Which second-year tight end will emerge in 2023 for the Indianapolis Colts?

The Indianapolis Colts are loaded with young, talented tight ends. Which of the second-year tight ends are most likely to breakout in 2023?
Indianapolis Colts tight end Jelani Woods (80) (right) talks with teammates during training camp
Indianapolis Colts tight end Jelani Woods (80) (right) talks with teammates during training camp / Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY

As it stands, the Indianapolis Colts have seven rostered tight ends. Typically, no more than three tight ends make any given 53-man roster, four being the absolute most when you consider unorthodox play styles at the position that offer versatility to the offense. Thus, at least half of these guys won’t be making the opening-day roster. So who makes the cut?

Colts head coach Shane Steichen has traditionally followed suit with the aforementioned roster construction method, having four tight ends on the opening day roster for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020, four for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2021, and then just three for Philly in 2022.

Perhaps Steichen and Co. continue his trend that started in 2022, however, with how much solid depth the Colts currently possess, I’d be willing to bet Indy rolls into the 2023 season with four tight ends on the 53-man. But again, who makes the cut? Let’s take a look.

Jelani Woods is a budding (super?)star for Colts

Jelani Woods
Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

Jelani Woods is primed for a sophomore-year breakout, destined even. Woods is well-known for his athletic abilities, posting the most athletic TE prospect scores of the last decade — that is until Zack Kuntz out of Old Dominion dethroned him this past offseason.

Nonetheless, Woods’ athleticism is awe-inspiring. Standing tall at 6-foot-7 and weighing 253 pounds, Woods ran a 4.61 (!) 40-yard-dash, launched a 10-foot broad jump, and had a 37.5-inch vertical.

When it comes to on-the-field talent, Woods is by no means a stranger to production. As a rookie, he essentially proved himself as a starting-caliber TE in the league as he posted 25 receptions for 312 yards and threw touchdowns.

You may think these are uninspiring numbers at first glance, but these stats are more than promising for a rookie tight end, especially for an athletic freak who was a backup. Not to mention, of Woods’ 25 receptions, nearly half (12) of them went for first down gains.

Not only did Woods come away with both of the Colts touchdowns in the thrilling, yet confusing win against the Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs, but he had himself a breakout game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on primetime television.

Longtime Colt Mo-Alie Cox indeed had a disappointing campaign a season ago. A season in which he was thought to solidify himself as the team’s TE1 moving forward, or at least for the remainder of his current contract with the Colts. However, the TEs coach from when Cox had a career year, Tom Manning, is back with the Colts so this may serve as Cox’s last hope in Indianapolis.

Woods, Cox, and the rest of the 2022 Colts' offensive weapons were dealt an unfair hand as Indy shuffled through QBs like it was an active tryout. Despite this, Woods proved to be the future at the position and should be handed the keys to the room as soon as this year.

Drew Ogletree is a wild card for Colts

Colts, Andrew Ogletree
Aug 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Indianapolis Colts tight end Andrew Ogletree (85) runs / Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Ogletree, as you may know, might just be the biggest training camp star in Indianapolis Colts history. As far as the hype was concerned, he at the very least proved himself as an NFL talent early on.

Ogletree was getting second-team reps as a sixth-round draft pick in a tight end room where he was slated to be bottom of the roster depth, possibly even a practice squad guy, but he had other plans.

As training camp progressed last year, what we kept hearing and seeing the most was pro-Ogletree discourse. He was making one-handed grab after one-handed grab, clearly showcasing his natural receiving ability from his wide receiver days.

Ogletree possesses a type of pass-catching prowess to go with his ideal 6-foot-5, 260 pound frame that perfectly exemplifies the aforementioned versatile TE that finds its way onto a 53-man roster as the fourth guy in the room.

“I’m a ball of clay. They can mold me however they want," Ogletree said after being drafted a year ago.

Although he was drafted as a TE out of Youngstown State, Ogletree was originally a Wide Receiver at Findlay before transferring and ultimately moving positions. Ogletree has only exceeded expectations everywhere he's been, as the jump in competition from Division II (Findlay) to FCS Division I (Youngstown St.) to the NFL has been fruitful each time.

""Switching from receiver to tight end, I was always a big receiver," Ogletree said in August. "I weighed about 225-230. I was always bigger than the DBs, and now that I weigh 260-plus, it's a real advantage for me and a disadvantage for them because I've got the size, I say I've got some speed and I can jump. I mean, put them all together, you have a pretty good player (laughing).""

via JJ Stankevitz (Colts.com)

Coincidence, irony, or just pure infatuation with him as a prospect, the Indianapolis Colts actually visited him three years prior to being drafted when he was still at Findlay playing wideout. Once again, his versatility will make it difficult to keep this guy off the 53-man roster.

Maybe it was due diligence, maybe it was necessary to Ballard and Co., but the love for Ogletree was prevalent then and still is now so be prepared to see a lot more of Drew Ogletree outside of just Grand Park.

Even with the assumption that Tom Manning is able to revitalize Mo-Alie Cox’s trajectory as an NFL talent back to just serviceable, I foresee the last roster spot being a battle for the blocking role between Cox and FA signee Pharoah Brown, a longtime blocker-first in the NFL.

Jelani Woods is set to become the team’s newest TE1 with Drew Ogletree vying for the ‘Y’ TE role as a bottom of the depth chart passcatcher. Kylen Granson is essentially a lock for the team’s ‘F’ split-type role, similar to how Shane Steichen used Grant Calcattera just a season ago in Philly, and Cox/Brown and even rookie Will Mallory are likely to battle for the team’s blocking TE, that is unless Tom Manning’s personal bias shakes things up for Cox’s role.