The draft is over, as is the frenzy to sign undrafted free agents (UDFAs). At the end of a frantic few days, the Indianapolis Colts have significantly fewer holes in their roster than they had this time last week. Of course, we won’t know how successful this draft has been until the Colts start playing football, and even then, it could take a few seasons before we really know how good these players are. But for the time being, at least, Chris Ballard and his team can be pleased with their work.
Despite boasting a team with a league-high seven Pro Bowlers last year, Indianapolis entered the offseason with a number of areas badly needing to be addressed. Carson Wentz’s future looked uncertain, and we now know that Jim Irsay had already decided Wentz’s time in Indianapolis was up after only one season. Somehow Chris Ballard got Washington to eat all of Wentz’s salary, traded for Matt Ryan, and netted picks in the process. Indianapolis had one of the league’s worst pass rushes, and they addressed that by trading for Yannick Ngakoue. The loss of Rock Ya-Sin in the trade and the decision not to re-sign Xavier Rhodes left a clear need at CB. That need was eventually filled by former DPOY and multiple-time Super Bowl winner Stephon Gilmore.
Heading into the draft, Indianapolis needed to get more explosive on offense and had a long-term need to fill at Left Tackle. There was also a need to improve the depth across the offensive and defensive lines and at linebacker. I’m not going to say today that I’m confident all these needs have been filled in the draft or with UDFAs. Still, Indianapolis does look much better placed in these positions, having drafted Alec Pierce, Jelani Woods, Bernhard Raimann, and Nick Cross.
What, then, are the biggest holes left on the Colts roster? And who might be best placed to fill them? By drafting Alec Pierce, Indianapolis got a lot better at wide receiver, but there is still scope for further recruitment. They’ve lost TY Hilton and Zach Pascal in free agency, so they have room for another wide receiver on the roster unless they want to use that spot for another position. Indianapolis didn’t double dip at wide receiver in the draft as many expected by pursuing someone like Kyle Phillips or Bo Melton in the later rounds. While Parris Campbell’s injury history also arguably strengthens the argument for a deeper wide receiver corps.
There are a lot of young wide receivers on the Colts’ roster, so if Indianapolis is going to sign a WR in free agency, it would make sense for them to sign a veteran who can provide leadership and mentorship to their colleagues. In many ways, re-signing TY Hilton is the most obvious answer if they can agree on money. Hilton loves the team, and the fans love him, while TY knows the system and would get the chance to be coached by his mentor Reggie Wayne.
At this stage in his career, no one is expecting Hilton to recapture his pre-2019 form, but he still could contribute as a member of a more balanced passing game. ‘The Ghost’ also only needs 309 more yards to break the 10,000 career receiving yards milestone, and that target would certainly be achievable for him with one more season in Indianapolis. Hilton gave a cryptic response to The Blue Stable’s own Eric’s call for the Colts to re-sign him over the weekend.
Outside of TY Hilton, Julio Jones is another obvious option, given his long history with Matt Ryan. Jones has had a long and brilliant career but has really struggled with injuries over the past few years. He could still bring a lot to the Colts, but the money he would get paid would have to reflect what he can offer now, not what he was capable of at the peak of his impressive career. In many ways, Hilton and Jones have similar strengths and drawbacks at this stage in their careers. However, Hilton has the advantage of an emotional connection to Indianapolis, making him more likely to accept less money than he thinks he is worth.
The best veteran wide receiver option for the Colts could be Jarvis Landry. Landry certainly hasn’t had the same storied career as Hilton or Jones, but he also doesn’t have the same feeling that he’s right at the end of his career (he’s 29). Landry’s 2021 season was curtailed by injury, but he looked impressive in 2020 as he was Cleveland’s best receiver in the absence of OBJ. Landry would be a solid slot receiver for the Colts, while Pittman and Pierce would line up on the outside. Without knowing how much money each WR would need to sign with the Colts, I think Landry can probably offer the most on the field of the three veterans.
