Colts Among More Rookie-Dependent NFL Teams In 2016

Intro: Rookies have accounted for 44 total starts for the Indianapolis Colts in the 2016 season, a figure that is tied for the fifth-most in the league.

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INDIANAPOLIS — Back in early May, after the Indianapolis Colts had made their eight picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, Ryan Grigson made it clear this rookie class wasn't about to idly sit by for a year or two before being expected to play major roles within the team's lineup.

"We weren't just going to take a guy to take a guy if we didn't feel like they could come in and actually contribute in some way," the Colts' general manager said. "We're going to have a really good, competitive training camp in a lot of position groups this year, which is a good thing."

As it turned out, training camp at Anderson University — as well as the team's four-game preseason slate — was, indeed, quite competitive for every member of the Colts' roster, but most importantly the team's draft picks and various undrafted free agents.

And, with the 2016 regular season wrapping up Sunday, that crop of players has turned out to be one of the more utilized rookie classes in all of the NFL.

Through 16 weeks, Colts rookies have accounted for 44 total starts in 2016, which is tied with the New York Giants for the fifth most in the league.

Andrew Luck certainly knows what these current Colts rookies are going through, as he was pegged the immediate starter at quarterback when he was selected with the first-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Luck said he's seen the confidence of this year's Colts rookie class grow with each snap, whether in a game or in practice.

"I remember my rookie year, once you start playing you are not a rookie you are a teammate, you are a guy and guys count on you," Luck said. "It doesn't matter how many years you have vested in this league. They are good football players not just rookies."

The youth movement has been even more apparent along the Indianapolis offensive line, where the Colts have seen rookies make 31 total starts this season, the most in the NFL.

Among those rookies making starts up front for the Colts are center Ryan Kelly (15 starts), tackle Joe Haeg (13 starts), tackle Le'Raven Clark (two starts) and center Austin Blythe (one start) — the same four offensive linemen the team picked in this year's NFL Draft.

The last two weeks, the Indianapolis offensive line has featured three of those rookies — Kelly, Haeg (at right guard) and Clark (at right tackle) — and the group has responded to the tune of zero sacks allowed in both contests, marking the first time in Luck's 69 career games with the Colts he's gone consecutive games without being sacked.

"In terms of the offensive line, (it) has been a problem area, some things have not worked out for us over the course of the time that I have been here — that's on me — but I think that it's definitely going the right direction with the guys we picked just this past draft," Grigson said this week. "The group itself has markedly improved in the second half of the year."

Grigson pointed to the fact that, as a whole, the Colts' offensive line has allowed just nine sacks the previous seven weeks, ranking tied for fifth in the NFL in that category.

"Everything on paper, everything on film, we are moving in the right direction in that area, which is obviously a vital one," he said. "So a lot to be optimistic about."

While the offensive line has gotten the most rookie exposure for the Colts this season, the team has had a few rookies step up in other areas.

Safety T.J. Green, a second-round pick, has started three games. Antonio Morrison, a fourth-round selection, has also started three games at inside linebacker. Defensive lineman Hassan Ridgeway, a fourth-round pick, has earned five starts so far. And Chester Rogers, who went undrafted out of Grambling State, has started two games at wide receiver for the Colts this season.

Some have started games due to unforeseen circumstances, such as injuries or suspensions to those ahead of them on the depth chart. But, in some cases, those rookies have simply earned starts due to their obvious talents on the field.

For Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, the contributions by this year's rookie class confirms his comments right after the draft that "this was as prepared as we've ever been" when it comes to the team's draft picks and rookie free agents.

"We've had a lot of great drafts but I feel great about this draft," Pagano said in May. "The board fell exactly — the board was set. It was unbelievable how it fell and that's because of the time and energy and preparation that went into that."

Here's a full look at the NFL's 2016 rookie starts, through Week 16:All rookie starts:
1 CLV 67
2 CHI 62
3 DAL 51
4 ATL 46
5t IND 44
5t NYG 44
7 JAX 41
8 OAK 38
9t DET 35
9t TEN 35
11 SD 34
12 SF 33
13t NE 32
13t NYJ 32
15t BLT 31
15t NO 31
15t PHI 31
15t SEA 31
19 HST 30
20 PIT 28
21 TB 24
22t CAR 23
22t LA 23
24 MIA 21
25 WAS 17
26 KC 16
27t DEN 15
27t GB 15
29 BUF 14
30 ARZ 5
31 CIN 4
32 MIN 2Rookie offensive line starts:
1 IND 31
2 DET 25
3 SEA 22
4 BLT 19
5 NE 16
6t CHI 15
6t TEN 15
8 MIA 13
9 SF 11
10 PHI 9
11t CLV 8
11t OAK 8
13 KC 4
14t GB 2
14t NYJ 2
16t NO 1
16t TB 1
(15 teams have zero)

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