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'We got the guys in the room:' Why Kenny Moore II, Gus Bradley are confident in Colts' cornerbacks

The Colts didn't select a cornerback until the fifth round of the 2024 NFL Draft, and didn't add anyone to that group in free agency. 

The Colts' only roster moves at cornerback this offseason came on Day 3 of the NFL Draft, with Auburn's Jaylin Simpson and Marshall's Micah Abraham coming to Indianapolis in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively.

For a team that most outside analysts expected was a lock to spend high-value resources – either cap space or a high draft pick – to add an outside cornerback, it might seem a little surprising the Colts are largely running it back with the group they had last year. Internally, though, there's no head-scratching about how general manager Chris Ballard has operated this offseason.

"We had the growth (last year) – we got the guys in the room," veteran Kenny Moore II, who re-signed as a free agent in March, said. "The only thing we lacked last season was being durable, being available. And that hurts the chemistry, that hurts the continuity part about having guys on the field each week. I think once we see certain looks, once we see things repetitively, we all gain a sense of mind. ... That's what you start to gain and that's what you need in this league as far as knowing what's coming, knowing how the offense wants to attack you. I completely agree with Chris (Ballard) and his thoughts on the back end."

The Colts believe the combination of continuity, experience and growth with those young outside corners – JuJu Brents, Dallis Flowers and Jaylon Jones – will contribute to improving a defense that ranked 28th in points allowed (24.4/game) in 2023. Those three players, through OTAs and into training camp, will lead the competition to start Week 1 – with the goal for each to be available and dependable in 2024.

"I think it's really wide open," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "You have (Dallis Flowers) coming back and JuJu and JJ (Jaylon Jones). We really like that part of it. I think for us it's the skillset, the length, the speed. Now it's just the consistency. Who is going to step up and be that guy that takes the next step there as a corner? Kenny, we feel really good about and what he brings. We trust Kenny and his consistency. With those other guys it's play in and play out, who can play at the standard we're looking to play at?"

Brents, Flowers and Jones all showed flashes at times in 2023.

Brents' three pass break-ups in the Colts' Week 17 win over the Las Vegas Raiders – including one in the end zone while manned up on wideout Davante Adams – were a highlight, as was his tight coverage against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3. Per Pro Football Focus, Brents allowed a 62.2 passer rating when targeted in man coverage, which ranked 20th out of 126 cornerbacks targeted at least 10 times in man coverage.

Table inside Article
PFF man coverage grade, CBs w/10+ targets in man
Player Team Targets PFF grade
Tariq Woolen SEA 27 91.0
JuJu Brents IND 14 90.8
Isaac Yiadom NO 29 90.2
Sauce Gardner NYJ 19 90.1
Derek Stingley Jr. HOU 11 87.2

Flowers, meanwhile, felt like he was ascending when his season ended with an Achilles' injury sustained in Week 4. Over the first four games of 2023, Flowers' 72.9 PFF coverage grade ranked a solid 20th among starting cornerbacks, while his 0.68 yards per coverage snap (think of that stat as representative of both how often a corner gets targeted and how many yards he allows when targeted) was 8th.

And Jones, who stepped into the Colts' starting lineup in Week 5 for Flowers, allowed a completion on just 54.4 percent of his targets (21/106 corners with 200+ coverage snaps, Weeks 5-18) and was at 0.73 yards/coverage snap in that span (10th lowest).

While all those corners still have areas to improve on, it's not like 2023 was some sort of unmitigated, these-guys-can't-cover-anyone disaster. Far from it. And the process to improve is already underway during the Colts' offseason program, especially for Brents and Jones as they enter their second seasons as pros.

"Just today I was telling JuJu and Jaylon, I see growth already," Moore said last week. "That's just from having meetings and being able to correlate to class on the grass, which is walkthrough. They felt good about it, I felt good about it, so from there I feel like we can just ascend. That's exciting to the entire group. I think that creates self-confidence not only to me, but to them as well."

For Moore, trust and chemistry between cornerbacks and the rest of the Colts' defense is key. Brents, Flowers and Jones all built up equity with their teammates and coaches in 2023, in addition to having standout moments and solid games. And for Bradley, the combination of consistent play and greater trust is why those young corners will have a shot to make an impact in 2024.

"All those guys are extremely competitive, they get along great, but you can tell they all have a sense of, 'Hey, there's some opportunities right here and we've got to be on it,'" Bradley said. "The big thing for us is – you've got to make plays, but the consistency. We have a veteran group up front, we've got a veteran group at the linebacker spot and a big thing with them is you've got to be able to trust. They love everybody but you got to be able to trust the guy next to you. That's what they need to make sure that they possess – that trust when they're on the field."

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