INDIANAPOLIS — With the bulk of free agency and the NFL Draft now out of the way, the Indianapolis Colts have finally compiled their full 90-man offseason roster.
Sure, tweaks will be made from now until the end of the preseason, when the team must cut down to its regular season 53-man roster, but at this point of the offseason, this is always a fun question to ask: if the Colts had to play a game tomorrow, who would be in the starting lineup?
Gregg Rosenthal took a crack at that very exercise today.
NFL.com’s Around The NFL editor published his AFC projected starters lists, and here’s his way-too-early projection for Indianapolis:
QB: Andrew Luck*
*RB: Marlon Mack*
*WR: T.Y. Hilton*
*WR: Ryan Grant*
*TE: Jack Doyle*
*TE: Eric Ebron*
*LT: Anthony Castonzo*
*LG: Quenton Nelson*
*C: Ryan Kelly*
*RG: Braden Smith*
*RT: Joe Haeg*
*DE: Jabaal Sheard*
*DT: Hassan Ridgeway*
*DT: Denico Autry*
*DE: John Simon*
*OLB: Darius Leonard*
*MLB: Najee Goode*
*OLB: Antonio Morrison*
*CB: Quincy Wilson*
*CB: Pierre Desir*
*S: Malik Hooker*
*S: Clayton Geathers*
Here are some notes from Rosenthal explaining his lineups:
*» Andrew Luck's early offenses were loaded with receivers and not much help from the offensive line. That formula could be flipped if general manager Chris Ballard's emphasis on toughness up front pans out.
» This is the most promising O-line the Colts have fielded in a while. It shows progress that Jack Mewhort, a quality starter plagued by injuries, and veteran Matt Slauson aren't listed among the starters. If rookie guards Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith live up to their draft pedigree, right tackle might be the only relative weak spot.
» Ryan Grant is the favorite for the No. 2 wide receiver job, based on the money he received in free agency. An injury to Hilton would be devastating; this wideout crew is thin, with Chester Rogers as the No. 3 option and very little behind him. Eric Ebron, signed as a catch-first tight end, might wind up as the team's de facto third receiver. This is a far cry from the group of receivers who reached the 2014 AFC title game with Luck.
» Marlon Mack figures to lead a committee at running back that includes Robert Turbin and rookie scat back Nyheim Hines.
» The holes on offense are more concerning because Luck's side of the ball has to carry the team. There isn't a position group on the Colts' defense that is more talented than the NFL average -- except perhaps safety, where Matthias Farley comes on the bench. The team is transitioning to a 4-3 base defense and many of the old pieces -- like John Simon -- don't quite fit. Free-agent pickup Denico Autry can play inside or out, depending on the down.
» To think about it another way: Who is the best player on the Colts' defense?
First off, it’s clear Rosenthal has done his homework and has done a pretty good job keeping up with the major Colts moves this offseason.
At this point of the offseason, it’s hard to argue with any of his selections — both on offense or defense.
One minor issue might be at defensive tackle, as Autry — a free agent signee this offseason — appears to be more of a defensive end, although he does have the flexibility to play in side, as he showed with the Oakland Raiders. Perhaps second-year defensive tackle Grover Stewart could also become a candidate to start at that spot.
As it stands right now, the key position battles appear to be at running back, right guard, right tackle, No. 2/3 wide receiver, defensive tackle, and linebacker. But if the Colts were to take the field tomorrow, one likely wouldn’t be surprised to see these 22 players be the starters.