INDIANAPOLIS — Who will start for the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1 of the 2017 regular season?
While the team's offense appears pretty set for now — except perhaps along the right side of the offensive line — the defense, just as general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Chuck Pagano would want it, appears wide open for fierce competition at just about every position.
In fact, as of today, one might assume as many as five, or even six, positions within the Colts' defense are a toss up. That's thanks in large part to the offseason shakeup of the unit, which has included a ton of signings in free agency, as well as a good deal of attention being paid to the defense in this year's NFL Draft.
So how would you even go about starting to fill out a depth chart for the Colts at this point of the offseason? Well, NFL.com Around The NFL editor Gregg Rosenthal recently gave it a crack.
Rosenthal is projecting the starters for each team in the league, going division by division, and on Wednesday published his guesses for the four AFC South Division teams.
And, without further ado, here are his projections for the Colts in 2017:QB: Andrew Luck
RB: Frank Gore
WR: T.Y. Hilton
WR: Donte Moncrief
WR: Jacoby Brissett
TE: Jack Doyle
LT: Anthony Castonzo
LG: Jack Mewhort
C: Ryan Kelly
RG: Joe Haeg
RT: Le'Raven Clark
DE: Kendall Langford
DT: Johnathan Hankins
DE: Henry Anderson
OLB: Jabaal Sheard
ILB: Edwin Jackson
ILB: Sean Spence
OLB: John Simon
CB: Vontae Davis
CB: Quincy Wilson
S: Malik Hooker
S: Clayton Geathers
Not bad, Mr. Rosenthal. Not bad at all.
As previously mentioned, the Colts' offense appears to be pretty set in stone — barring any major injuries — heading into Week 1. For now, Rosenthal believes Joe Haeg and Le'Raven Clark will get the first chance at starting at right guard and right tackle, respectively. That's a fair assessment, especially given how well the two then-rookies played down the stretch for the Colts last season.
But one can imagine several other offensive linemen will have the chance to earn those two spots, as well, including Austin Blythe, Brian Schwenke, Zach Banner and Denzelle Good, among others.
One other note for the Colts' offense: don't be surprised if the team goes with some two-tight end sets as "starters" for some games, meaning Mo Alie-Cox would likely get some starts in favor of third wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. And as for Dorsett's spot, one can imagine free agency signee Kamar Aiken — who had 75 receptions for 944 yards and five touchdowns just two seasons ago with the Baltimore Ravens — will certainly hope to make some noise, too.
Then there's the defense.
Rosenthal's projected defensive front appears solid for now. Johnathan Hankins was essentially the team's prized free agency signee this offseason, while Henry Anderson is still viewed as a potentially explosive piece off the edge, and we all know what a healthy Kendall Langford can provide this defense.
But could free agency signee Margus Hunt, third-year veterans David Parry or T.Y. McGill, second-year defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway or big rookie Grover Stewart potentially have a say in those proceedings? You bet.
Jumping to the outside linebackers, listing Jabaal Sheard and John Simon — each of whom signed as free agents this offseason — as the Colts' projected starters makes a ton of sense. Don't forget, however, that the team still has seven-year veteran Akeem Ayers at the position, while Barkevious Mingo and rookie Tarell Basham — the 2016 Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year — should also see plenty of snaps.
The two starting inside linebacker jobs are about as much as a toss up as any on the entire Colts' depth chart, however. And, once again, Rosenthal went with what makes sense here in Edwin Jackson, who returns for his second season with the Colts, and Sean Spence, a free agency pickup this offseason. But just about every single one of the other players currently listed at the position for Indianapolis could conceivably be starters by Week 1 — especially Jon Bostic, Antonio Morrison or rookie Anthony Walker. Keep an eye on this battle heading into, and through, training camp and the preseason.
Finally, the cornerback and safety positions, for now, seem pretty locked in for defensive coordinator Ted Monachino. Returning are the likes of No. 1 cornerback Vontae Davis, as well as strong safety Clayton Geathers. The team selected Quincy Wilson out of Florida in the second round of this year's NFL Draft to come in right away and perhaps be the No. 2 cornerback, while it's no secret that Malik Hooker, one of the more exciting prospects at the position to come along in years, can be penciled in already as the starter at free safety.
But there are several other options that could surface at those two positions by Week 1. Could the productive Darius Butler start at either safety or cornerback? Will the ultra-athletic T.J. Green put it all together in his second season and push for more playing time? Only time will tell.
By the way, you might remember NFL.com's Kevin Patra projecting the Colts' 2016 starters on offense and defense about this time last offseason. So while we're on the subject, let's look back at how well Patra was able to predict how the team's depth chart would pan out.
Now, granted, Patra can't forsee issues like injuries or suspensions, each of which affected the Indianapolis roster early in the season last year.
Anyway, it appears Patra was mostly right on offense, except at the right guard position, where Hugh Thornton just couldn't get over an ankle injury, and was placed on season-ending injured reserve before Week 1 even started. As it turned out, Good would get the start at right guard in the Colts' 2016 season-opening matchup against the Detroit Lions.
His projections for the defense, meanwhile, had a few more holes, but mostly due to aforementioned injuries or other issues. Arthur Jones would end up being suspended the first four games of the season; in his place were Zach Kerr, Ridgeway and McGill (the team didn't officially "start" a third defensive lineman that game). Sio Moore, and not Nate Irving, originally won out the other inside linebacker job opposite D'Qwell Jackson (although neither Moore nor Irving would finish out the year with the team). With Davis injured, Antonio Cromartie began last season as a starter at cornerback, opposite Patrick Robinson. And with Geathers also sidelined at the time due to injury issues, Green got the start as a rookie in his first-ever regular season NFL game.
The analysis from those producing content on Colts.com does not necessarily represent the thoughts of the Indianapolis Colts organization. Any conjecture, analysis or opinions formed by Colts.com content creators is not based on inside knowledge gained from team officials, players or staff.