The NFL Draft is in the books, and the Colts have added most if not all of their roster for the 2021 season. There still could be post-draft Free agent signings, especially after post-June 1st cuts. There is even the possibility of trades shaking up this projection. However, at this moment, we have a rough idea of at least 90% of the possible players for the Colts 53 man roster and the 15 man Practice Squad. So let’s see who very well could be on them for 2021!
Starters in Bold
Rookies in Italics
PUP list **
Practice Squad (PS)
QB: Carson Wentz, Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger (PS)
Wentz is the clear starter for the start of 2021 and likely will be for all 17 games, health permitting. After all, it’s not very often you trade 2 early picks for a player, and they aren’t a starter that following season. Eason or Ehlinger will likely be the primary backup and will have a camp battle for that. Eason likely has the edge because of draft pedigree and more experience in the system; however, Ehlinger will give him a good push. Whoever loses will be placed on the practice squad, but it is unclear if they will be protected.
RB: Jonathan Taylor, Nyhiem Hines, Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, Deon Jackson (PS)
Barring crazy circumstances, 2 things are guaranteed in this RB unit:
- Jonathan Taylor will be the starting RB for the Colts for 2021. After the dominant end of 2020, he has more than earned that role.
- Hines will still be the multifaceted weapon as a runner/receiver/returner for the Colts.
Outside of that, there will be a fun competition towards the end of the roster. Marlon Mack was the Colts starting RB in 2018-2019 (and Week 1 of 2020), but his Achilles injury will be something to monitor going forward. I am rooting for him, and his starting experience & mentorship role will give him a good leg up on his competition. However, it is unclear if he will retain his same ability post Achilles at such a position like RB, where those injuries have shown to be devastating in years past. As such, he will have to compete with both his longtime backup Jordan Wilkins and UDFA Drake Jackson for the final 1-2 spots on the RB depth chart. I’m projecting that the vets will have the edge barring a setback from Mack, but Drake will show enough to be retained on the Practice Squad. Hines, Mack, and Wilkins are all on contract years, and there is no guarantee the Colts will retain more than 1-2 of them. If so, Drake could have a shot at the roster in 2022 if unclaimed from the practice squad in 2021.
WR: TY Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell, Zach Pascal, Ashton Dulin, Dezmon Patmon, Michael Strachan (PS), DeMichael Harris (PS), Tyler Vaughn (PS)
Hilton, Pittman Jr., and Pascal are all very safe bets to make the roster. Campbell will need to prove he has bounced back from injury again, but the Colts love his potential as a YAC monster and weapon in motion. Should he stay healthy, he will have a key role in the Offense. Then the back 2 spots of the WR roster will be up for grabs in a huge competition with a massive 9 different players competing there. Dulin and Patmon get the edge so far, but it is early to see. Dulin impressed at times when replacing the Parris Campbell role in the O as well as on special teams. Patmon remained on the active roster for the entire season but was a healthy scratch for it. The Colts might see something in him if they didn’t want to risk going to the practice squad and risk being claimed. If so, I’m projecting he makes the active roster again, but his playing time will likely be determined by injuries ahead of him on the depth chart.
For the Practice Squad, I project DeMichael Harris as well as rookies Michael Strachan and UDFA Tyler Vaughns to make it. Harris also worked a bit in the Parris Campbell role along with Dulin after Parris’s knee injury. Both should provide some insurance just in case. Strachan and Vaughns, both being picked up, tells me Ballard and Reich still see room for improvement in the back of the roster and PS for the WR group. Strachan is tough to evaluate because of his small school roots at Charleston and no tape from 2020 because of a canceled football season. However, he shows freakish athleticism on tape and pre-draft testing, using it to dominate his opponents in 2018-2019. It’s unclear how that will translate to NFL competition and likely have a learning curve to overcome before making significant NFL snaps. Vaughns is a very different receiver as he is more of a consistent and reliable possession receiver but without great athleticism. Keeping all 3 of these WRs on the practice squad gives the Colts a lot of variety and insurance for injury, depending on which receivers on the active roster deal with injuries during the year.
TE: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie Cox, Kylen Granson, Noah Togiai (PS)
Jack Doyle has been a rock for the Colts for ages now, being the epitome of reliability and substance over flash. With his reliable hands, solid route running, and strong blocking ability, he will remain a staple of the Colts O in 2021. Mo Alie Cox is a player who Colts have been patiently waiting to see in a bigger role for a while, being the TE3/TE4 on the roster since 2018. He finally teased us with his potential in 2020 with a dominant week 2 performance vs. the Vikings. He will be relied upon as an H-Back/inline blocker yet again but might see an expanded passing role with Trey Burton gone. Rookie Kylen Granson will round out the active roster TEs for the Colts, as he has certainly been heaped praise towards in the post-draft coverage from Frank Reich and Chris Ballard. The speedy TE will replace the Trey Burton role as the out wide “move” TE with a solid role in the receiving game and downfield on deeper routes. The position is critical to the offensive scheme, so expect at least 1 TE on the Practice Squad. The safe bet is Noah Togiai, who was in and out of the active roster in 2020.
