INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts believe in acquiring and grooming their own talent, rewarding players' progress with new contracts so the team can benefit from the contributions of the players that they believed in.
So far, it appears that approach is working.
Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire has been releasing lists of the top players at each position in the National Football League, recently culminating with his list of its 100 best players. A whopping seven Colts players made that list, and all seven have been with the team since they were rookies.
Here, in reverse order of their ranking on this list, is what Farrar had to say about each Colts player:
91. Ryan Kelly, C, Indianapolis Colts
"Kelly has missed 13 games in the last two seasons because of injuries, and that may be the only reason he isn’t higher on the list. In any case, the 18th overall pick in the 2016 draft out of Alabama has been a highly touted player since his rookie season, and for good reason. In 885 snaps in the 2018 season, Kelly allowed one sack, three quarterback hits and eight quarterback hurries, and he put up strong performances when asked to turn on the power in the running game.
Kelly has the footwork and backpedal you’d expect from a tackle, and he flares out with a wide base when he’s dealing with interior pass rushers. He’s also more than capable of peeling off and helping his guards against the pass rush — not that Quenton Nelson and Mark Glowinski need a lot of help. Dominant at the line of scrimmage and when he kicks up to linebacker depth, Kelly has the potential to be the best center in the league. The Colts pushed the button on his fifth-year option, and if he stays healthy, Kelly will be an integral cog in Indy’s high-powered offense.”
Despite missing some time the last couple seasons, the Colts' first-round selection of Kelly has panned out, as he is now known as one of the league's smartest, most physically effective centers. He anchors a line that allowed the fewest sacks in the league in 2018 and had three 200-yard rushing performances. Kelly could easily earn more notoriety if he is able to play all 16 regular season games in 2019.
74. Kenny Moore II, DB, Indianapolis Colts
"If you’re not a Colts fan, you may well wonder who Moore is. But in his second NFL season, the undrafted Valdosta State alum became a star slot defender in many ways. Moore was targeted 68 times in the slot in 2018, allowing 54 receptions for 429 yards and 265 yards after the catch. He gave up one touchdown to four interceptions, and allowed an opponent passer rating of 73.3.
Moore is nimble when asked to mirror routes, he’s efficiently aggressive at the line of scrimmage, and he’s got a knack for peeling off and jumping routes that makes him an asset in zone coverage. He’s also a highly effective blitzer, with five sacks and 13 pressures in the 2018 season — including two sacks of Patrick Mahomes in the divisional playoffs. If this is the first you’ve heard about Moore, he’s officially a name to know.”
The newest young Colts player to earn some recognition is Moore II, who had a stretch to end the 2019 season that would be difficult to rival. In the three games between Week 17 and the Colts' Divisional Round playoff exit, Moore II compiled 23 tackles (three for loss), 3.0 sacks, two interceptions, five pass breakups and four quarterback hits. His 3.0 sacks were a new Colts single-season playoff record, and he's a cornerback. Moore II had been playing lights-out football all season, though, guarding both the boundary and the slot, proving to be an invaluable trait for the Colts' defense.
59. Darius Leonard, LB, Indianapolis Colts
"Well, this was a surprise. Selected in the second round out of South Carolina State, Leonard won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award, was the AFC Defensive Player of the Week in weeks 2 and 17, and was the AFC Defensive Player of the Month in December. From the start of his rookie season, Leonard proved to be a force multiplier in a Colts front seven in desperate need of one. He led the NFL in among linebackers with 141 solo tackles, 66 stops, five forced fumbles, and 110 targets. Among those targets, he allowed 93 receptions for 942 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. It was one of the most prolific seasons by a first-year linebacker in NFL history.
At 6-2 and 234 pounds, Leonard is credited with 4.7 speed, but he’s much faster on the field, and that’s what really pops out when you watch his tape. He can cover sideline to sideline as a big safety would, but he tackles very much like an old-school linebacker. And his diagnostic abilities, which impress for a fifth-year player — never mind a rookie — allow him to be in the right place at the right time, nearly all the time. Leonard may have come out of nowhere in a relative sense, but nothing about his 2018 season was a fluke.”
The First-Team All-Pro and league's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year is far from satisfied with the embarrassment of riches that came down on him in the form of awards throughout his first season. After leading the entire NFL in tackles (163) and finishing near the top of all off-ball linebackers in sacks (7.0) is now gunning for 200 tackles and 10.0 sacks. The man who's been an underdog his whole life is not one you'd be wise to doubt.
