INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts in 2019 had several individual players who stepped up in a big way, whether in the form of dependable veterans or young players who are still ascending to the top of their game.
This week, Pro Football Focus released its list of the top 101 NFL players for the 2019 season, and it singled out five players from the Colts who made a significant impact throughout the season.
"The 101 is our chance to acknowledge and praise the best players from the 2019 season one last time before we all look ahead to assembling rosters for the upcoming year," PFF said. "This list is based solely on 2019 play. Nothing that happened in previous years or may happen in the future is accounted for. This isn't about class or talent; it's about performance throughout the 2019 NFL season.
"This list is created with an 'all positions are created equal' mantra. So, you won't see 32 quarterbacks heading the list — even though that is the game's most valuable position. Instead, we take a look at how guys played relative to what is expected from their position," PFF wrote as it continued explaining the criteria for making their list. "Unlike PFF's awards, the 101 factors in the postseason, so some players who won PFF awards may find themselves jumped in the 101 by rivals who had a playoff run worthy of a change in ranking."
Let's see what they had to say about the Colts players who made the list.
11. G QUENTON NELSON
"The one offensive lineman who brings everybody together, Quenton Nelson is a force in all areas of the game and a real tone-setter for the Colts' offensive line, as intangible as that is. On a more tangible level, he didn't surrender a sack all season despite blocking for a quarterback who makes that tougher than others do, and he was the second-best run-blocking guard in the NFL, one of just two to surpass a PFF grade of 90.0 in that area. Overall, Nelson ran Brandon Brooks close for the best-grade among guards, ending the year at 91.2 overall from over 1,000 snaps of action."
No. 2 Guard On PFF's 101 — Nelson's 91.2 overall grade is the best of his career so far after being one of just two guards in the NFL to allow zero sacks and 20 or fewer total pressures. He was also dominant as a run blocker, as his 90.1 grade ranked third among all NFL offensive linemen. While he's a dominant, physically imposing blocker, he plays a clean game, finishing as one of just 25 full-time offensive linemen to have three or fewer penalties.
71. T ANTHONY CASTONZO
"There have been few players as consistent as Anthony Castonzo over the majority of his career. Every one of the past eight seasons has seen him end the year with an overall PFF grade somewhere between 76.0 and 85.0, and this season he ended with a grade of 81.3. He allowed three sacks and 34 total pressures but was pass blocking for a quarterback who holds the ball longer than he should at times and stresses his pass protection."
No. 6 Offensive Tackle On PFF's 101 — 2019 was the third-best season of Castonzo's nine-year career, according to PFF. While he was a mauler in the run game, he was an even better pass protector, as his 84.4 grade ranked sixth among all NFL offensive tackles. He was one of 19 offensive tackles to allow 34 or fewer total pressures, one of 12 to allow three or fewer sacks, and he was the least-penalized NFL offensive tackle with just two flags.
92. T BRADEN SMITH
"The Indianapolis Colts have assembled one of the best offensive lines in football, and it's largely due to hitting on young players, among them right tackle Braden Smith. A far less heralded draft pick than Quenton Nelson, and even Ryan Kelly at center, Smith has been impressive since entering the NFL nonetheless. He was at his best as a run blocker, dominating on the ground in most games, and while pass blocking was a weaker area, he was dealing with a quarterback who stresses pass protection more than most, and he still had solid grades in that area despite surrendering some pressure."
No. 11 Offensive Tackle On PFF's 101 — Yet another offensive lineman on the list (it's not bad for your three best players in a season to be offensive linemen, huh?), Smith continues his ascent toward being one of the better right tackles in the league. His regular season grade of 79.8 was seventh among all offensive tackles (fourth among right tackles), and his 86.4 run-blocking grade was third (also third among right tackles). In 2019, the Colts finished seventh in the league in rushing and had their most single-season rushing yards (2,130) since 1994, and it was due in large part to the efforts of Smith, Castonzo and Nelson.
100. LB DARIUS LEONARD
"Darius Leonard opens his NFL career with back-to-back appearances on the PFF Top 101, backing up his remarkable rookie season with another good year, albeit a slightly lower overall PFF grade. Leonard had five interceptions this season and allowed a passer rating under 80.0 when targeted, around 25 points lower than the average passer rating when targeting linebackers at the NFL level. He proved that his rookie season was no fluke with an excellent sophomore year."
No. 7 Linebacker On PFF's 101 — For the second consecutive season to begin his career, Darius Leonard was named an All-Pro, and he made his first Pro Bowl. You come to expect a high amount of tackles from Leonard — so his 121 tackles in 13 games is par for the course for him. However, what sets him apart and makes him special is the full volume of what he can do. He added seven tackles for loss and five sacks in 2019 to go with two forced fumbles and five interceptions, one of which he returned 80 yards for his first career NFL touchdown. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, it was just the ninth time since at least 1982 that a player has accumulated at least five sacks and five interceptions in a single season.
101. EDGE JUSTIN HOUSTON
"Justin Houston had dealt with so many injuries in Kansas City that the team ultimately decided to move on, but in his first year with the Colts, he proved he can still get after the quarterback. The Colts wisely kept him on something of a pitch count over the season, and he totaled just 674 snaps over the year, most of which came as a pass-rusher, and he responded with 60 total pressures, the highest figure he has notched since the 2015 campaign."
No. 16 Edge On PFF's 101 — The Colts needed pass rush help last offseason, and while not many knew exactly what production they'd get when they signed Justin Houston at the time, he delivered the goods. He had just one sack through the first four games of the season, but then flipped a switch in Week 5 against his former team, the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. He had a sack and two forced fumbles in that contest, leading into a campaign that brought 11.0 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and three fumbles recovered in the end, including a six-game stretch in which he had at least one sack, leading to his first double-digit sack season since 2014. The Colts needed to rely more on their defensive ends after Kemoko Turay suffered a season-ending injury in that matchup with the Chiefs; and Houston proved to be worth every penny.