What a difference one draft makes. Before, many fans and pundits had limited expectations for the 2023 Indianapolis Colts. A new 1st time Head Coach with an at the time undetermined QB prospect to develop as well as a roster with some notable questions at other important positions will do that.
But now? The expectations have some range to them. Some still see this roster as having a ways to go. Others bolstered by the impression of the Colts’ highly touted Draft have the team as possible surprise contenders.
All of this begs the question: Are the Colts back?
Reasons For Optimism
The Youth Movement
The Indianapolis Colts just drafted 12 players in the 2023 Draft and signed 15 Undrafted Free Agents. Not only is that a large quantity of new young players, but the consensus is that it is also a class of high-quality talent.
The grades are in! 📝
— Indy SportsOne (@IndySportsOne) May 1, 2023
Drafting a potential franchise QB with immense upside after a year of Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, and Sam Ehlinger was bound to get the hype machine going. Anthony Richardson testing as the most athletic QB in RAS History and landing with Shane Steichen as his Head Coach certainly helped his hype. Add to that several highly touted players on many experts boards: Corners Julius Brents, Darius Rush & Jaylon Jones, WR Josh Downs, OL Blake Freeland, and DL Adetomiwa Adebawore, the Colts ensured themselves as one of the draft’s biggest winners by major media outlets.
Should this draft class hit the ground running, the Colts added a ton of valuable depth, rotation, and potential starting-caliber players to the roster.
Shaquille Leonard returning in 2023 would be huge for the Colts Defense. While the other Colts LBs impressed, Leonard’s turnover-generating prowess was sorely missed in 2022. The Colts regressed from being a top 5 Defense in turnovers in 2020-2021 to being 19th in 2022.
I haven’t been on Twitter so I might have missed it, but Logan Ryan on GMF yesterday casually mentioning he’s been working out with Shaq Leonard in Tampa and he looks good and healthy seemed like an interesting subplot from yesterday. I think his impact is underrated.
— Josh Boeke (@JoshBoeke) May 9, 2023
Jonathan Taylor missed 6 games in 2022 (and only played 2 snaps in another), and his spark on Offense was sorely missed. Getting the 2021 Rushing Champ back and healthy will be a big boost to the Colts run game and help make life a lot easier for rookie QB Anthony Richardson. That duo could form one of the NFL’s most potent rushing attacks immediately in 2023.
“He reminds me of Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson with the size of Cam Newton.” 😳 — Colts’ RB Jonathan Taylor on Anthony Richardson via @JustinM_NFL
He also believes Richardson will develop faster than people think and excel in the league. High praise from the All-Pro. 📈 pic.twitter.com/tuEVxWhVG5
— Indy SportsOne (@IndySportsOne) May 9, 2023
Kenny Moore II had a down year in 2022 in a new scheme and injuries. Moore II failed to record an INT in a season for the 1st time in his career. He had a nagging hip injury and ended the season on IR with an ankle injury, missing the final 5 games. Despite a down year, he was still very important to the Defense. In his 12 games played the Colts were on pace to be the 9th-best Defense in points allowed. In the 5 games he missed they allowed 36.6 points per game and finished 28th. Another year in the scheme and better health could see a return to Moore II being considered one of the best slot Corners in the NFL. Should he do so, that would be an immense help to the 2023 Indianapolis Colts’ young secondary and Defense.
Kwity Paye missed 5 games due to an ankle injury in 2022 in the midst of an improved year 2 for the young pass rusher. Despite missing time and having the injury nagging him, he finished with 6 sacks and a higher pressure rate than his rookie season. If he continues to grow and stays healthy, he could have a big breakout year in 2023.
Quenton Nelson didn’t miss time in 2022 but his back issues from 2021 might have carried over to 2022. His level of play wasn’t up to par with his former All-Pro form in 2022. He had an undisclosed injury that caused him to miss the 2023 Pro Bowl. Another year of rehab and distance from the original injury might help Nelson fix this issue going forward and return to his previous production.
A New Coach
Gone are the days of Saturday as an interim Head Coach. Enter Shane Steichen: QB Whisperer.
With a new offensive-minded HC who helped develop Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts, the Colts are optimistic in his abilities to mold Anthony Richardson into his next top-tier QB. Steichen brings that resume, playcalling experience for the Eagles offense in 2021-2022, & a new system that will involve empty concepts to simplify reads. Expect the 2023 Indianapolis Colts Offense to take a step forward with a more consistently creative scheme and exciting new athletes to deploy.
Reasons For Pessimism
This is a roster that is the 3rd youngest in the NFL according to Spotrac before factoring in 5 remaining draft picks needing to be signed. The Colts don’t have a single player on Offense or Defense over the age of 29 as of now. Development is needed for a very young team. Due to this we can expect some inconsistency, some learning curves, and potential “rookie walls” as players get used to the speed, competition, and length of an NFL season.
The ceiling is high, it will likely take patience to reach. 2023 is a year about growth and adjustment, not about immediate contention.
New Scheme Adjustments
The new Offensive scheme should make the O more dynamic than the 2022 end-of-season Colts. However, most of the offensive players were drafted and trained in the previous Frank Reich system. Some of these players might not be as good fits in a Steichen scheme and could regress. Others might take some time switching to new terminology and roles. Everyone is learning this year on offense, so communication and mental mistakes could pop up at times.
The Colts are only entering year 2 of the Gus Bradley Defensive scheme as well. We saw some players take leaps and others regress in their new roles and assignments. The hope is another year of study allows players to play more freely and think less on their assignments. Mistakes could still happen, but progress is a possibility too.
A Tougher AFC South?
The AFC South has long been regarded as one of the worst divisions in the NFL. The Texans have been a 3-4 win team in each of the last 3 years. The Jaguars lost the most games in the NFL from 2011-2021 and were regularly a bottom 5-10 team (besides the 2017 Sacksonville Mirage). The Titans were a 9-7 team for 4 straight years culminating in a surprise AFC Championship appearance in 2019, only to be an overhyped one-and-done team in the playoffs the next 2 years and regress to 7-10 in 2022.
However, the Jaguars emerged in 2022 with Trevor Lawrence flashing his much-heralded potential under Doug Pederson. They could be on the verge of having the most sustained success in franchise history since the 1990s. The Texans have a new Head Coach in DeMeco Ryans to reinvigorate the Defense and drafted both QB CJ Stroud and Edge Will Anderson Jr. to bring a big immediate impact. The Titans could finally get healthier and still have a solid defense while they begin to retool the Offense under new GM Ran Carthon.
2023 is a transition year for most of our AFC rivals as well, but they each have the potential to surprise pundits and play better than their reputation. Should their various rebuilds have expedited results, the AFC South has the potential to emerge from the doldrums of NFL divisions.
What Should Colts Fans Expect in 2023?
Expect the 2023 Indianapolis Colts to improve from their disastrous 4-12-1 season in 2022. While immediate contention is not likely in the cards for the Colts in a stacked AFC, the team should take a step forward. 6-11 to 8-9 feels like a realistic range as the Colts improve their win total by 1.5-3.5.
The Colts team might not be the best in the NFL, but it could be one of the most fun to watch. Steichen having the opportunity to coach one of the most athletic Offenses in the NFL led by the most athletic QB in testing history should be very exciting. The return of star players like Shaquille Leonard, Kenny Moore II, and Jonathan Taylor will bring energy on and off the field. Seeing a young team filled with stories of great athletes with high character and incredible backstories makes the season more compelling to watch.
The Colts are building something right now. Time will tell if this core will reach its potential, but seeing growth should give Colts fans something they haven’t had in a while: long-term hope.
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