LT: Eric Fisher**, Sam Tevi, Julien Davenport (PS)
LG: Quenton Nelson, Will Fries (PS)
C: Ryan Kelly, Joey Hunt
RG: Mark Glowinski, Chris Reed, Jake Eldrenkamp (PS)
RT: Braden Smith, Danny Pinter, Will Holden (PS)
The Colts starting OL has been a phenomenal area of strength for the team since mid-2018. The starting OL is pretty set in stone with 4/5 starters returning (though Glowinski could compete with newcomer Chris Reed at RG but will likely keep the job in the name of continuity). However, the Colts will be changing it up at LT with newcomers in both starters and depth. Eric Fisher is the starting LT but will likely miss a few weeks to start the season, potentially begin on the PUP list, and taking him out of the first 6 weeks. Replacing him on the active roster in the meantime will likely be either Sam Tevi or Julien Davenport, and whoever loses the starting job could be demoted to the Practice Squad once Fisher returns. Rounding out the OL depth on the active roster outside of returning backups Joey Hunt at C and Danny Pinter is rookie Will Fries. The Penn State grad was a T in college but also played some G as well. He and Pinter will compete as the swing OL who can play either G spot or RT in case of emergency, giving much-needed versatility in case of injuries to the starters and other depth players.
DE: Kwity Paye, Tyquan Lewis, Kemoko Turay, Al-Quadim Muhammad, Isaac Rochell, Ben Banogu (PS)
With the Colts moving on from Denico Autry and Justin Houston this past offseason, the DE position is going through a youth movement. 2021 1st round rookie Kwity Paye will be a starting Edge rusher after being the highest-drafted DE in Chris Ballard’s career with the Colts. The other starting spot will be a full-on competition between the rest of the roster. However, Tyquan Lewis could have an edge on the competition. The versatile 4th year DE out of Ohio State was a key part of the rotation last year and has flashed more consistently than anyone else on the roster in pass-rushing while being okay vs. the run to boot. Kemoko Turay will likely be his stiffest competition as the fellow 2018 draft class pass rusher out of Rutgers has had the biggest upside as a situational pass rusher so far amongst the current Colt DEs. If he is finally healthy, Turay time could be upon us, with his speedy and game-wrecking pass-rushing ability coming in handy on passing downs.
Al-Quadim Muhammad has been a solid 2 down DE in the rotation against the run for the last few seasons and will carve out a role yet again. New Free Agent Isaac Rochell has had some experience in the past with the Chargers and could see some snaps. Finally, it’s high time Ben Banogu gets some playing time. The 2019 2nd rounder from TCU has been consistently a healthy scratch on game days, getting only occasional snaps the last 2 seasons. He was considered a project coming out, so patience was expected, but the highly athletic pass-rusher should have earned more snaps so far in many fans’ minds. Possible concerns about practice performance aside, he has incredible upside, and if he develops could be a big contributor to the Colts pass rush. If not, he could be on the fringe of the roster again.
DT: DeForest Buckner, Dayo Odeyingbo**, Robert Windsor (PS)
NT: Grover Stewart, Antwaun Woods
Colts 1st team All-Pro DT DeForest Buckner (God, that feels good to type) is as sure of a bet as any player to make the roster. Grover Stewart handling the 1T spot has been a boon to the run D and will return as a starter yet again. Dayo Odeyingbo is a phenomenal prospect from Vanderbilt in this draft, but he suffered an Achilles tear the same day as LT Eric Fisher, meaning we could see similar time-frames for both of their returns. Should he miss a few games to start, Robert Windsor will be brought up from the practice squad, though the Colts have both Tyquan Lewis and Isaac Rochell, who can slide into a backup DT spot in the rotation as well. Antwain Woods is coming from the Cowboys, where he showed fun flashes in 2018 but regressed the last 2 years. He is familiar with a similar scheme and has starting experience, so he will likely be the primary backup DT, focusing more at NT with his strong frame and run-stopping ability.
