INDIANAPOLIS — Since the AFC South Division was created in 2002, the Indianapolis Colts have exercised dominance over the group, winning the division crown nine times.
While much of the Colts' success in the division took place in its inaugural decade, they still experienced plenty of success during the 2010s decade, winning the crown three times.
With that much success within the division, the Colts have obviously had some key players that have helped create nightmares for opponents.
ESPN recently began examining each NFL division's top players and coaches, and plenty of recognition was bestowed upon the Colts, as they had the runner-up to Coach of the Decade as well as seven players on the All-Decade Team.
Colts' Best Player
Andrew Luck, QB
Years with team: 2012-18
Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, replaced Peyton Manning as the Colts' franchise quarterback. Luck led the Colts to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons in the NFL, including consecutive AFC South titles and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game in 2014. Injuries, which led to Luck's early retirement at age 29, started to take a toll on him in 2015. He missed 26 games -- including the entire 2017 season -- because of shoulder, kidney and rib injuries. It was during the 2017 season that Luck questioned whether he would be able to continue his career. Luck shocked the sports world when he announced his retirement during an emotional news conference on Aug. 24, 2019. He finished his career with 2,000 completions, 3,290 attempts, 23,671 yards, 171 touchdowns and 83 interceptions. Luck would likely be the front-runner to be the team's player of the decade in the next 10 years, too. If only.
Honorable mention: T.Y. Hilton, WR, 2012-present. Hilton, who was also part of the 2012 draft class with the Colts, followed in the footsteps of Reggie Wayne and Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison. Hilton has 8,598 yards, including five seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards in his eight seasons in the league to go with 45 touchdowns. -- Mike Wells
The Colts stumbled to a 2-14 record in 2011, giving them the opportunity to select Andrew Luck with the No. 1-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to be the league's next best thing and the heir apparent to Peyton Manning, ranking on the Manning-John Elway tier of draft prospects.
Right off the bat, Luck did not disappoint as he led the Colts to three consecutive playoff appearances to begin his career behind some truly magical moments.
Various injuries prevented Luck from playing in 26 games between 2015-17, and that toll ultimately led to Luck calling it a career before the 2019 season.
While the Colts were unable to accomplish their ultimate goals with Luck under center, that era of Colts football won a lot of games and had some memorable moments.
AFC South Coach Of The Decade: Honorable Mention
Chuck Pagano, Colts
Years with team: 2012-17
Pagano was the head coach when the Colts won two of their three division titles during the decade. Pagano, who missed part of the 2012 season while being treated for cancer, went 53-43 in his six seasons as coach. The Colts were perfect in the AFC South (12-0) during the 2013 and 2014 seasons and went to the playoffs in each of their first three seasons under Pagano, including reaching the AFC Championship Game in 2014. -- Wells
The head coach for much of Luck's tenure, the Colts were very productive under Chuck Pagano early in the era. As ESPN's Mike Wells mentioned, the Colts made the playoffs in Pagano's first three years from 2012-14, winning the division in the latter two seasons.
Under Pagano, the Colts did not have any losing seasons until his final year in 2017 when they went 4-12, capping a tenure for Pagano that saw him coach the fifth-most games (96) and wins (53) in franchise history and post the fourth-best win percentage (.552).
Pagano was tied for the second-most postseason games coached in Colts' history (six) with the third-most wins (three).
AFC South All-Decade Team
QB: Andrew Luck, Colts, 2012-18
In the 5 1/2 years that Luck played, he had already established himself as one of the Colts' best, most-productive quarterbacks in franchise history. By the time he hung up the cleats, Luck made it to four Pro Bowls and ranked either No. 2 or 3 behind Manning in the Colts' record books in pass completions (2,000), attempts (3,290), completion percentage (60.8 percent), passing yards (23,671), passing touchdowns (171), passer rating (89.5), fourth-quarter comebacks (16), game-winning drives (20) and wins (53).
Luck had also established himself in the annals of NFL history as well.
In his final season in 2018, Luck reached 2,000 career pass completions in his 86th game, making him the second-fastest player to reach that mark in NFL history and only the 11th quarterback in NFL history to hit the mark in their first seven seasons. Luck also hit 20,000 career passing yards in his 74th career game, which tied for the second-fewest games to reach that mark in NFL history.
Luck went out with a bang in 2018, winning the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award and leading the Colts to the second round of the playoffs and their first trip to the postseason since 2014.
During one stretch, Luck went five consecutive games with a passer rating of at least 100.0, which is tied for the third-longest streak in NFL history. He also went eight consecutive games with at least three touchdown passes, which is tied with Manning for the second-longest streak in NFL history behind Tom Brady's 10. Luck also ranks eighth in NFL history with a passing touchdown in 34 consecutive games.
