INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts in 2016 finished in third place in the AFC South Division race, and, perhaps accordingly, had the third-most selections to ESPN's 2016 All-AFC South Team, which was released on Monday.
In all, quarterback Andrew Luck and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on offense, cornerback Vontae Davis on defense and kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee on special teams were the Colts' representatives on the team, as selected by the four ESPN AFC South writers.
Here's what ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells wrote about the Colts' selections:
"There was a time not long ago that the Colts would have dominated the All-AFC South team, on offense, at least. But times have changed in Indianapolis. The Colts no longer dominate the team, the same way they no longer dominate the division. One of the few positives in what was yet another disappointing season was that Luck rebounded from the worst season of his career in 2015 to have a career high in completion percentage. Receiver T.Y. Hilton led the NFL in receiving yards. Kicker Adam Vinatieri continues to prove age is just a number. The 44-year-old set an NFL record when he made 44 straight field goals, breaking Mike Vanderjagt's previous record of 43. To put into perspective how things were with the Colts this season, you could argue that punter Pat McAfee would have been in the running for team MVP behind Luck and Hilton. McAfee led the league in punting average at 49.3 yards a punt. Cornerback Vontae Davis didn't have the same type of impact as in years past, but he's still capable of taking away one side of the field."
• Luck was also voted by the ESPN writers as the AFC South's 2016 co-Offensive MVP and Comeback Player of the Year. He finished the season ranked in the Top 10 in the league in passing yards (4,240, eighth), passing touchdowns (31, fifth) and quarterback rating (96.4, ninth).
• Hilton, set a set new single-season career highs in receptions (91) and receiving yards (1,448) as he became the first Colts player to lead the NFL in receiving yards since Reggie Wayne in 2007. It marked just the eighth time in team history that a Colts player led the league in receiving. Hilton also added six receiving touchdowns while earning his third consecutive (2014-16) Pro Bowl nod.
• Davis put in another solid campaign in 2016, with 41 total tackles, 10 passes defensed and one interception, as teams simply refused to throw his way at times. Since entering the NFL in 2009, he ranks ninth in interceptions and 10th in passes defensed among active players, and his four consecutive seasons with 10-plus passes defensed since 2013 are tied for the most in the league.
• Vinatieri converted 27-of-31 field goals and 44 PATs for 125 points. He connected on 25 consecutive field goals to end the 2015 season and made his first 19 field goals of the 2016 season to set a new NFL record for consecutive field goals made (44).
• McAfee led the league in punting average (49.3) and ranked third in net punting average (42.7). His punting average set a new Colts single season record as he earned his second career Pro Bowl selection (2014 and 2016), although a surgical procedure will keep him out of this year's Pro Bowl game.
While the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans would each have 9-7 records in 2016, the Texans won their second straight division title due to the tiebreaker scenarios. But it's the Titans, with 10 players, who have the most selections on this year's ESPN All-AFC South Team, while Houston — which had the No. 1 defense in the league — had six selections (five on defense).
Perhaps the only challenge I might pose is the omission of Colts outside linebacker Erik Walden, who blossomed in his ninth NFL season in 2016 with a career-best 11 sacks and three forced fumbles.
Stats-wise, you might argue he belongs over Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, who had 6.5 sacks and one forced fumble during the regular season. But, again, the Texans had the best defense in the NFL, so you could argue Mercilus' value could be higher than that of Walden's, despite the statistical discrepancies.
Curiously enough, however, the AFC South writers did not make a selection at right guard or punt returner this season, saying they didn't want to "water down the team."
It might be the opinion of some in Indianapolis that Joe Haeg could deserve the nod at that right guard spot, though that wasn't necessarily his primary spot. Haeg, as you might remember, in 2016 became the first NFL rookie since Kyle Turley in 1998 to start at three different spots along the offensive line, which is an impressive feat in itself.
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