

The Indianapolis Colts have one of the most promising rosters in the league, and it figures to get even stronger assuming general manager Chris Ballard pushes the envelope to make marquee signings once free agency opens up in two weeks.

Their roster might be so stacked, in fact, that it could become difficult for the coaching staff to name team captains for the 2021 season.

If you take a look at last year’s quintet, it features some players who might not be around to receive that honor again, so changes are looming.

For 2020, the Colts named quarterback Philip Rivers (retired) and wide receiver TY Hilton (free agency) for the offense, edge rusher Justin Houston (free agency) and linebacker Darius Leonard for the defense, while 2018 seventh-rounder Zaire Franklin represented the special teams unit.

It’s worth noting that Hilton and Houston would likely return as captains if they were to re-sign this offseason.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume they don’t, which would create three potential openings if Indianapolis decides to go with a group of five again.

Who could become a Colts captain for the 2021 season?

The Colts enjoyed their most successful season in seven years in 2020, so we can’t think of a plausible reason to strip either one of Leonard or Franklin of their captaincy. After all, the former is the undisputed face of the franchise and the latter was instrumental in the emergence of Indy’s special teams as one of the best units in the NFL last season.

Could you make the case for George Odum to supplant Franklin after he was named an All-Pro and led the entire league with 20 special teams tackles last season? Sure, but we wouldn’t bat an eyelash if the coaching staff kept things as is. Why fix something that isn’t broken, right?

When it comes to the offense, Carson Wentz is a no-brainer candidate to replace Rivers. If you’re the starting quarterback, you’re the team captain. That’s just the way football works. Especially in  the NFL.

And even though Wentz is walking into a new locker room, we’d have no qualms with him having a slice of the captain pie.

As far as Hilton’s replacement is concerned, why not turn to the backbone of the offense (the offensive line)? In all honestly, you could make the argument for either one of center Ryan Kelly, right guard Quenton Nelson or right tackle Braden Smith being named captain.

If we had to pick one, however, we’d have to go with Nelson. Though the former No. 6 overall pick isn’t the most vocal player on the field, he leads by example and always has his teammates backs if tensions boil over in between plays. Becoming the second player in the last 30 years to be named an All-Pro in his first three seasons doesn’t hurt his case, either.

When it comes to replacing Houston, who better than DeForest Buckner after he completely transformed the defense in his first year with the Colts? For the season, he produced 58 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 26 QB hits, 31 pressures, three passes defended, two fumble recoveries and a safety for good measure.

We hear fans who would prefer somebody with more experience to replace a veteran as revered as Houston, but naming Buckner as captain of the defense alongside Leonard would be tremendous in terms of setting the standard for the rest of the group.

Stats prove that the Colts’ defense was considerably worse when Buckner wasn’t on the field in 2020, and if that doesn’t scream captain material, then nothing does. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more talented and intimidating defensive captain tandem than Leonard and Buckner.

There’s clearly an overwhelming number of worthy candidates on all three levels of Indy’s roster, but we like to think that Wentz and Nelson (offense), Leonard and Buckner (defense) and Franklin returning as leader of the special teams unit is a pretty fabulous group of captains.