Colts Preview Capsule
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (4-12)
New faces: G Matt Slauson, TE Eric Ebron, WR Ryan Grant, DT Denico Autry, LB Najee Goode, rookies G Quenton Nelson, OL Braden Smith, DE Kemoko Turay, LB Darius Leonard, RB Jordan Wilkins, RB Nyheim Hines, coach Frank Reich.
Key losses: RB Frank Gore, CB Rashaan Melvin, S Darius Butler, DT Johnathan Hankins, WR Donte Moncrief, coach Chuck Pagano.
Strengths: If Andrew Luck stays healthy and returns to pre-injury form, Colts could have one of league’s best QB depth charts with promising 15-game starter Jacoby Brissett as backup. Adding Nelson and Slauson plus return of C Ryan Kelly from injuries could give Luck best interior line in NFL career. Ebron can stretch field in double tight-end sets and give Luck another downfield target. Indy, of course, still has Mr. Clutch in kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Weaknesses: Questions abound with young, revamped defense. Colts moved top three linebackers from last season to defensive end while switching to 4-3 front. Need solid production from plethora of rookies. Leonard has played well in preseason. Starting safeties Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker need to stay healthy after being hindered by injuries. Indy also must find adequate starter at right tackle and depth at receiver. RB Marlon Mack projected to start but has not yet proved he can be workhorse.
Fantasy Players To Watch: Ebron. In Reich’s offensive system, tight ends play significant role. Pro Bowler Jack Doyle can exploit middle of field, allowing Ebron’s athleticism to help open up things around field. Ebron’s big body also makes him valuable commodity in goal-line situations.
Vegas Says: Super Bowl 67-1. Over-under wins 7.
Expectations: Aside from Vinatieri’s quest to become league’s career field goals (needs seven) and career scoring leader (needs 58 points), nothing is certain. Colts are in rebuild mode following 4-12 season and third straight year of missing playoffs. AFC South is stronger, too. But Luck’s return, new coaching regime and change in defensive philosophy could be answer to quick turnaround. When Colts were last projected as bottom dweller, Luck led shocking run to playoffs in 2012. Could it happen again? Stay tuned but Indy is tempering hopes. Healthy Luck and more solid offensive line could be season changer.