INDIANAPOLIS — As Chris Ballard continues to build the roster in his first year as the Indianapolis Colts' general manager, it appears he has utilized free agency to spark a youth movement, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
But make no mistake about it: "youth movement" does not necessarily translate into inexperience.
Instead, the Colts have signed several key free agents to what are being perceived as "low-risk, high-reward" type contracts; players that have shown definite glimpses mostly as rotational players in the recent past, but could blossom as they enter their primes being given potential starting roles in Indy.
One of those primary free agent acquisitions for the Colts so far has been edge rusher John Simon.
Simon, who was a fourth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, has since shown much promise the past couple seasons for the Houston Texans, who have boasted one of the best-overall defenses in the league. Despite the fact he has been more of a rotational/situational pass rusher behind the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, Simon has collected a combined 8.5 sacks the past two years, and has proven more-than-capable against the run.
With Watt out most of the season last year with a back injury, Simon got on the field more than he ever has, and would total 26 quarterback pressures and two batted passes — despite battling a chest injury that forced him to miss five games — according to Pro Football Focus.
PFF's Sam Monson appears to be a fan of the Colts' signing of Simon, as he featured the move among his "8 Low-Key Free-Agent Signings That Could Have Big Impacts In 2017." These, according to Monson, are "either low-key names low dollar figures, or in some cases, both, that may provide at least as large an impact as some of the biggest moves made so far in free agency."
Check out the entire list by clicking here, but here's what Monson wrote specifically about Simon and the Colts:
EDGE John Simon to Indianapolis Colts
"It's not easy to generate pressure within a Houston defense boasting J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, but John Simon held his own in 2016 before injury shut him down. He notched 26 total QB pressures in 205 pass-rushing snaps and was grading well against the run, notching 23 defensive stops. Simon has earned himself a shot to start, and the Colts have starting spots on the edge available for a player to stand up and make their own impact. Simon doesn't have an extensive history of proven play from a starting spot, but he could become a steal if he can continue that play in an expanded role."
Indeed, it appears Ballard has cleared the way for Simon, who signed a reported three-year contract, to be one of the Colts' two starters at outside linebacker in 2017.
No longer with the team are Robert Mathis, who retired, as well as Erik Walden, Trent Cole and Chris Carter, who are free agents (Carter has since signed with the Washington Redskins). That means whoever starts at outside linebacker to begin the 2017 season will represent 100-percent turnover from a year prior, when the Colts started veterans Mathis and Walden.
At this moment, it appears Indy could go with Simon and another free-agent acquisition, Jabaal Sheard, as their starters at outside linebacker. The team also has veteran Akeem Ayers — who had two sacks and an interception in 16 games with the Colts last season — in addition to former first-round pick Barkevious Mingo, as well as a slew of younger options at the position.
Whatever he does, Simon says he just wants to bring a "toughness and nastiness" to the Colts' defense. He knows that if he can make a major impact by making plays in the opponents' backfield, it can really provide a boost everywhere else.
"I try to do everything the right way," Simon said. "I'm going to play 60 minutes plus. I'm a great locker room guy. I will give you everything I have on a daily basis."
That's likely music to the ears of Ballard and the Colts' coaches.
"John possesses a strong balance between his pass rushing ability and run defense," Ballard said. "He's a physical linebacker who has matured on one of the top defensive units in the league over the past three seasons. John provides a significant upgrade to our defense."
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