INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts took a lot of people by surprise in 2018.
It began in the offseason. Starting with a subtle free-agent haul, Indy then put together an 11-man draft class that had some outside experts wondering what the team was up to. But after numerous starts from that rookie class which also resulted in All-Pro berths for Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard, people got the picture.
However, more than anything, people's attention was grasped after the Colts took their 1-5 record to start the 2018 season and turned it into a 10-6 finish and a playoff win.
People are on board with second-year head coach Frank Reich, third-year general manager Chris Ballard and how the pair are constructing the Colts as a team, on and off the field.
When the national media began putting together their latest power rankings following another solid offseason by the Colts, it's easy to see where this team ranks among their peers in the NFL.
First up is the knowledgeable Peter King in his "Football Morning in America" column. King visited the Colts at points throughout 2018, so it's safe to say he knows what he's talking about when it comes to those wearing the Horseshoe, putting them behind only the Kansas City Chiefs (1) and New England Patriots (2).
"My first surprise, having the Colts this high. I’m relying on Justin Houston an awful lot here. The Colts haven’t had a pass-rusher have a premier season since 2013, when Robert Mathis had his last great rush season with 19.5 sacks. Houston had an impact year at 29 last fall for Kansas City (14 games, 11 sacks, including playoffs), which is why the Colts outbid others for his services on the free market in March. But he missed 5, 12, 1 and 4 games (regular and postseason) in his last four Chief seasons, so this is a gamble. If the Colts get 12 effective games out of him—and if two or three or those are in the postseason—the investment will be worth it. Big if. You can tell I’m buying Houston being able to have one more strong year for a good team. I’m probably sold mostly by the fact I saw his last game for Kansas City—the overtime classic against New England in the AFC title game—and Houston played an astounding 95 of 97 snaps that cold Sunday at Arrowhead, frequently buzzing around Tom Brady."
USA Today, which has been notorious among Colts fans in the past for ranking them in poor spots, has apparently warmed up to the Colts quite a bit.
"...They finally appear primed to pick up where they left off following that devastating loss at New England (in the 2014 AFC Championship Game)."
After missing the playoffs from 2015-17, the Colts returned to the postseason and advanced to the second round in 2018, making the postseason for the first time since reaching the AFC Championship game in the 2014-15 season. The natural progression is to build off of what they did last year, so for the Colts to be ranked among the NFL's elite tier is fitting.
While the following isn't a traditional power ranking, NFL.com columnist Adam Schein ranked specifically the rosters of the league and how complete each one is. Coming in with the fourth-most-complete roster in the NFL is the Colts.
"Chris Ballard is a rock-star general manager. That 2018 draft haul -- which produced a pair of first-team All-Pros (OG Quenton Nelson and LB Darius Leonard, who was also Defensive Rookie of the Year), as well as a starting offensive tackle (Braden Smith) -- was historic. You gonna bet against his latest gem-hunting expedition? Watch Rock Ya-Sin and his classmates provide immediate returns.
Here's another thing that can't be stressed enough: Andrew Luck is healthy. How great is it to not have his uncertain condition as an omnipresent storyline? One of the game's best quarterbacks is back to being just that, back to making everyone around him better. T.Y. Hilton is a tough, big-game receiver. And the Colts' run game is very underrated."
Next up is ESPN, which went to the data to compile their rankings. "Each team's rating is composed of a predicted offensive, defensive and special teams efficiency, as measured by expected points added per play, and that rating is the basis for FPI's game-level and season-level projections." From there, ESPN had each of their NFL Nation reporters summarize their team's ranking.
"Projected wins: 9.2
Chance to make playoffs: 57.9 percent
Where the team improved this offseason: A plan to improve the defense as a whole. It started with the signing of defensive end Justin Houston, who has 78.5 sacks in his career, and continued through the draft last month. The Colts, who finished 11th overall in total defense last season, used seven of their 10 draft picks on defensive players. Rock Ya-Sin, the team's first draft pick (34th overall), will push hard for one of the starting cornerback spots. The Colts also selected four linebackers, as at least one of the three starting spots at that position is wide-open.' -- Mike Wells"
Following the offseason roster melee of free agency and the draft, NFL.com analyst Elliot Harrison presented his power rankings as well, slotting the Colts in at No. 5.
"The Colts are pulling the slow-play routine, with Chris Ballard evolving into the Keith Sweat of GMs. Trading out of the first round reflected the patient approach of this franchise, while acquiring additional picks in the process represented yet more of the kind of pragmatism that pushed Indy -- unexpectedly, mind you -- to the playoffs last season. Then the Colts added a dash of 90-to-nothing speed, drafting wideout Parris Campbell late in the second round (No. 59 overall). You couldn't catch that dude with a '95 Supra. Heard plenty of sports radio talk extolling the virtues of the Colts' newest wide receiver."
While CBS Sports' Pete Prisco isn't necessarily as high on the Colts as the other analysts on this list, he still has them rounding out the top 10 of the NFL.
"Their season will be all about the growth of young players on defense and Andrew Luck staying healthy. If those two things happen, look out."
Succinct and to the point, the Colts got a huge lift last year from having a healthy Andrew Luck as well as from the contributions from their wise-beyond-their-years rookie leaders in guys like Nelson and Leonard. If the Colts get even a fraction of the contributions from this year's rookie class as they did last year, this team will continue developing at a rapid pace.
From 2012-14, the Colts advanced a round in the playoffs each year. After making it to the Divisional Round last season, does that mean they are ready to make a run at the AFC Championship game this year?
After all, the Colts appear to have a complete, fear-inducing offense going into Year 2 under Reich. Luck is back to playing at an elite, MVP-type level behind an offensive line that made him the league's least-sacked quarterback in 2018 and paved the way for five 150-yard rushing games.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts signed former All-Pro edge defender Justin Houston, who is surrounded by a bunch of young, fast, athletic players.
The 2019 draft class left no doubt about the depth on this roster and how competitive this year's training camp will be. There will be good players who don't make the 53-man roster, and that's how you want it to be.
What's not to like about the Colts in 2019?