As proof of his preparation, mental edge and ability to spread the ball, Luck threw a touchdown pass to 13 different players in 2018, which is tied for the most in a single season in NFL history.
WR: T.Y. Hilton, Colts, 2012-present
T.Y. Hilton has famously been a thorn in the side of AFC South opponents, especially the Houston Texans.
In 46 career games against AFC South opponents, Hilton has caught 217-of-367 targets for 3,633 yards (16.7 avg.) and 19 touchdowns. Specifically against the Texans, Hilton has played 16 games and has caught 85-of-139 targets for 1,537 yards (18.1 avg.) and 10 touchdowns.
Hilton has four Pro Bowl honors to his name and has established himself as one of the NFL's most dangerous receivers and one of the Colts' most-productive receivers in franchise history.
Throughout the Colts' rich history, Hilton ranks in the top-five in receptions (552) and receiving yards (8,598) and is currently seventh in receiving touchdowns (45).
Hilton has 33 games with at least 100 receiving yards, which is the third-most in franchise history, and his 12 games of 150-plus receiving yards ranks first.
"The Ghost" also owns the franchise record for the most receiving yards (1,944) and 100-yard games (10) and had the second-most receptions (132) in a Colts player's first two seasons with the team.
WR: Andre Johnson, Texans, 2003-14; Colts, 2015; Titans, 2016
Andre Johnson was only with the Colts for one season, but he spent his whole career in the AFC South between the Texans (2003-14), Colts (2015), and Tennessee Titans (2016).
Throughout his career, Johnson was always considered one of the league's best receivers, and his statistics back that up.
Johnson is the Texans' franchise leader in pretty much all significant receiving statistics, and ranks 11th in NFL history in receptions (1,062) and receiving yards (14,185), and tied for 46th in receiving touchdowns (70).
G: Quenton Nelson, Colts, 2018-present
Quenton Nelson had only played two years in the NFL, but he has dominated the whole time. He has earned First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in each of his first two years.
Since Nelson was drafted to the Colts, they average the ninth-most rushing yards per game in the NFL (120.3) and have allowed the third-fewest sacks (50).
Nelson is currently riding a streak of 30 games where he has not allowed a sack.
DE: Robert Mathis, Colts 2003-16
Over 14 seasons with the Colts, Robert Mathis established himself as one of the AFC South's most-dominant defenders during two different decades, and he'll be inducted into the Colts' Ring of Honor this Nov. 22 as a result.
Mathis was a fifth-round draft pick by the Colts in 2003 and earned his way to six Pro Bowls, a First-Team All-Pro nod in 2013 and was a key member of the Colts' Super Bowl XLI championship team.
After 192 games with the Colts, Mathis ranks first in franchise history in sacks (123.0) to go with 604 tackles, 52 forced fumbles, 17 fumbles recovered, 18 pass breakups, one interception and three defensive touchdowns.
Mathis ranks first in NFL history in fumbles forced during sacks (47) and is 17th in sacks overall.
LB: Darius Leonard, Colts, 2018-present
Like Nelson, Darius Leonard has only been in the NFL for two seasons but already has two All-Pros to his name. In fact, in 2018, Nelson and Leonard became the first pair of rookies to be named First-Team All-Pros since Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers earned the honor for the Chicago Bears in 1965.
Leonard's achievements to this point are nearly unmatched for a linebacker within their first two years in the league, starting off hot by leading the league in tackles as a rookie with 163.
Leonard is just the third player since at least 1982 to accumulate at least 200 tackles and 10 sacks in their first two seasons, and just the ninth player since at least 1982 to post at least five sacks and five interceptions in a single season like he did in 2019.
Through two seasons, Leonard has played in 28 games and amassed 284 tackles (19 for loss), 12.0 sacks, six forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered, seven interceptions, 15 pass breakups and one defensive touchdown.
K: Adam Vinatieri, Colts, 2006-19
Adam Vinatieri is widely considered the best kicker in NFL history, so it's no mystery that he'd earn this honor.
After 24 seasons in the league, Vinatieri owns every significant NFL record in regards to kicks, and has earned three Pro Bowls, three All-Pro honors and has won four Super Bowls.
Since joining the Colts in 2006, Vinatieri has converted 336-of-394 field goals (85.3-percent), including 37-of-55 from 50-plus yards (67.3-percent), and 507-of-524 extra points (96.8-percent), posting an NFL-record 21 seasons with at least 100 points.