INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts have high internal expectations. They want to win now, and if 2018's success was any indicator then 2019 could be even better.
However, the Colts aren't interested in being a flash in the pan who burn out bright and disappear as quickly as they arrived. General manager Chris Ballard is building this team for the long haul. Remember when the Colts were in the playoffs constantly during over a decade of the Peyton Manning Era? Think along those lines.
If you want sustained success, you have to build your roster around solid, young players who act as pillars for your organization. Luckily for the Colts, they have hit on many of their moves the past couples of seasons and appear to have some of those components.
The MMQB recently came out with its NFL All-25-And-Under Team, and there are a few Colts who grace the list: linebacker Darius Leonard, cornerback Kenny Moore II and guard Quenton Nelson.
“The All-25-and-Under Team consists of players who were 25 or younger as of June 1," according to writer Andy Benoit. "This team, like all of the other teams in this series, was selected with the idea of constructing the best overall roster. Usually, that means simply picking the best players. But once in a while, it means picking the players whose styles best complement one another, which is how actual NFL rosters are built.”
Here's how it breaks out:
- LT Laremy Tunsil, Dolphins—24 years, 11 months
- LG Quenton Nelson, Colts—23 years, three months
- C Billy Price, Bengals—24 years, eight months
- RG Shaq Mason, Patriots—25 years, 10 months
- RT Ryan Ramczyk, Saints—25 years, two months
- Ronnie Stanley, Ravens—25 years, three months
- Andrus Peat, Saints—25 years, seven months
“Tunsil is as athletic and nimble as any blocker in football. Nelson got stronger in pass pro as a rookie and is already the game’s best on-the-move run-blocking left guard. He teams well with Price, who has the necessary mobility to give us a multidimensional ground game and screen game. The right side of our O-line is solid. Our world is made easier by the fact that Ramczyk can be trusted to pass block on an island. Our only concern is that neither of our backups is experienced snapping the ball. If something happens to Price, we’ll move Shaq Mason to center and plug Peat in at right guard. Collectively, we have enough athleticism to run an outside zone scheme, but we would leave opportunities on the table if we limited ourselves to only running outside zone. With a mixture of power and athleticism, we can have an expansive rushing attack built off man-blocking concepts. Aside from Tunsil, these linemen all come from man-blocking NFL schemes.”
Nelson has had a huge impact on the Colts' offense from Day 1. After making the offensive line the No. 1 priority last offseason, a weakness turned into one of the team's biggest strengths — and quickly.
The rookie Pro Bowler was the only Colts offensive lineman to start all 16 games and play all 1,136 offensive snaps in 2018. Not only did the Colts have some dominant rushing performances powered by their line (including three 200-yard games), but they were one of the best pass-blocking units in the NFL as well. Quarterback Andrew Luck was the least-sacked quarterback in the league after the Colts allowed the most sacks just a year before.
On 730 pass-blocking snaps, Nelson allowed just two sacks, four quarterback hits and 17 hurries, which graded him out as the top rookie offensive lineman, second-best left guard and the sixth-best overall guard in the league (74.3), according to PFF. Among guards who played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps, Nelson was one of only 25 players who allowed two or fewer sacks, and only one of 24 who allowed 23 or fewer total pressures.
NFL.com columnist Adam Schein recently declared Nelson the fourth most indispensable non-quarterback offensive player in the NFL:
"It was hardly a coincidence Andrew Luck -- and the Colts as a whole -- returned to prominence when Nelson entered the fray. With the No. 6 overall pick earning first-team All-Pro honors in Year 1, Luck finally had the dominant offensive lineman in front of him that the prior regime failed to bring aboard for years. Nelson gave Luck time to be sensational (the QB was sacked just 18 times, as opposed to 41 when he was last healthy in 2016), made good running backs great (Marlon Mack blossomed in Year 2) and helped bring cohesion to the entire line.
Oh, and the Colts shocked many by winning nine of their last 10 regular-season games and marching to the Divisional Round of the playoffs."
- Darius Leonard, Colts—23 years, 11 months
- Leighton Vander Esch, Cowboys—23 years, four months
- Roquan Smith, Bears—22 years, two months
- Jarrad Davis, Lions—23 years seven months
“This group offers speed, athleticism and the oft-overlooked length, which can separate good and great linebackers. (The longer your arms, the more leeway there is for how you take on blocks.) The only concern is that these men are all better in zone coverage than man-to-man, and our cornerbacking group is too enticing to not play man-to-man. Fortunately, with a strong D-line, we are not dependent on blitzing, which means we can always call on our safeties to help in coverage.”
Surprise, surprise. After becoming the first pair of rookie teammates to be named First-Team All-Pro since 1965, Leonard and Nelson have made just about every other list imaginable together, including this one.
The NFL's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year burst onto the scene from tiny South Carolina State, racking up 19 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in just his second pro game. Since then, Leonard has been thrust into the national media's attention.
Leonard became the first rookie since Luke Kuechly in 2012 to lead the NFL in tackles (163) and also became the first player in NFL history to record a season with 160 tackles, 7.0 sacks and two interceptions (Pro-Football-Reference.com). His tackle mark also set the Colts' new franchise record.
Leonard had an incredibly decorated rookie season, earning NFL Rookie of the Week twice (Weeks 2, 8), AFC Defensive Player of the Week twice (Weeks 2, 17), AFC Defensive Player of the Month (December), NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month (September), All-AFC Team (PFWA), All-Rookie Team (PFWA) as well as, of course, Defensive Rookie of the Year and First-Team All-Pro.
- Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars—24 years, eight months
- Marshon Lattimore, Saints—23 years, one month
- Kenny Moore, Colts—23 years, 10 months
- Marlon Humphrey, Ravens—22 years, 11 months
- Denzel Ward, Browns—22 years, two months
“Ramsey will travel with the bigger receivers, Lattimore with the smaller, quicker guys. If that’s too unfamiliar for Lattimore (who often takes the bigs in New Orleans’s scheme), we can turn to Marlon Humphrey, who was quietly sensational in those assignments last season. Or we can look to Ward. The undrafted Moore might seem like the outlier of this group, but he is one of football’s best slot corners (and, as of recently, its highest-paid). He’s a fervid tackler, sharp blitzer and an alert zone defender.”
You hear Nelson and Leonard almost always mentioned together, and rightfully so given their dual All-Pro status, but Moore II is a refreshing name to add to the Colts' list of recognizable figures. After shining in a few nationally televised games late in the season for the Colts in 2018, people are beginning to consider Moore II as one of the league's top cornerbacks.
It wasn't just these few games in which Moore II shined, though.
In 2018, Moore II finished third among all NFL cornerbacks in tackles with 77 — teammate Pierre Desir finished second with 79 — and he led the Colts with three interceptions.
Moore II was targeted 88 times on the season, allowing 64 of them for receptions for 520 yards (330 after the catch), giving up two touchdowns and allowing an opponent passer rating of 80.7.
He was on fire over the last three games of the Colts’ season, though, between Week 17 and the team’s two playoff games. Moore II compiled 23 tackles, 3.0 sacks, two interceptions and and five pass breakups.
Despite playing in one fewer postseason game than many of the other 2018-19 NFL playoff teams, Moore II tied for the league lead in sacks and led all corners with 19 tackles during that span. The sack mark set the Colts’ new postseason franchise record.
Moore II is versatile, playing both outside and in the slot, and his football intelligence and ability to feel beyond comfortable in Matt Eberflus' scheme allows him to bait quarterbacks into bad decisions. His comfortability also earned him the opportunity to blitz as frequently as he did late in the season, resulting in some quarterback takedowns.