ESPN Latest To Project Colts' 2017 Starting Lineup

Intro: ESPN writer Mike Wells is the latest to release his way-too-early projections for the Indianapolis Colts’ 2017 starting lineups. Who has he tabbed on offense, defense and special teams?

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INDIANAPOLIS — We're now down to about 16 weeks before the Indianapolis Colts officially kick off their 2017 regular season.

And, as we know, lots can happen between now — when the players get into the meat of the third, and final, phase of their offseason workout program — and then, when the team travels to take on the Los Angeles Rams Sept. 10 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

So, yeah, it's early, but Mike Wells is the latest to make predictions as to who will be starting for the Colts' offensive, defensive and special teams units for that Week 1 matchup.

As you'll remember, NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal broke out his crystal ball and did the same thing recently — an exercise he was tasked with doing for every team across the league.

Wells, meanwhile, primarily covers the Colts, so perhaps his projections carry a little bit more weight here locally. So who did he pencil in for Indy this year? First, let's start with the offense, for which Wells only had 10 of 11 positions picked; perhaps he's giving offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski the option to choose between starting a third wide receiver or a second tight end?:QB: Andrew Luck
RB: Frank Gore
TE: Jack Doyle
LT: Anthony Castonzo
LG: Jack Mewhort
C: Ryan Kelly
RG: Joe Haeg
RT: Le'Raven Clark
WR: T.Y. Hilton
WR: Donte Moncrief

Analysis: Yep, this seems about in line with the logical choices at each position offensively at this point of the offseason. That unit, of course, isn't likely to see much, if any, turnover from last season, barring any major injuries or coaching decisions.

The two spots that will draw eyes immediately during training camp and the preseason will be at right guard and right tackle. Joe Haeg started 14 of 15 games as a rookie at three positions along the offensive line last season, and seemed to find a home at right guard the last few weeks of the year. But he's also an option to consider at right tackle, as well, where Le'Raven Clark started the final three games of the year last season, also as a rookie.

Others — Denzelle Good, Brian Schwenke and Zach Banner among them — will also try to use these next 16 weeks to show they belong with the starting unit, as well.

From one unit with a ton of continuity to another with virtually none of it: let's look at Wells' picks to start for the Colts' defense in 2017:DE: Kendall Langford
DT: Henry Anderson
NT: Johnathan Hankins
OLB: John Simon
ILB: Edwin Jackson
ILB: Sean Spence
OLB: Jabaal Sheard
CB: Vontae Davis
FS: Malik Hooker
SS: Clayton Geathers
CB: Quincy Wilson

Analysis: So, as Wells sees things, the Colts will have six new starters on defense going into this season. And, while that seems like a lot, that thought process is certainly in line with what head coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Ted Monachino seem to expect at this point of the offseason.

To be honest, new general manager Chris Ballard didn't give them much choice; he has spent day after day re-tooling this Colts defense since he took over in late-January, replacing several older pieces (particularly at outside linebacker) with younger, hungry players with something to prove.

As with Rosenthal's projections, Wells has the team going with Edwin Jackson and Sean Spence at inside linebacker, which seem to be the logical choices at this point. Other names to remember there are Jon Bostic, Antonio Morrison and rookie Anthony Walker.

It's also important to note that Clayton Geathers, as Colts.com's Kevin Bowen reported last week, is recovering from offseason neck surgery, so while he's certainly the guy at strong safety for this Colts defense, the team currently has a couple other options should Geathers miss time to begin the season: converted cornerback Darius Butler and second-year safety T.J. Green.

So that leaves Wells' projected special teams starters, though he doesn't list a long snapper:K: Adam Vinatieri
P: Jeff Locke
KR: Quan Bray
PR: Quan Bray

Analysis: First off, it's odd to look at this list and not see "Pat McAfee" next to the "P," but McAfee made the decision to retire, and it's time to move on. The team signed Jeff Locke to take over McAfee's roles —  not only as a punter, but as a kickoff specialist and holder — so it'll be interested to see how he makes his mark on the unit moving forward.

Vinatieri is a lock. Next.

Bray's inclusion as kick and punt returner is also no surprise. He was one of the best overall returners in the league when thrown into the mix for about the last half of his rookie season in 2015, and was supposed to be the Colts' starter at both positions last year before an ankle injury placed him on IR for most of the season.

But others could certainly compete with Bray for those returner roles this season, including fellow wide receiver Chester Rogers and running back Josh Ferguson (among others).

And, even though Wells didn't pencil anybody in at the position, it appears for now the team will go with rookie Thomas Hennessy, a Duke product, at long snapper. The Colts recently decided to part ways from veteran Matt Overton in what looks to be a move to get younger (and cheaper) at the position.

The analysis from those producing content on Colts.com does not necessarily represent the thoughts of the Indianapolis Colts organization. Any conjecture, analysis or opinions formed by Colts.com content creators is not based on inside knowledge gained from team officials, players or staff.

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