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The Indianapolis Colts ended their 2023 season by falling agonizingly short of making the playoffs and winning the AFC South for the first time in a decade. Despite this, there were plenty of positives the organization can take into 2024. New coach Shane Steichen already looks to be one of the league’s best. While we haven’t as much of Anthony Richardson as we wanted, he acclimatized well to the NFL in the short amount of time we got to see him, which is important for a QB thought to be so raw coming out of college.

The Colts have to plan for the 2024 season knowing they have several fundamental building blocks already in place and don’t have too many glaring holes on their roster. And those biggest holes on the roster can be largely addressed by re-signing key players set to hit free agency.

That doesn’t mean of course that there aren’t areas where Indianapolis needs to and will look to improve this offseason. I’m not going to dwell for too long on what those needs are as I think we all know what those needs are. I’ll instead be focusing on how Indianapolis will look to address those needs in free agency and the draft.

Wide Receiver looked to be one of the Colts’ priorities this offseason. They’ve started to address this by franchise-tagging Michael Pittman and continue to work on a long-term deal for him this offseason. However, even if/when Pittman does commit to Indianapolis for the next few years, the Colts still need to strengthen their receiving corps. Outside of Pittman Jr., Josh Downs had an encouraging debut season and should take his game to another level in his second season. Beyond those two, however, the Colts do seem to lack game-changing receiving talent. Alec Pierce does have potential but hasn’t yet realized it and the rest of the unit lacks depth.

Chris Ballard may look to improve the depth of his receiving options through free agency, but I’d be surprised if we saw him make a move for a big-name wide receiver. It is no surprise that the list of big-name Wide Receivers who looked to be heading to free agency is now much shorter after Evans signed a big new deal and Pittman and Higgins were tagged. There is some talent that is hitting the market, but that talent is likely to come at a premium. We know it isn’t Ballard’s style to splash out on free agents and I think he’s much more likely to spend his resources on other positions and address wide receiver in the draft. However, that doesn’t mean Ballard won’t look to add some depth to the room, as he tried to do with McKenzie last year.

This certainly looks to be a great year for Indianapolis to be trying to get a Wide Receiver in the draft. This looks to be a strong draft class for Wide Receivers, with several likely worthy of first-round grades and plenty more likely to be selected in the second round.

Unfortunately, we know Marvin Harrison Jr. will be drafted long before the Colts are on the clock. We can only hope he goes to a team like Arizona and not the Patriots or Titans (who should be prioritizing a QB and an LT respectively). Harrison Jr. will almost certainly be the first Wide Receiver off the board, but there should be plenty of talent that follows not too far behind him.

 

Malik Nabers and Rome Odunze appear to be competing to be WR2 and both look like top ten players in this draft class. At Tight End, Brock Bowers is another top-ten prospect. He may not be a Wide Receiver, but he would have a similarly transformative impact on the Colts offense as the likes of Nabers and Odunze. Bowers may be more likely to fall to 15 as TEs aren’t considered as valuable a position as WRs. I do think there’s a reasonable chance that one of Nabers, Odunze, or Bowers is still on the board at 15, with Bowers being most likely. This is largely because I expect as many as four QBs and four LTs could be drafted in the first 14 picks this year. Players like Cornerback Terron Arnold and Edge Rusher Dallas Turner are also likely taken early.

Even if all three have been taken by the time Indianapolis makes their selection, there is plenty of elite WR talent worthy of the Colts’ pick. The two most likely at this stage look to be Brian Thomas Jr and Adonai Mitchell respectively. They are 14th and 35th respectively on Dane Brugler’s draft board and both put up impressive Relative Athletic Scores (RAS) at the Combine. Scores are good enough to rank 10th and 11th all-time for WRs.

One or both might still be available later in the first round if Ballard does decide to trade down (although he tends to prefer to do that in the 2nd and 3rd rounds). But if the Colts want to trade down further or prioritize another position in the 1st round, there are plenty of other talented Wide Receivers who should go in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Players like Troy Franklin, Keon Coleman, Ladd McConkey, Roman Wilson, Xavier Worthy, Malachi Corley, and Ja’Lynn Polk offer plenty of variety for teams to choose from.

 

Indianapolis’ second priority this offseason is their secondary. I expect them to primarily look to address the Cornerback position, but just as getting a great TE reduces the need for a WR, getting a great Safety would reduce the team’s need to get a CB. There were some encouraging signs from the Colts’ young secondary last season, but the units do need more experience and certainly more depth. The Colts’ first order of business in the secondary will be trying to re-sign Kenny Moore at the Nickel Cornerback spot. Given Moore’s resurgence in 2023 and the much cheaper market for Nickel Corners, I do expect the Colts and Moore to get a deal done.

Once that deal is done, I expect Ballard to turn his attention to signing a veteran Cornerback or Safety that their team hasn’t re-signed. Thankfully, a glut of veteran Safeties has already hit the free agent market. This includes Justin Simmons, Xavier McKinney, and Jordan Poyer. One immediate benefit for the Colts is that this should depress the free agent market and make it easier to re-sign Julian Blackmon. But I would also expect Indianapolis to look to bring in a veteran Safety, providing they can strike a reasonable deal.

