INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts have been putting in some work this offseason.
They've made some significant upgrades to their roster through free agency and turned in another good-looking draft class, which has made them a popular choice for experts looking to list the teams who have had the "best" offseasons.
Truthfully, the Colts weren't all that far away from success when the offseason began.
They finished 7-9 in 2019 and missed the playoffs. Six of those nine losses were one-score games, and the Colts were tied or in the lead during the fourth quarter in five of those six games.
After being in contention for the postseason through much of the 2019 regular season, getting to the playoffs in 2020 would hardly be considered a "turnaround" for the Colts as much as it would just be a natural progression.
Accordingly, NFL.com contributing columnist Adam Schein is drinking the Colts' Kool-Aid, and he thinks you ought to be too, as he named the Colts as one of nine teams whose bandwagon should start getting pretty full. He writes:
5. Indianapolis Colts
If I had to give each team's offseason an emoji, Indianapolis would get Heart-Eyes. This is true love, people.
It's not just that the Colts cleaned up in the draft. (Though GM Chris Ballard certainly did that, snagging a perfect receiving complement to T.Y. Hilton in Michael Pittman and an instant Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate in RB Jonathan Taylor.) It's the fact that the Colts cleaned up in the draft after rightly trading their first-round pick for the great DeForest Buckner, who'll immediately anchor Matt Eberflus' defensive front.
Oh, and they signed a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Philip Rivers, who has a great chance to bounce back from a disappointing 2019 now that he's playing behind the best offensive line in football. The Colts bandwagon is rolling right into the playoffs as a product of brilliant design.
Starting at the top of the depth chart, the Colts have a new signal-caller in town after signing free agent veteran Philip Rivers.
The Colts' passing game was inconsistent in 2019, finishing 30th in the league after averaging just 194.3 yards per game. Rivers represents a potentially significant upgrade, as he is already familiar with Indy's offensive system after having previously worked with Colts head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni when they were together with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers.
Rivers has also had more productive seasons passing the ball individually than the Colts did last year as a team in the majority of his seasons as a starter.
The Colts were plenty banged-up at receiver and tight end last year, which helped lead to struggles in the passing game. T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell are both fully healthy and ready to return now, along with tight end Jack Doyle and receivers Zach Pascal and Marcus Johnson. After adding Michael Pittman Jr. and Dezmon Patmon in the draft, and getting potential contributions from third-year receiver Daurice Fountain, the Colts' pass-catchers could very well be an upgrade over last year's group.
The strength of the Colts' offense is almost certainly going to be the run game, though. We're talking a potentially elite run game.
Indy finished seventh overall last year with 133.1 yards per game, and returns reigning 1,000-yard back Marlon Mack. On top of that, the Colts have added a true fullback in Roosevelt Nix and a quality run-blocking tight end in Trey Burton. The gem that they've added to the backfield, though, is rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, who was one of college football's most productive running backs ever. He and Mack are expected to be a "one-one punch."
The straw that stirs the Colts' offensive drink is their offensive line, which returns all five starters. It's widely considered among the best in the league and has been dominant over the past two seasons. Since 2018, it's helped the Colts rank ninth in rushing (120.3 yards per game) and allowed the third-fewest sacks (50).
Outside of Rivers on offense, the Colts' crown jewel of offseason additions was their trade with the San Francisco 49ers for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.
The Colts feel the three-technique defensive tackle is the most important position in their defense, and they've now got a top-five NFL defensive tackle to fill that role. Considering they also get third-year defensive end Kemoko Turay back from a season-ending ankle injury in 2019 to go along with double-digit sack artist Justin Houston, the Colts' pass rush from both the inside and outside should be much more consistent than last year.
Behind that defensive line is one of the most athletic, productive linebacker groups in the NFL as well. Led by All-Pro Darius Leonard, he and MIKE linebacker Anthony Walker both have had at least 100 tackles in each of their two seasons together. NFL.com also just considered SAM linebacker Bobby Okereke one of the most promising defensive players in the NFL under the age of 25.
The Colts' secondary is a young one with a lot to prove, but it's very promising. Kenny Moore II has proven to be one of the most instinctive, playmaking slot defenders in the NFL, while second-year starting corner Rock Ya-Sin grew leaps and bounds in the second half of last season. Fellow 2019 rookie Marvell Tell III also played quality football with added opportunities late last year.
The Colts added former All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes this offseason as well. He's admitted to some struggles of late — despite being named to his third Pro Bowl in 2019 — but he's reuniting with defensive backs coaches Jonathan Gannon and Alan Williams with the Colts, who were both with Rhodes with the Minnesota Vikings when he was at the top of his game.
In terms of depth, the Colts have some promising prospects. Moore II went down with a high ankle sprain for five games in 2019, and the Colts' secondary struggled as a result. Behind Moore II now are T.J. Carrie and rookie Isaiah Rodgers, who can both play outside and in the slot like Moore II.
At safety, Khari Willis impressed last year as a rookie (he was named to Pro Football Focus' All-Rookie Team), and now should likely be the full-time starter from the get-go at strong safety next to Malik Hooker. The Colts could also be getting contributions from George Odum and rookie Julian Blackmon also.
In the kicking game, 2019 rookie Chase McLaughlin was signed in relief of an injured Adam Vinatieri and performed admirably for the Colts, nailing 5-of-6 field goals (including two 50-yarders) and all 11 extra points. The Colts also signed one of the most-heralded kickers in this year's draft as a free agent in Rodrigo Blankenship to compete with McLaughlin for the kicking job in 2020.
So, with all that being said, with the Colts having lost very little through free agency, keeping most of their key components together and making major upgrades elsewhere, there is plenty of reason for people to jump on the Colts' bandwagon in 2020.