INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts in recent seasons have consistently featured one of the top young rosters in the entire National Football League.
Perhaps that's no real surprise, as general manager Chris Ballard and his personnel staff have found the right mix of talent, scheme fit and football character coming out of the college ranks, and head coach Frank Reich and his staff are putting those players in position to succeed once they stack up against NFL competition.
Accordingly, the Colts have been well-represented this time each year on NFL.com's "All-Under-25 Team," a compilation of the top players in the league younger than 25 years old by the start of the regular season.
Last year at this time, it was right tackle Braden Smith, left guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Bobby Okereke making the cut. In 2019, it was Smith, Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard; in 2018 it was punter Rigoberto Sanchez; and in 2017 center Ryan Kelly was on the list. All six of those players remain key pieces to the Indy roster heading into 2021.
So who made the cut this year on the NFL.com 2021 All-Under-25 Team? According to NFL.com's Nick Shook, running back Jonathan Taylor and kicker Rodrigo Blankenship have earned their place among the league's top young players.
You can see Shook's entire All-Under-25 Team roster by clicking here, but here's what he had to say about Taylor and Blankenship, respectively:
RB Jonathan Taylor / Indianapolis Colts • Age: 22
Taylor's explosive second half of last season earned him a spot here. He beat out the likes of Saquon Barkley because, well, Taylor was available to play last year while Barkley missed all but two games due to injury. Taylor led rookies in rushing yards with 1,169 and finished third in the entire league in the category, doing so while seeing the second-most touches among all rookies (268). He also became one of just 25 rookies in NFL history to rush for 1,100-plus rushing yards and score 10 or more rushing touchdowns. Do you know who else is in that group? Barry Sanders, Earl Campbell and Adrian Peterson. It was a heck of a start for the next star running back in Indianapolis.
K Rodrigo Blankenship / Indianapolis Colts • Age: 24
Blankenship ranked fifth in the league in field goals made with 32 in 2020. He was perfect from chip shot range (10 of 10 from 20-29 yards), nearly perfect from 30-39 yards (12 of 13) and posted a long of 53 yards. The group of young kickers isn't exactly a packed one, and Blankenship rose to the top as a rookie.
BEST OF THE REST
Considering their accomplishments from their rookie seasons in 2020, it's no surprise that Taylor and Blankenship made this list.
But there are other Colts players that undoubtedly got some serious consideration.
Remember: the rules state a player must be younger than 25 years old by the time Week 1 rolls around, so that eliminates a guy like Okereke, who turns 25 on July 29.
We'll also exclude the Colts' 2021 rookie class, because these lists are based off of proven NFL performance.
But here are a couple guys who had strong cases:
» RB Nyheim Hines, 24: Hines, who doesn't turn 25 until Nov. 12, proved to be one of the league's top versatile offensive weapons in 2020. He finished the year with 89 rushing attempts for 380 yards (4.3 avg.) and three touchdowns, as well as 63 receptions for 482 yards and another four scores through the air. Oh, and Hines also continued his role as one of the top punt returners in the league, averaging 10 yards per punt return on an NFL-high 30 attempts.
» WR Michael Pittman Jr., 23: Had it not been for a freakish lower-leg injury suffered Week 3 against the New York Jets in his rookie season last year, Pittman Jr. very well could've found his way onto this year's list. Pittman Jr. recovered from in-season leg surgery and really started to hit his stride late in the season into the playoffs, finishing with 40 receptions for 503 yards and one touchdown. With full health, Pittman Jr. can truly ascend in Year 2 in 2021.