Mini-camp for the Indianapolis Colts starts today, but a good portion of the team that will take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2016 will not be working out with the team because they are not on the team yet.
The NFL Draft is 10 days away, and the Colts will use that annual festival of talent acquisition to fill a good number of holes that caused the Colts to miss the playoffs with an 8-8 record in 2015.
Whether the Colts are successful in assessing and acquiring the right mix of physical talent and character to give the team a boost back into the playoffs and beyond won’t be possible to gauge for months after the names of hopefuls are called, but we do know that the success or failure of this team will be due in large part to two things – Andrew Luck’s health and how quickly the new meat can assume a productive role.
Ryan Grigson is the general manager, and he is responsible for building the roster – either through the draft or via free agency. After spending lavishly on free agents over the past several offseasons, it appears Grigson has settled on the draft as his primary source of incoming talent.
Here are the top 10 reasons the 2016 NFL Draft is the most important of the Grigson era:
10 – Overcoming a bad draft will become even more difficult with Luck accounting for 15% of the cap. Luck’s cap number is going to skyrocket this season, and for the rest of his career. That means the resources Grigson used in the past to acquire a bounty of free agents will be spent elsewhere. The draft will be the chief source of relatively cheap talent necessary to surround Luck for the next decade.
9 – Grigson needs to validate his contract extension. The first draft Grigson authored was outstanding. Since then, not so much. Despite mediocre (at best) draft results in 2013, 2014, and 2015, Grigson was given a three-year extension. That extension provides Grigson the security needed to avoid shortcuts. Without sufficiently productive drafts beginning in 10 days, the Colts will continue to struggle to contend for championships during Luck’s prime.
8 – Dwayne Allen tends to get hurt. Since his breakout rookie season when Allen started all 16 games, Allen has missed at least three games during each of the following three seasons. Right now, Jack Doyle would be the next man up. Now, I love Doyle, an Indianapolis Cathedral product, but the drop-off from Allen to Doyle must be addressed.
7 – Dwight Lowery is now a San Diego Charger. The Colts believe they have Lowery’s loss covered by 2015 third round pick Clayton Geathers, but Geathers was a very nice security blanket last year in case either Lowery or Mike Adams (who is nearly old enough to be Geathers’ dad) went down. This is a great hole to fill with a cheap free agent later in the summer and might not require the use of a draft pick.
6 – Frank Gore is old – for a running back. If Gore was an attorney, he would be entering his prime. Sadly, he is a running back, and 33 is really old to expect any level of consistent productivity from a running back. I love Gore as a professional, and he can be counted upon to wring whatever football he has left from that hall of fame carcass, but will it be enough to distract opposing defenses from teeing off on Luck?
5 – Robert Mathis is 35 and Trent Cole is 33. Colts fans hope Mathis has a little something left in the tank because if he doesn’t, the answer to the question of who among the current Colts can be counted on to pressure opposing quarterbacks has no reasonable answer. As an Eagle, Cole was productive but never explosive. The Colts need to provide discomfort to opposing offenses, and that likely requires an infusion of young talent at outside linebacker.
4 – Andrew Luck needs protection. The current offensive line of Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, Khaled Holmes/Johnotthan Harrison, Joe Reitz/Hugh Thornton, and Denzelle Good were not at the level needed to keep Luck, the departed Matt Hasselbeck, and Charlie Whitehurst whole last season, and are in need of some serious help. The top end of this draft needs to provide it.
3 – Colts have abandoned free agency as a method of talent acquisition – at least this year. Cornerback Patrick Robinson was the lone signee who can be counted on to start in 2016. The rest of the roster’s holes will need to be filled via the draft, by undrafted free agents, or by those veteran free agents who were overlooked during last month’s shopping frenzy.
2 – Departees need to be replaced. Tight end Coby Fleener and inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman have gone to New Orleans and Chicago, but no one has been contracted to replace them. While Fleener earned the wrath of fans by rarely breaking a tackle and occasional cases of the drops, he was a warm security blanket for Luck who could be counted on for 50-55 catches per season. Freeman is a versatile linebacker who helped keep the decidedly un-fast D’Qwell Jackson from being relentlessly exposed in coverage. The replacements are likely going to be drafted in 10-12 days.
1 – First round busts of the past. Draft experts say it takes a team five years to recover from a blown first round pick. The Colts took Bjoern Werner in 2013, traded the 2014 pick for Trent Richardson, and surprised many by taking receiver Phillip Dorsett last year. Dorsett still may validate Grigson’s confidence, but to this point those are three substantial swings and misses. Fortunately, the five years to recover do not run consecutively, or the Colts would be in desperate straits through 2030.
Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-6p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.