At Cornerback, the exciting rumor is that Indianapolis is interested in trading for L’Jarius Sneed after the Chiefs tagged him. While I have no doubt Ballard (and Bradley) would love to bring him to Indianapolis, I’m skeptical they’ll offer enough to make the trade happen. Although it’s possible Kansas City would be willing to accept a below-market-value deal for Sneed if not many teams can afford his salary and Chris Jones’ extension makes this all the more likely. But I think it’s more likely the Colts sign an older free agent Cornerback, like Xavien Howard or Tre’Davious White.

 

Interestingly, I wrote earlier this offseason that White might be a CB the Colts could target if he became a cap casualty. I also wrote way back in 2021 about Howard going to the Colts. As usual, I’m not going to expect Ballard to break the bank for any free agent CB, but I do expect him to try and sign a veteran at a reasonable price within his typical range. Indianapolis is in a good position to target veteran Safeties and Cornerbacks because they can interest players looking to win now and have a secondary that actively needs experience.

Even after addressing the positions in free agency, it wouldn’t surprise me if Indianapolis looked to address them again in the early rounds of the draft. If they wanted to address it in the first round, there’s certainly talent available at Cornerback. I don’t expect Terrion Arnold to still be on the board at 15, but if he is, Ballard may have a hard time passing him up. Quinyon Mitchell is more likely to be available and would be another strong option. If Indianapolis is to focus on a receiver in round 1, then there are other options in the secondary in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.

Kool-Aid McKinstry might go towards the end of the 1st round, but could still be there in the 2nd. If he isn’t, then Kamari Lassiter, Ennis Rakestraw Jr, T.J. Tampa, Mike Sainristill, Khyree Jackson, and Cam Hart could all be available in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. At Safety, Indianapolis could look to target Tyler Nubin, Jaden Hicks, Kamren Kitchens, or Calen Bullock in those rounds.

 

Defensive Tackle is much less of a need than WR or CB, but it is still a position the Colts will likely look to address this offseason. Just how much better their rush defense was last season with Grover Stewart than without it will make sure of that. It would be good if they could re-sign Stewart, which shouldn’t be too expensive given his age and the fact he’s primarily a run-stopper, not a pass-rusher. If he does leave Indianapolis, DJ Reader would be the closest substitute in free agency. But I do expect the Colts to re-sign Stewart, even if he does hit the free agent market for a bit first.

Even if Stewart does sign a new contract, it would be prudent for Indianapolis to draft a DT who could start as a depth option behind Stewart. The idea is that this hypothetical player would learn from Stewart and eventually succeed him. If Indianapolis did want to address this need in the second round, T’Vondre Sweat could be the kind of DT who absorbs Offensive Linemen. However, I think it’s more likely the Colts target a DT in the 3rd or 4th rounds. In which case the likes of Braden Fiske could be an option if he doesn’t rise too far up draft boards by then.

Elsewhere on the Defensive Line, some Colts fans are clamoring for the team to target a big-name Edge Rusher. Initially, Brian Burns was mentioned as a potential option, but certainly isn’t now he’s been tagged by Carolina. Danielle Hunter is a slightly older and more realistic option but still would be a big-name, big-money move. While Hunter is an elite player who would likely improve any team he plays for, I can’t see Ballard making that kind of move.

Chris Ballard doesn’t typically pursue the top-of-the-market players in free agency. I can’t see that approach changing for one of the most expensive positions in the NFL, one where the Colts were stronger than most in 2023. One plausible option is Khalil Mack if he does become a cap casualty for the Chargers as I expect him to be. Mack played at an elite level last season, as he has for so much of his career. But his age should make his next contract much less generous than his current Chargers contract and therefore he should be much cheaper than Hunter. Mack would provide a real boost to the Colts pass rush in the short term, whilst helping the likes of Paye and Odeyingbo continue to develop.

Alternatively, Edge Rusher could be a position the Colts target in the draft. They could even take an Edge Rusher in the 1st round if Dallas Turner falls to 15. If they’re looking to pick one up in the 2nd or 3rd rounds, the likes of Trice, Braswell, and Kneeland should be available. Having said that, I know some Colts fans aren’t convinced that Chris Ballard drafting another 2nd round Edge Rusher is the answer. I also think the positions I’ve already discussed are more likely candidates for the Colts’ 2nd and 3rd round selections. I do anticipate Ballard addressing the position this offseason, but I think it will be some combination of a veteran free agent (likely much less flashy than Mack) and a later-round prospect in the draft, to improve the depth of the unit rather than necessarily looking to find a starter.

The Indianapolis Colts enter free agency in a strong position with a good and well-rounded roster. They do certainly have some holes to fill, but they look to have the Cap space and draft capital to have a good chance of addressing those needs. As ever, don’t expect Chris Ballard to make any big moves that will make headlines across the NFL, but do look out for the Colts getting a mid-tier free agent like McKinney, just as they got Ebukam last year.

 

Featured Image Credit: Jenna Watson-USA TODAY Sports

 

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SebastianBench

I'm a Colts fan from the UK. I started supporting the Colts when me and my brother bought Madden 08 and I choose The Colts because they had the best offense and worst defense in the game. My passion for the Colts and the NFL has really bloomed over the past five years and continues to go from strength to strength. For this I can thank finding the right friends and the magic of NFL Redzone. Twitter: @BenchSebastian

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