This season is over and it's time to look forward to 2018 now it's time to break down the D. Usually in my history as a Colts fan when I look at the roster it's the D that has made me mad and depressed, this year somehow they are the bright spot. That being said there is still much to improve on, but it hasn't been as brutal as I thought it might. Right now the Colts run a 3-4 but assuming Chuck is not brought back next year (please god) then they may change it up and that may complicate things as far as projections. I'm gonna assume that they stay in the 3-4 but also touch on which guys I think can be system flexible.
Int DL: It all starts in the trenches, where the big uglies do the dirty work so that everyone else can do their job. In the off-season Chris Ballard did a lot of retooling with the D and especially the line and it has paid off. Al Woods has been a coup at NT for Indy this season. Since switching over to the 3-4 the Colts have struggled to find a big man to command the middle. Woods is never going to put up pretty stats but he's done a great job of taking on double teams and not giving up ground in the run game. Woods and the man I'm about to mention next are big reasons why the Colts run D has been an above average and improving unit, he'll fit in next season as our nose in either the 3-4 or 4-3. The other new bigman Ballard was able to find during the off-season was Jonathan Hankins, he was our 1 kinda "big slash" in FA last year and he's been a beast. He signed a 3 year 27 million dollar contract and he's been worth every penny. Hankins is another guy who plays better than his stat line, especially working as a DE in our 3-4. But despite the little number, he's been putting in work stuffing the run, getting in pass lanes and pushing the pocket. He'll definitely be a big piece to our D and has even shown off he can excel in a 4-3, putting up 7 sacks with the Giants in in 2014. Henry Anderson is going to be a question mark heading into next season. When he's healthy he's a perfect 3-4 DE, he's long, athletic, gets off blocks well and can collapse the pocket. Unfortunately this will be his 3rd season and his 2nd where he landed on IR. His rookie year he was dominant for his first 9 games before tearing his ACL, last year he wasn't able to recover in time to start the season and you could see he was still getting his feet back under him. Then once again he was able to start off strong this season playing in 9 games before hurting his throat.
Lucky for the Colts Anderson still has one year left on his rookie deal so they can see if he's able to bounce back before having to make a real commitment to him, but it's not something I would hang your hat on. If the Colts stay in the 3-4 I would look for the Colts to add a low end FA on a 1 year deal or a mid/late round rookie to compete with Anderson. But if they make the switch the a 4-3 the coaching staff may not see a great fit in camp for Anderson and make a move for a proven 4-3 DT. But for the most part I think the interior DL is looking very good for next year and may only need minor tweaks.
Edge: Other than Hankins the other two major pickups Ballard made last off-season were Jabaal Sheard and John Simon. Both have been excellent additions that have helped to upgrade the Colts anemic pass rush. Getting "home" hasn't been a strength of Indy this year but they have definitely put more pressure on QBs this year than seasons before. Sheard so far is leading the Colts in sacks with 4.5 and Simon missed some time with a stinger but has 3 sacks in 8 games. As you can gather from those numbers they have been good at getting pressure but both Simon and Sheard are more complimentary pieces instead of dominant edge rushers that you build a D around. Sheard has already played and shown he can preform in a 4-3 as a DE and i believe Simon could as well and if not I believe he would make a good SLB that you can blitz and set the edge. Coming into the year I did have high hopes for Tarell Basham being able to show some potential as a 3rd rusher who could step up and be the guy in the future. He hasn't shown much so far this season to make the Colts think that is still the case, while it's still too early to give up on him you also can't count on him. I do think that if the Colts switched to a 4-3 that it would be a better fit for Basham as he does seem a little stiff rushing the passer and in space. hopefully next year he breaks out but I'm not holding my breath. Looking to the off-season FA pass rushers, especially top tier guys, make BANK! And this year though I don't see many guys who I think will make it to FA who would be worth the price-tag. Someone to look at on a possibly cheaper deal though is if K.C doesn't resign Dee Ford, he could be someone the Colts look to add. So far this season he has been banged up and has only played in 6 games but last year rotating with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston he put up 10 sacks. With Ballard already knowing him and drafting him in K.C and his price-tag maybe being brought down by a injury riddled season Ford could be a perfect fit for what Indy is looking for. If Ford doesn't hit FA and the Colts come up empty in FA as far as edge rushers go then this is a draft class where they should definitely be able to find someone to step in and help. If they stay put and pick around #5 either Arden Key or Bradley Chubb would be my favorites to go in that spot. I've mentioned both in my previous draft blogs, Key I believe would fit the 3-4 better than Chubb but if the Colts make the switch Chubb has put himself in the convo for best D player in the draft with his play. If they miss out on Key and Chubb or go a different route in Rd.1 then someone like Sam Hubbard or Harold Landry in Rd 2. who might just get pushed down because of the depth in this year draft would be a real steal for Indy. My mid-round target as an edge rusher would be Sione Teuhema, he's 6-4 250lbs and has been a monster for Southeast Louisiana but if it weren't for off field concern that got him kicked out of LSU he might be a 1st round prospect, so if Ballard checked him out and felt comfortable with the man he could get a great player at a discount. I feel like with what Ballard was able to add last season the Colts have a good base for their edge rushers and just need a little boost and some depth and they will be set for the foreseeable future.