If Indianapolis wants a younger but riskier wide receiver, they could give Will Fuller a shot. Fuller has missed many games in his career through injuries and suspension. However, he is a legitimate deep threat and looked good before his suspension in the 2020 season, when he emerged as the Texans WR1 following the disastrous DeAndre Hopkins trade. Fuller may have too many of the same strengths and weaknesses as Parris Campbell, but he could be an option and offers great upside for whichever team does sign him.
It looked like cornerback may be one of the needs Ballard prioritized in the draft alongside WR, TE, and LT. The signing of Stephon Gilmore in free agency certainly made it a less urgent need, but just as at QB with Matt Ryan, the Colts will need to find Gilmore’s long-term successor soon. It doesn’t appear the Colts did address cornerback in the draft. Although several UDFA signings or a player like 7th-round pick Rodney Thomas II, a safety, could certainly end up being CB pieces of the future. With all that being said, there is still scope for another CB to be added in free agency.
Some solid veteran cornerbacks are still available, like Kyle Fuller or Xavier Rhodes, but they don’t fit what the Colts need from the position. The best option might be someone like Kevin King, who, at 27, should have a few more years left of his career. King could be a solid depth player who could fill the role T.J. Carrie has played in the Colts’ secondary for the past few years. In the best-case scenario, a new environment could help King’s game reach another level, and he could be starting CB in the years to come. Alternatively, I could see the Colts bolstering their depth at cornerback when other teams start cutting their rosters to get their 53-man roster for the season.
Indianapolis is looking much better at edge rush this offseason than they were last year, with the signing of Yannick Ngakoue, and Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo having a year in the NFL under their belts. That being said, it is an area they may want to add depth to. Kemoko Turay, Al-Quadin Mohammad, and Isaac Rochell all departed in free agency, while it’s hard to know how much Ben Banogu can be trusted given how little he’s played in his NFL career so far. The Colts did bolster the interior defensive line significantly during the draft but didn’t pursue DE depth to the same extent (although several defensive line UDFAs have been signed).
Given the youth of the Colts’ defensive line, a veteran free agent edge rusher would seem to make a lot of sense for the Colts. Preferably one who can mentor teammates while playing at a high level, but one who is now willing to be a depth player and paid as such. Jerry Hughes would seem to fit that description well.
At 34, Hughes isn’t the player he was at his peak for Buffalo, but he can still generate pressure and doesn’t miss games. Returning to Indianapolis would allow Hughes to continue playing for a good team, while the Colts could try and erase the hurt of letting him go all those years ago.
Justin Houston could also be an option if he were willing to return to Indianapolis so soon and accept a rotational role. Although I suspect he’ll re-sign with Baltimore for another year to play until David Ojabo is fully fit. Alternatively, suppose Indianapolis is after a younger defensive end which can be at least a rotational edge rusher for a few years. In that case, Carl Nassib could be a viable option, having been released by the Raiders.
A final area the Colts might be looking to add depth is likely the interior offensive line. Chris Ballard lamented the lack of offensive line depth at the end of the 2020 season, especially during the loss to Pittsburgh. The Colts seemed to have found that depth in Matt Pryor, Danny Pinter, and Chris Reed last season. However, Reed signed with the Vikings in free agency, and Pryor and Pinter may now both have starting spots on the offensive line at LT and RG, respectively.
There are a few free-agent offensive linemen who could potentially be of interest to the Colts. Daryl Williams played for the Bills last year and can play right tackle or right guard, and Ereck Flowers played 16 games for Washington at left guard last year. Whether either of these two are viable options for Indianapolis will partially depend on whether they want a starting job or are happy to accept being a backup. Interior offensive line depth might be another area where Chris Ballard looks to hoover up players released by other teams when they slim their rosters down to the final 53.
We’ve got a long way to go until the NFL returns, but we now largely know what the Colts team will look like in 2022. I’m sure all of us at The Blue Stable will write plenty more on what this Colts team can accomplish as the season approaches. But at this stage, this Indianapolis team looks meaningfully better than the 2021 team that promised so much but fell agonizingly short of the playoffs.