In shocking news, Colts fourth-year starting safety Khari Willis announced today that he was hanging it up and calling it a career to pursue a future in the ministry. While I’m excited for Willis, the following logical questions are: What does this mean for the Colts? How does this impact the defense?
Before I jump into that, I want you all to make sure you voice your opinion in the comment section on whatever respective platform you are on. Please tell us what you think about the potential impact of Willis’ retirement on the Colts. Who does this help? Does this hurt the team at all? Tell us; we want to know!
Lowest passer rating allowed in coverage among all Safeties since 2020
1. Julian Blackmon: 44.3 👀
2. Rodney McLeod: 55.0 👀
3. Jordan Poyer: 61.4 pic.twitter.com/qSXMnyH1PG
— PFF IND Colts (@PFF_Colts) April 17, 2022
What does this mean for the Colts?
In Willis, the Colts had a reliable young veteran player who was also regarded as a leader in the locker room. His retirement will impact the Colts. There is no doubt about that.
However, I am relieved that the Colts went out and signed Rodney McLeod in free agency earlier this offseason. McLeod has one of the lowest passer ratings allowed in coverage since 2020 and ranked 2nd among safeties in that category. McLeod was already slated to play a major role for the Colts, but now I think he could be the team’s starting strong safety early on. He’s started 123 games in the NFL at safety and will be an upgrade over Willis in coverage.
Nick Cross was drafted with pick 96 of round 3 in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.87 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 12 out of 868 FS from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/WrB6Awjgs6 #RAS #Colts pic.twitter.com/Ny1GdOgtVL
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 30, 2022
Another possibility is that 3rd round draft selection Nick Cross earns the starting strong safety spot, and McLeod plays in 3 safety sets. As you can see above, he is a tremendous athlete, and when the Colts drafted him, Chris Ballard openly discussed how they felt really strongly about him and that they thought he would’ve been a 2nd round pick if he had stayed at Maryland.
From his time at Maryland, we know that he’s exactly the kind of safety the Colts are looking for in this defense. He showed that he was a good run defender, and we’ve even seen him in single high looks at Maryland. He is the quintessential Gus Bradley safety.
How does this impact the Colts defense?
First, I am extremely glad that Ballard hit the safety position hard this off-season. This shows why having good depth at each position is vital to being competitive in the NFL. If the Colts would’ve had a similar situation to what they had last year, it would probably be time to panic.
While I think the Colts are in a good position to replace Khari Willis without too much of a problem, I do believe that he will be missed. He had built-in chemistry with a lot of players on that defense, and even if Cross or McLeod end up being better players, you can’t replace three years of experience with teammates very easily. In fact, you probably can’t replace that at all, especially not with the guys on this roster currently.
I think safety play is going to be something to watch early on in the season, but I think the Colts are more than capable of getting quality play from the guys they have on the roster, and I don’t think this ends up being much of an issue at all.