The Colts on Wednesday announced seven team captains for the 2022 season: Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, linebacker Zaire Franklin, linebacker Shaquille Leonard, left guard Quenton Nelson, cornerback Kenny Moore II, quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Jonathan Taylor.
All seven players are widely respected for their impact on and off the field, and were voted captains by their teammates. Here's a little about each captain:
Years as captain: 4 (2018-2019 w/49ers, 2021-2022 w/Colts)
Buckner has been a consistent presence in the Colts' "Breakfast Club" – a group of players that arrives at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center early in the morning to lift – and is looked to by a young defensive line for leadership. Buckner also bought his defensive line teammates motorized scooters last year to help get around training camp – which he, Grover Stewart and Tyquan Lewis used every day at Grand Park this summer.
"I think (leadership) comes naturally," Buckner said. "You can't force anything that you're not and just because I know the type of role I'm supposed to have, you don't go out of your way, you gotta do this, you gotta do that. I'm just an open book. It doesn't matter who you are, if you've been on the team, if you're new to the team, if we just picked you up this week, I'm going to always be there to be an open book."
Years as captain: 3 (2020-2022 w/Colts)
Franklin grew from a seventh-round pick into a core special teams player, a key defensive contributor and one of the most respected voices in the Colts' locker room over the last five seasons. It's a role he's embraced, and he deeply appreciates the opportunity to be one of the guys his teammates look to on and off the field.
"I hold myself to such a high standard of accountability, and I don't think I ever ask or demand something from somebody that I wouldn't demand from myself, that they don't see me do or hold myself to every day," Franklin said. "And I think of leadership as being a servant. Once you decide you want to lead and you want to be the guy out front, you give up about yourself and your whole mentality is to make sure the people around you are successful, and what can you do to touch the people you're around every day and the people that you're working with.
"I think for me as far as leadership, it's always just trying to help to get the best out of guys that are around me. Whether that's me leading by example, whether that's an encouraging word when you need it, whether that's tough love when you need it when nobody else is willing to give it to you. It's something I always take personal because being a teammate is my favorite part about being in the league, playing football in general."
Years as captain: 4 (2019-2022 w/Colts)
Leonard's combination of energy and playmaking ability have made him not only one of the best players in the NFL, but one of the Colts' best leaders. It's impossible to miss the juice Leonard brings, whether it's keeping the energy at practice high, punching a ball out or dancing on the sideline as Jonathan Taylor rips off a 70-yard run.
"He's a unique player, a unique leader," head coach Frank Reich said. "He's our emotional leader. We have a lot of great leaders. I think Shaq is a little bit more of an emotional leader for us, a playmaking leader for us. You feel that and it's great to have him. He's big time."
Kenny Moore II
Years as captain: 1 (2022 w/Colts)
Moore was named a Pro Bowler for the first time in his career last season, and was also the Colts' Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee. His hardworking journey from being an undrafted free agent waived by the New England Patriots to becoming one of the best players in the NFL has earned him the respect of his teammates. And the work he's done in the Indianapolis community as he's grown his profile on the field has only added to that respect.
"I would just say by how he's consistent in every area, not only does he exemplify Walter Payton just about how his work ethic and his production on the field but Kenny's one of those people who genuinely embraces the community that he serves," Franklin said. "He truly impacts this Indianapolis community and his relationship and his bond with Mason (Garvey) is only just the perfect example of how he completely adapted to his environment and tried to give everything of himself to the community."
Years as captain: 2 (2021-2022 w/Colts)
During last year's "Hard Knocks: In Season" series, HBO's cameras caught Nelson asking Reich to go with a "straight run call" in the team's Week 12 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Reich said he didn't consider vetoing that clip from running, since it showed not only how the Colts operate – but the kind of a leader Nelson is.
"It was a natural leadership role that Quenton took," Reich said.
Nelson has helped build a high standard on and off the field for the Colts' offensive line since joining the team in 2018, helping push young players and new faces to play "five as one."
"Everyone knows what great ability he has, but I think what makes Quenton special is how smart he plays and how instinctive he is," Reich said. "I think that's what takes his game over the top. He's a physically dominant player, but it's his instincts and his intelligence that take him I think to another level. During the game, he's one of those guys where if he says, 'Hey, here's what I'm seeing and feeling,' like over the years, you go back and look at the tape and he's always right as far as what he's seeing and feeling. So, you trust him."
Years as captain*: 7 (2014-2015, 2018-2021 w/Falcons, 2022 w/Colts)
Ryan's impact on the Colts since arriving in Indianapolis this spring have been as wide as they've been deep. Ask anyone at the team's facility on 56th Street about Ryan's leadership and you'll get this answer: "You can just feel it." And the sense of urgency the 14-year veteran has brought to the team helped produce quality, efficient work in preparation for Sunday's season opener against the Houston Texans.
"You can feel it," general manager Chris Ballard said. "He's got an urgency; he's got an expectation not only from himself but from others. It's hard to demand much of others if you're not putting it out there yourself, which he does. Really, a special, special leader and a special guy. Fortunate to have him."
*These are years in which the Falcons announced full-season captains; Ryan was frequently a game week captain in other years.
Years as captain: 1 (2022 w/Colts)
It's not just that Taylor led the NFL in rushing by 500+ yards in 2021 and was recognized by his peers as the fifth-best player in the NFL last month. Taylor's dedication to taking care of his body and "pre-hab" treatment, as he calls it, has impressed his veteran teammates. And he does everything else that comes with being a running back – like pass protection – at as high of a level as he runs the ball.
"He's an absolute beast," Ryan said upon arriving in Indianapolis in March. "When I was in Atlanta last year, we played Buffalo late in the season so getting ready for them, we watched one of the games where Indy had played against them. I was like man, they ran the ball pretty well against a good defense. So let me pop on a few more, maybe see what they're doing on offense because middle of the season, you guys were rolling here. I got a chance to take a peek at what he did last year and he's special. I really do think he's special.
"I think he runs the ball extremely well, he's got great vision, great balance, good speed, good power, catches the ball well out of the backfield, willing in pass protection. I had lunch with Quenton (Nelson) and Ryan Kelly today and they talk about how he's willing and smart in pass protection. I've been around a long time, you don't get backs that do all of that very often and when they do, they're gamechangers. So, I'm fired up to play with him. I really am."