55. Malik Hooker, S, Indianapolis Colts
"In just his second NFL season, Hooker became the recipient of the ultimate gesture of respect given a defensive back — an extreme lack of targets in relation to his snap totals. He was on the field for 977 snaps and saw just nine targets all season. He gave up four catches for 51 yards, 25 yards after the catch, one touchdown, two interceptions, two pass breakups and an opponent passer rating of 60.2.
Part of this has to do with Hooker’s role in the Colts’ defense. He’s the last line in the deep third either as a single-high or split safety, so he’s seeing a lot of completions underneath his position. Then, it’s his job to go get the receiver, which he does with outstanding diagnostic skill and speed. But when you do throw deep in Hooker’s area, your chances of success are not good. He’ll either take over the route up the boundary or jump your receiver’s route over the middle. Championship defenses need deep-third safeties who can shut things down play after play, and the Colts are in very good shape with Hooker in that role.”
Hooker has been in the league for two seasons, and he's been an excellent player in a different way each of those seasons. As a rookie, he was the ballhawk that he was drafted to be, intercepting a pass in three straight games before ultimately suffering a season-ending ACL tear. In 2018, quarterbacks didn't want any part of him, avoiding him downfield like the plague. Heading into 2019, this is his first offseason since being in the NFL that he has been healthy and isn't rehabbing from surgery. The sky certainly appears to be the limit for one of the league's more exciting safeties.
52. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
"One of the league’s most esteemed deep threats since he was taken in the third round of the 2012 draft out of Florida International, Hilton has taken the top off defenses even when Andrew Luck was injured. Last season, with Luck playing at a Comeback Player of the Year level after missing the entire 2017 campaign, Hilton caught 76 passes on 120 targets for 1,270 yards and six touchdowns. And as a deep threat, he was just about impossible to stop, with 16 catches on 17 catchable deep balls for 602 yards and two touchdowns.
Hilton has great downfield speed and separation ability, but it’s his footwork at the line of scrimmage, and understanding of subtle route adjustments, that make him more than just another downfield speed guy.”
It proved to be nearly impossible to bust "The Ghost" in the second half of last season, as he led the NFL with 114.6 receiving yards per game since Week 10. The Colts' undersized superstar was beat-up with chest and hamstring injuries early in the season followed by both a low and high ankle sprain on the same leg late in the season, but he still went out and dominated. Hilton is now healthy and looking to make incredible plays with quarterback Andrew Luck once again.
47. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
"The Comeback Player of the Year last season after missing the entire 2017 campaign following shoulder surgery, Luck had little trouble getting back on track in 2018, completing a career-high 67.3% of his passes for 4,593 yards, 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Luck flourished in Frank Reich’s offense, the most diverse and effective he’s has since Bruce Arians ran things early in his career, and though he was a bit cavalier with interceptions on deep throws and under-pressure plays, he was good enough overall to rank seventh in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted quarterback metrics, and ninth in per-play efficiency.
Luck came into the league as gifted as any other quarterback of his generation, and he’s developed those skills beyond his Stanford days. Mobility in and out of the pocket, preternatural understanding of defensive structure, and the kind of not only arm strength but arm talent that allows him to make throws other quarterbacks can’t? When he’s healthy, Luck has it all, and he has the capability to singe defenses as well as any quarterback in the NFL.”
You obviously knew this guy was making the list. Luck proved people everywhere wrong when he returned from his 2017 shoulder surgery to post arguably the best season of his career in 2018. He is truly one of the league's high-level quarterbacks and is a popular preseason MVP pick for 2019. This season, the Colts have several showdowns with other Pro Bowl-level quarterbacks that should put Luck on even further display to awards voters.
43. Quenton Nelson, G, Indianapolis Colts
"There are those who believe it’s unwise to select a guard in the first 10 picks of a draft no matter how good that player may be. Those people may want to revise their opinion based on Nelson’s 2018 tape. Taken sixth overall by the Colts in the 2018 draft out of Notre Dame, Nelson immediately took a skill set that had me thinking he was the most talented player in his draft class regardless of position right to the NFL. In his rookie season, Nelson gave up two sacks early in the season and none thereafter, with 24 total pressures.
It doesn’t matter how aggressive the defender is Nelson’s facing; he can match that aggression and force a draw with a solid base and aggressive hand movement. He’s also great at the second level, and when he engages a defender and starts bulling an opponent back, things can get weird for the defender in a big hurry. Ask Jadeveon Clowney about that.”
Didn't think a second-year offensive lineman could be considered the best player on a team that's already pretty good? According to Farrar, think again. Nelson came in with a ton of attention and pressure, and he beyond delivered. The rookie First-Team All-Pro's attitude and play stye permeated through the rest of the Colts' offensive line as they transformed from one of the NFL's worst line to one of its best within a season. While Nelson isn't the only reason, he's certainly a big portion of it.