WLB: Darius Leonard, EJ Speed, Malik Jefferson (PS)
MLB: Bobby Okereke, Jordan Glasgow
SLB: Matthew Adams, Isaiah Kaufusi, Zaire Franklin (PS)
Consider 3-time All-Pro Darius Leonard yet another roster lock. Bobby Okereke looks to slide into the starting MIKE LB job in place of former Colt Anthony Walker Jr. Okereke has plenty of MLB experience from his time at Stanford and was renowned for his intelligence in leading the defense. He should fit seamlessly in his new role with the Colts after 2 seasons as a SAM/MIKE LB. Matt Adams should also return as a situational run stopper in Base sets as a SAM LB, where he has prior starting experience with the Colts. He and Zaire Franklin have both been used there, predominantly in 2017-2018. They will be in a 3 man competition with UDFA Isaiah Kaufusi for the job and its backup role. Kaufusi has the edge over Zaire but not Adams, in my opinion, as Adams has shown to be a strong SLB in Over formations and has a bit more experience than Franklin. Kaufusi is a player I liked in this draft process as an SLB/MLB, and I feel like he will help continue the Colts UDFA active roster streak. His MLB versatility certainly helps his chances. EJ Speed and new free agent signing Malik Jefferson will compete for the backup WILL LB spot, as both are raw yet athletic LBs with tremendous range. The loser of that battle will be sent to the Practice Squad in that competition. Special teams ace Jordan Glasgow impressed last year by being 2nd on the team in ST tackles, behind only All-Pro George Odum. He still will have a role there in 2021.
CB: Xavier Rhodes, Kenny Moore II, Rock Ya-Sin, TJ Carrie, Marvell Tell, Isaiah Rodgers
Xavier Rhodes returned with a vengeance in 2020, and Kenny Moore continued to be one of the best nickel CBs in the NFL. Both will be starters yet again in 2021. The CB3 spot is tougher to gauge. Rock Ya-Sin filled that role for most of the year in 2020, but his inconsistency and grabbiness downfield dragged on and made the Colts shift to veteran TJ Carrie. Carrie was pretty good in Rock’s stead, though both have had rollercoaster performances over the years. Adding yet another contender for potential CB3 snaps is Marvell Tell. Tell opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, but in his rookie year in 2018, he displayed a surprising amount of upside. The day 3 Safety convert is a freak athlete and, despite only just learning the position that year, was a decent cover man who didn’t miss a single tackle. If he spent the 2020 season wisely learning more of the intricacies of CB technique and training, Tell could surprise fans and earn a big role for the Colts in 2021. Isaiah Rodgers heads up the end of the roster at CB as a backup nickel corner and a dynamic kick returner who has earned a spot on the roster for his return abilities.
FS: Julian Blackmon, Sean Davis
SS: Khari Willis, George Odum, Shawn Davis (PS)
“Khari (Willis) is the most underrated guy on the defense.” “I think (Julian) Blackmon is special. He’s got All-Pro talent. We are expecting him to take another step.”
– Chris Ballard to Kevin Bown of Kevin’s Corner on 1075 the Fan
Julian Blackmon and Khari Willis return as the Colts young promising starting Safety duo. Both are entrenched starters barring injury (which both do have injury histories to look out for). Free Agent Sean Davis likely will compete to be Blackmon’s backup at FS, where he had some success before with the Steelers in 2018. He shouldn’t be confused for new draft pick Shawn Davis, who is primarily a SS coming out of College and should compete for a roster spot. However, George Odum is an All-Pro Special Teamer on the coverage unit and likely will be retained on the roster, meaning that Sean and Shawn Davis will have to compete for a roster spot if only 1 is available. I will give the edge to Sean Davis as Blackmon’s injury history is a bit more concerning, and Blackmon’s late-season regression was concerning to me. However, it will be a close battle that could go either way depending on how the Colts feel about both the Davis’s and the starter’s health going forward.
K: Rodrigo Blankenship
P: Rigoberto Sanchez
LS: Luke Rhodes
PR: Nyhiem Hines
KR: Isaiah Rodgers
Yes, Hot Rod will keep his job, though Eddy Pineiro will give him a battle in training camp. I expect Piniero to be a camp leg, but Blankenship needs to improve his range as a kicker. He is hard not to root for the guy; he needs to bulk up and gain some more leg strength. Rigoberto Sanchez will be back as the Colts Punter, as he has been a strong and reliable one for years. His return from cancer was inspirational last year, and he clearly has a lot of love and support from fans. That support must have rubbed off on the front office, as they didn’t sign or draft a punter as even a camp leg for 2021. Luke Rhodes returns as the reliable as ever Long Snapper. Hines and Rodgers, as previously mentioned, will maintain their roles as returners, as both have been tremendous in those roles in 2020 and don’t any clear competition for them in 2021, barring a standout UDFA taking it from one of them in camp (which seems unlikely).