INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts come into 2019 harboring last season's fifth best-scoring and seventh-overall offense, so it's easy to understand why there would be optimism about the unit moving forward.
However, the hype train has kept moving down the tracks after an offseason of subtle, yet solid moves.
Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton says it's going to be "scary." The league's reigning tight end touchdown king Eric Ebron says it'll be "dangerous." Head coach Frank Reich flat-out said it's "unfair."
These are all things the Colts are saying to describe the potential of the team's offense in 2019, but it's not just people inside the organization predicting big things.
Last week, Chris Wesseling from the Around the NFL podcast posted his list of the top 10 offenses in the NFL for 2019, and the Colts were right near the top at No. 2. Wesseling and the rest of the boys from the podcast then discussed their picks on the show.
"Quarterback: A | Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett
Perhaps the league's biggest mystery entering the season, Luck shrugged off early questions about his arm strength, finishing second only to (Patrick) Mahomes with 39 touchdowns while collecting Comeback Player of the Year honors. Just four months from his 30th birthday, the former No. 1 overall draft pick is a different quarterback under play-caller supreme Frank Reich, showing a quicker release time, superior ball placement and a command of the pocket.
Backfield: B | Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Spencer Ware
From Week 7 through Indianapolis' victory over the Texans in the Wild Card Round, Marlon Mack led all running backs in rushing first downs (51) and ranked second in carries (197), rushing yards (933) and rushing touchdowns (10). Can he stay healthy, run between the tackles and match that level of production across 16 games and a postseason run? Receiving specialist Nyheim Hines caught 63 passes as a rookie, showcasing the ability to beat linebackers and safeties on third downs. Versatile former Chiefs back Spencer Ware was recently signed for insurance.
Receiving corps: B+ | T.Y. Hilton, Devin Funchess, Eric Ebron (TE), Jack Doyle (TE), Parris Campbell, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal, Deon Cain
Luck is going to love throwing to big-bodied former Panthers wideout Devin Funchess and rookie playmaker Parris Campbell after leaning heavily on undrafted projects (Rogers, Pascal, (Mo) Alie-Cox, Erik Swoope) and journeymen free agents (Ryan Grant, Dontrelle Inman) for significant portions of the 2018 season. Throw in a healthy version of Doyle, and this figures to be one of the most improved position groups in the division.
Offensive line: A- | Anthony Castonzo, Braden Smith, Quenton Nelson, Mark Glowinski, Ryan Kelly, Joe Haeg, Evan Boehm
Prior to Reich's arrival, the Colts couldn't run the ball or protect Luck. With rookie All-Pro Quenton Nelson setting a bone-jarring tone, both of those problems vanished by midseason. The offensive line went from long-running punchline to head of the class, paving the way for nine 100-yard rushing performances (including the postseason) while leading the NFL in stingiest sack rate (2.8%). The starting line returns intact for 2019."
Putting up his own collection of the NFL's top offenses, former NFL fullback and current NFL Network analyst Michael Robinson also declared the Colts No. 2 on his list.
"I love what they're doing. They're built the right way. They have an aggressive offensive line. Marlon Mack, he can carry the four-minute offense. Then, you have Devin Funchess on the outside, and T.Y. Hilton. All of these guys - I'm telling you, this offense is gonna be off the chain."
Taking a micro look at offenses, Vinnie Iyer from Sporting News ranked all 32 projected NFL starting quarterbacks. Andrew Luck came in at No. 6, which rounded out the top tier of the league's elite, MVP-level signal-callers.
"With his shoulder fully mended, his offensive line now a wall and his immersion into a passing game that maximizes his intelligence complete, Luck is back as the QB everyone knew was a can't-miss, mental and physical specimen for the position."
There were a lot of solid points made that would be hard to dispute.
Quarterback, which is arguably the most important position in sports is in good shape. Not only do the Colts have an upper-echelon quarterback in Andrew Luck, but they have one of the league's best backups in Jacoby Brissett. If anything were to happen to Luck, the Colts are comfortable with Brissett stepping in during Luck's absence.
The Colts' rushing attack is also capable of being one of the league's most dangerous units after posting five 150-yard rushing performances in 2018, three of which went for at least 200 yards. Their top three backs return in Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, and then you add in Spencer Ware and Jonathan Williams, both of which the team is very high on. The Colts have arguably four guys who could carry the load as runners, as well as another in Hines that can be used in a multitude of ways. The scary thought is that Reich wants them to rank in the top five-to-seven in rushing in 2019.
All that offensive success, of course, starts up front with the line. For the Colts, they were dominant at times last year, paving the way for all those solid rushing performances as well as making Luck the least-sacked player in the league in 2018. All five starters (Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski and Braden Smith) are back this year, plus you throw in quality reserves like Evan Boehm, Le'Raven Clark, Joe Haeg and J'Marcus Webb, among others competing for spots.
The Colts' wide receiver corps is deep, and features several guys who could very well make a name for themselves sooner rather than later. The Colts are really excited about a couple of young players in Deon Cain and Parris Campbell, both of whom could be difference-makers. The tight end room is also the best in the league after scoring a league-high 22 touchdowns in 2018.
This offseason, the Colts added a few key pieces in former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess, who brings size (6-4, 225) and playmaking ability, Campbell, who is a speedster who is dangerous with the ball in his hands, and Ware, a well-balanced back who has had success as a runner and pass-catcher.
On top of that, the Colts also get Cain, Jack Doyle, Hilton, Marcus Johnson, Ross Travis and Webb back healthy rather than being banged-up or having to sit out with season-ending injuries. As it currently stands, everyone is expected to be available at the start of training camp in late July.
Then of course, they've got the greatest kicker of all time — a 46-year-old who's still kicking like he's in his prime — at their disposal in Adam Vinatieri.
Reich, who is in Year 2 of establishing his program, summed up the potential of his team's 2019 offense simply.
“It looks strong. Obviously with Andrew coming off a healthy offseason with us protecting the quarterback the way that we protected it," Reich said. "And just to have the weapons – it’s funny, I have said this to you guys before, but as a coach you always feel you so much love the guys you work with that I always think, ‘Hey, we don’t need anybody else. We already got the best guys in the world playing for us.’"
"And then all of a sudden, now you’re giving us more? This isn’t fair. It’s not going to be fair."