INDIANAPOLIS —The Indianapolis Colts saw the emergence of a new top cornerback in 2017, while injuries and other moving pieces were certainly a theme at the position throughout the season.
Fifth-year veteran Rashaan Melvin became the rock of the group, which would include another solid journeyman in Pierre Desir, emerging to the No. 2 spot, the midseason release of former Pro Bowl corner Vontae Davis, as well as three rookies who saw considerable playing time, especially down the stretch.
Melvin had started all 10 games in which he played until Week 12, when he was rewarded for intercepting a Marcus Mariota pass against the Tennessee Titans with a hand injury that would end up keeping him out for the rest of the season; he was placed on Injured Reserve on Dec. 27.
But the silver lining of that development was an opportunity to see 2017 draft picks Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston, as well as undrafted rookie free agent Kenny Moore II, grind their way through valuable reps in their first NFL seasons.
"They should feel very, very excited," Colts safety (and former cornerback) Darius Butler said of the team's youngsters at corner. "Quincy (Wilson) once he got his opportunity he took advantage of it and has been playing good football to end this year. And Nate (Hairston) he's been consistent in playing a tough position at nickel which requires a lot of communication, a lot of things that young guys don't usually come in, there's not a lot of rookies that can come in and play nickel the way he did this year. So I'm proud of those guys and the future is bright—very bright.
"And I can't leave Kenny Moore (II) out either," Butler said. "Kenny Moore came in, undrafted free agent, guys didn't really expect him to do much but once he got his opportunity he took it and ran with it."
Here's a review of the play of the Colts' cornerbacks in 2017.
Making the grade
Though he missed the Colts' final five games, Melvin still earned a grade of 85.7 on the year from Pro Football Focus, which was good enough for second on the Colts' roster behind outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard, who had a grade of 91.3 in 2017.
Prior to his injury, Melvin, a Waukegan, Ill., native, had registered single-season career highs in passes defensed (13) and interceptions (three) while recording 36 tackles (30 solo). He led the team in passes defensed and was tied for the lead in interceptions.
No, we're not talking about the Canadian rock band that brings out the ire in so many, but nickel back for the Colts' defense was locked down all year by the rookie Hairston, who had some hits of his own while posting solid numbers as the inside cover man in the Indy defense.
The former Temple Owl was credited with 35 tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and five passes defensed, earning four starts along the way. One of his sacks also resulted in a safety on Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
Hairston's first-career interception came against Mariota and the Titans in Week 12, as the physical rookie seemed to contribute in each area of the defense.
Kenny and Q
Wilson, a second round draft pick out of Florida, and Moore II were welcomed to the league by the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown, the Cincinnati Bengals A.J. Green and the Houston Texans DeAndre Hopkins, yet no game or matchup seemed to intimidate them as they progressed throughout the season.
In Week 2 vs. Arizona, Wilson — who battled a nagging knee injury — registered his first-career start at cornerback, and in Week 17 he snagged his first NFL interception on the Colts' last play of the season against Tom Savage and the Texans. Over the course of 2017 Wilson made 22 tackles (two for loss) and had six passes defensed.
Moore II was one of only two undrafted rookie free agents to tally an interception in 2017 after he stepped in front of a Trevor Siemian pass Week 15 against the Denver Broncos and returned it 25 yards.
The following week at Baltimore, Moore II tied for the team lead in tackles with inside linebacker Antonio Morrison (nine) and forced his first-career fumble in the second quarter, which was recovered by the Ravens. For the year, Moore also had 33 tackles (one for loss) and five passes defensed.
Desir, a pending unrestricted free agent, totaled eight tackles (six solo) and two passes defensed against the Steelers in Week 10 at Lucas Oil Stadium. On Pittsburgh's first drive of the game, Desir also notched his first-career interception when he picked off Ben Roethlisberger on a deep pass intended for Martavis Bryant.
In nine games played with six starts, Desir collected 32 tackles with seven passes defensed and one pick.
Moore II led all Colts players with eight special teams tackles during the 2017 season. Reserve cornerback Chris Milton finished second, contributing six special teams takedowns of his own.
Second-year players Milton and D.J. White also saw spot duty on defense, collecting four and three tackles, respectively, in 2017.
Number to remember
55: Rashaan Melvin was targeted 55 times in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. He intercepted three of those passes, while 10 others he knocked to the turf. Melvin also didn't allow a pass play longer than 32 yards the entire season.
CORNERBACKS - 2017 Review