After a highly acclaimed draft class was taken in 2023, Colts fans might be asking themselves: who will be the biggest impact rookie this season who’s not named Anthony Richardson?
The answer is Anthony Richardson. When you take a QB in the top 5 of the draft, odds are he will be the biggest impact rookie. Easy open and shut case right there, article over.
But the real question is who will be the next biggest impact rookie? For that, there isn’t a truly clear answer.
Josh Downs has a good chance to make an impact right out of the gate. The 3rd round WR should be the favorite to earn the starting slot job. His only major competition is vet Isaiah McKenzie, who is dynamic as a playmaker but is also inconsistent. He will likely compete with 2nd-year WR Alec Pierce to earn the 2nd most targets in the Colts Offense behind WR1 Michael Pittman Jr.
However, there is a question of how big of a role can we expect from Downs in year 1 of the offense. The 3rd option in Shane Steichen’s Os in Philadelphia got just 65.5 targets from 2021-2022. In that same span, no Eagles receiver got more than 46 slot targets in a season. For a WR who played 89% of his college snaps in the slot, there could be a limit on Downs’ total volume early on. Unless he plays more outside or beats Pierce as the 2nd option behind Pittman Jr., Downs’ impact could be lessened as a rookie.
The Colts do have an open competition at CB between three rookies. 2nd Rounder Julius Brents, 5th Rounder Darius Rush, and 7th Rounder Jaylon Jones will each have a crack at the job. They are each primarily boundary Corners who could earn a role in the Nickel packages when Kenny Moore II slides to cover the slot. Considering the modern NFL defense is in nickel packages on average 60% of the time this is a very valuable role to earn.
Julius Brents was the highest drafted and will likely be the favorite to win the job. But Darius Rush had a Round 3 grade by the Colts and Jaylon Jones was expected to be off the board long before Round 7. Add in Brents’ current wrist injury limiting his offseason training until Camp, and the CB3 competition should be intense. Figuring out which one wins the job is tough to say this early, but whoever does has a good shot at making a big impact.
A sleeper impact rookie could be UDFA Guard Emil Ekiyor Jr. The local Indianapolis native fell out of the draft entirely due to medical concerns. However, he could be in a competition for the RG spot with Will Fries.
Fries showed some modest improvement as the year went on in 2022, but his starting spot is far from secure. By consensus and expert boards, Ekiyor Jr. was considered an early Day 3 prospect (Rounds 4/5) heading into the draft. The Alabama product is an experienced RG and was one of the top UDFAs available. If he wins the starting RG he could be the new part of a rebounding Colts OL.
The rest of the draft class stuck behind some more established names on the roster and figures to be key backups or part of lower snap rotations. While they could have an impact in 2023, they would likely be smaller barring an injury to the starters ahead of them.
T Blake Freeland could push 2nd-year LT Bernhard Raimann for the blindside starting spot, but the former BYU Cougar more likely projects to be the swing tackle barring injury to Raimann or RT Braden Smith.
Adetomiwa Adebawore’s versatility along the DL could serve him well to have a solid role as a rookie. He reportedly wants to be used more inside at the 3T, which could pose a bit of a problem. Here he would be in the rotation to spell star DT DeForest Buckner.
Evan Hull is an exciting new pass-catching back for the Colts. The 6th Round RB out of Northwestern could add a dynamic element to the Colts backfield that has been missed post-Nyheim Hines.
However, Hull will be behind star 3 down back Jonathan Taylor on the depth chart. He will have to compete with power back Zack Moss coming off of his most efficient season and receiving back Deon Jackson for a role on the Colts behind Taylor. If he wins the RB2 job he is in for a modest role barring injury to Taylor.
Daniel Scott and Will Mallory are in competition for the 4th spot on the depth chart at their respective positions of Safety and Tight End. The 5th rounders could surprise, but they will have to compete with several other higher-drafted/established players to rise higher on the depth chart.
Ultimately, I’d expect Josh Downs to be the best individual bet for the most impactful non-QB rookie in 2023 as the only one with a guaranteed starting spot. He has already received high praise from WR Coach and legendary former Colts WR Reggie Wayne, who will be pounding the table for his involvement in the offense.
Reggie Wayne on Josh Downs:
“I thought he was the best receiver at the combine. The way he ran his routes were effortless.” pic.twitter.com/M8X7PcjyOO
— Kevin Bowen (@KBowen1070) May 17, 2023
Whoever wins the CB3 job would be a strong competitor for the most impactful rookie title too, but who wins it is anyone’s guess right now. Other than that, there is a bevy of strong depth players for 2023 who could be the Next Man Up should injuries strike in 2023.
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Check out Jay’s latest piece which focuses on weighing the expectations of the 2023 Indianapolis Colts: HERE