LBs: This is where is gets ugly, the Colts might have the worst off ball linebackers in the NFL. Antonio Morrison and Jon Bostic on a scale of 1-5 would get a -4, that picture sums up why......
Neither Morrison or Bostic can cover a TE or RB to save their lives, I'd have a better chance of sticking my **** in Ivanka Trumps mouth then either of them sticking with a back in coverage. And for "2 down thumper LBs they don't even stop the run that well. This is a spot that the Colts NEED to improve before next season. In FA there are a couple of guys who I think could make it to the market and would be worth looking into for the Colts. My two favorite targets for the Colts are Avery Williamson and/or Demario Davis, but I don't think it's super likely that either hit the market. Stealing Williamson from the Titheads would be amazing for the D, it would give the Colts a man in the middle to get everyone set up and make the calls while hurting a division rival. Davis would also be a great target for the Colts as he has experience playing in a 3-4 and and is only 29 so he should still be able to play at a high level through the contract. Those two would be the guys I'd want the Colts to splurge on if that doesn't happen and they still want to add a FA LB Tahir Whitehead or Zach Brown are two more options who I think are a bit more likely to be had. Both would offer major improvements in pass coverage over any LB currently on the Colts while still being at least as good in run support. If the Colts look to the draft for an upgrade at LB there are a few guys I have my eye on. ILBs are becoming a position that teams are putting less and less emphasis on as the NFL keeps becoming more and more of a passing league, so teams aren't investing high picks like they used to, but guys like Luke Kuechly, Ryan Shazier and Sean Lee have been well worth the investment and would certainly go higher in a redraft. The only off ball LB I would consider in the 1st round in this upcoming draft is Roquan Smith. Smith has been awesome all season, but played like a man possessed in the SEC championship and was just given the Butkus award for best LB in college. Ideally if the Colts were to draft him it would involve a trade down 5-10 spots and adding some extra mid round picks. But if the Colts aren't able to find a trade partner and Smith is the player they want please Ballard don't worry about "positional value" and take him, I'm sick of watching trash linebacker play.
CB/S: So far this season the conerback and saftey play for the Colts has been up and down. Injuries have really hurt the secondary for the Colts this season, but they have been able to find some players to step up in others absence. Last year's first two picks in the draft for Indy were devoted to the secondary, Malik Hooker, the Colts 1st pick, started week 1 at FS and in 8 games before tearing his ACL & MCL snagged 3 INTs showing great range and play making ability. Quincy Wilson the 2nd rounder for Indy has had more of a up and down season. Wilson was able to start the season as the Colts #2 CB and seemed to be playing decent through 3 games, then he missed some time with an injury and has been in the coaching staff's dog house since. Wilson has been a healthy scratch the last 5 games and Pagano when asked about it said that Wilson needed to show more ST ability to dress on Sundays. I'm sorry but Chuck, this season is lost and your *** is probably fired once it's over so get the young guys out there and see what you have. Coming into the year I had high hopes that Hooker and Wilson would combine with Geathers and Davis to form one of the leagues best secondaries. Unfortunately Geathers has been hurt most of the year and only just returned and Davis was released so i'll have to wait for next season to hopefully get that great secondary I imagined. But it hasn't been all bad luck for in the secondary for the Colts, 5th rounder Nate Hairston has been an excellent find to play the slot, Rashaan Melvin in his 5th year in the league exploded and has played at a pro bowl level this year and out of nowhere Mathis Farley has played great as a replacement safety. Looking to the off-season Rashaan Melvin is a FA at the end of this year and Chris Ballard will need to decide if he thinks this season was a fluke or if he will pay him. I would be hesitant to give him a huge contract as this has been his only season of really high level play but if he would accept a 3-4 year deal with a team option after year 2 for around 7-8 mill a year sign him up Chris. If Ballard is able to keep Melvin and Hooker is able to recover in time to start next season I really think the secondary will be the strength of the Colts next year. If I'm right and Luck is able to bounce back and give the Colts a real offence, in today's passing NFL we've seen teams ride a hot secondary like "The Legion of Boom" and "No Fly Zone" to a SuperBowl. If the Colts aren't able to retain Melvin another CB will be needed in either FA or the draft. In the last few years we've seen CBs getting huge contract in FA so unless it's someone you are very confident in I think the draft is the way to go. The only FA CBs I would possibly look for the Colts to add would be Prince Amukamara or Malcolm Butler. I don't think either would break the bank and if there's no Melvin they could be the veteran in the secondary who shows the young guys how it's done. So looking to next season if they lock Melvin up or are able to add either of the FA I mentioned then the secondary looks good next year with Wilson and Hairtston holding down the other CB spots and Hooker, Geathers and Fairley at saftey. If they can't keep Melvin or add another veteran in FA then Minkah Fitzpatrick would be the only 1st round target I'd look into, on day two someone like LSU's Donte Jackson or FSU's Tavarus Jackson look like good outside CBs for the next level.
In conclusion weirdly enough I think the D going into next season is in better shape than the offence, I have never thought that as a Colts fan, it's strange. There are still some spots that need work, Indy needs not 1 but 2 ILBs and need depth on the edge to improve the passrush. But I think the DL and secondary are mostly set and may only need some minor tweaks, especially if Melvin is retained and Wilson is able to show off in the last 4 weeks.