Where does your squad stand in 2023? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.
Members of the Colts organization, Colts fans around the world and those who love to stroll over to the Slippery Noodle Inn after a game at Lucas Oil Stadium to listen to some blues music ...
That was a pretty, um, interesting football season in Indianapolis, eh? Frank Reich was fired midseason, prompting Jeff Saturday to leave the TV studio and coach the team. Quite an experiment, to be sure, but ultimately a failure. Now there's a new sheriff in town. No, not The Sheriff, but a new coach who's fresh off a Super Bowl appearance. What does that mean for 2023? Good question. Before spinning forward, though, we must take a quick glance back.
One low from last season: The midseason coaching carousel. Indianapolis fired Frank Reich after the Colts' 3-5-1 start, with the Mike Tyson punchout being a blowout loss to the New England Patriots. Reich has a strong reputation around the league, leading many to question the in-season firing -- especially once he was replaced by Jeff Saturday. Not that Saturday isn't a good person, but at the time of his hiring, the longtime Colts center was an ESPN analyst with no NFL coaching experience. One person who strongly disagreed with Reich's dismissal: Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni, who served as Reich's offensive coordinator in Indy for three seasons. Philadelphia came to town a couple of weeks after Reich's ouster, and after the Eagles eked out a 17-16 win, Sirianni passionately proclaimed to everyone within earshot that the win was dedicated to his old mentor. It was awkward, but fun. Kind of like watching The Room. Saturday took over a 3-5-1 team, and the Colts finished the season at 4-12-1. Not ideal.
One high from last season: The midseason coaching carousel's initial result. But never forget: Jeff Saturday won his first game as head coach, beating the Raiders on the road. I mean, how can you not celebrate an epic Saturday win in Las Vegas? Right?! All of a sudden, the freshly minted NFL head coach had scores of doubters eating crow. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the bold hiring's chickens to come home to roost. (Bird idioms!) Saturday didn't win another game as Colts head coach, finishing with a 1-7 record in the big chair. He'll always have Vegas.
Quarterback: Anthony Richardson. I had the chance to interview Richardson for NFL Network's Total Access before the draft, and he definitely got my seal of approval. Great dude. As a player, the No. 4 overall pick has all the raw skills you want from a modern quarterback: Cannon of an arm, combine-breaking athleticism and prolific running ability. The one thing he really needs: high-level game experience. Richardson started just 13 contests at Florida, so he's going to be learning on the job -- whenever he officially gets the job. The Colts signed veteran quarterback Gardner Minshew back in March, prior to drafting Richardson. The two quarterbacks have been splitting first-team reps during the offseason. Still, it's a safe assumption that Richardson will be The Guy sooner than later. As I just touched on, he needs to play the game to truly learn the game. And his mobility should provide a production floor as he works to refine his passing ability.
Projected 2023 MVP: Jonathan Taylor, running back. The 2021 rushing king's regression in 2022 played a major role in Indianapolis' highly disappointing season. I know a lot of fantasy dorks were patting themselves on the back when Taylor rushed for 161 yards in the season opener, but he didn't hit 100 yards rushing again until Week 10 -- and that was it for his century-mark efforts. Nagged by an ankle injury that eventually needed a surgical correction, Taylor was limited to 11 games, finishing with 861 rushing yards and four touchdowns. That's a steep decline from the man's league-leading figures of 1,811 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns in 2021. Still just 24 years old, Taylor's a good bet to bounce back in a major way with a clean bill of health. Just think of the RPO game with AR and JT sharing the backfield; the Colts could really have something offensively.
New face to know: Samson Ebukam, defensive end. Understandably overshadowed by 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa in San Francisco, Ebukam posted a career-high five sacks last season. While that's not a huge total, his 14.8 percent pressure rate ranked seventh in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats (min. 300 pass rushes). Now he's going to be lined up alongside DeForest Buckner, his former 49ers teammate. Actually, no: They never played together in San Francisco, which is too bad, because I had a really great analogy lined up. I'll just have to use it at some other point in this series. Bottom line: The Colts added a nice piece on defense.
2023 breakout star: Bernhard Raimann, left tackle. The Colts selected him in the third round last year and rushed him into the starting lineup for Week 5. One week later, he was benched. But he eventually found his way back on the field and started the final nine games of the season. A roller-coaster ride indeed, but not at all surprising for a Central Michigan product transitioning from the MAC to the NFL. At the end of the day, the Colts saw enough from the rookie to have him pegged as their starter on the blind side in 2023. Definitely not an insignificant development, given that Indy's likely to start a rookie quarterback for the bulk of the season.
|Head coach||Shane Steichen|
|General manager||Chris Ballard|
|Offensive coordinator||Jim Bob Cooter|
|Defensive coordinator||Gus Bradley|
|Special teams coordinator||Brian Mason|
- Interesting that the Colts went back to the Eagles well for another head coach. Like Frank Reich before him, Shane Steichen got the top job in Indy after two years as Philly's offensive coordinator. But I love that the Colts gave Steichen a six-year deal, which is a notable commitment for a first-time head coach. Judging by the stellar work he did with Jalen Hurts over the last couple years, Steichen could be the perfect coach to get the most out of Anthony Richardson.
- Jim Irsay said in March that GM Chris Ballard isn't on a "quick hot seat, but the expectations are there to succeed." Translation: The seat is, at the very least, heating up.
- The Colts brought back Jim Bob Cooter, who started his NFL coaching career in Indianapolis. Cooter was an offensive assistant for the Colts from 2009 through 2011. This is his second gig as an offensive coordinator; he had mixed results in three and a half seasons as the Lions' OC.
Below is a rundown of the Colts' most notable roster developments for the 2023 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.
|Draft class (round-pick)||Key additions||Key departures|
|Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida (1-4)||Gardner Minshew, QB||Nick Foles, QB|
|Julius Brents, CB, Kansas State (2-44)||Isaiah McKenzie, WR||Matt Ryan, QB|
|Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina (3-79)||Pharaoh Brown, TE||Parris Campbell, WR|
|Blake Freeland, OT, BYU (4-106)||Taven Bryan, DT||Dennis Kelly, OT|
|Adetomiwa Adebawore, DL, Northwestern (4-110)||Samson Ebukam, DE||Matt Pryor, OT|
|Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina (5-138)||Matt Gay, K||Yannick Ngakoue, DE|
|Daniel Scott, S, Cal (5-158)||Bobby Okereke, LB|
|Will Mallory, TE, Miami-FL (5-162)||Brandon Facyson, CB|
|Evan Hull, RB, Northwestern (5-176)||Stephon Gilmore, CB|
|Titus Leo, DE, Wagner (6-211)||Rodney McLeod, S|
|Jaylon Jones, CB, Texas A&M (7-221)||Chase McLaughlin, K|
|Jake Witt, OT, Northern Michigan (7-236)||Matt Haack, P|
Three key dates:
- Week 1 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars. Why not get this new era of Colts football rolling early? OK, this is where I voice my everlasting gripe with kicking off the season via division rivalry. But here we are. The Colts can really set a tone with a victory over an offseason darling. And if Anthony Richardson is starting? It will be tons of fun.
- Week 5 vs. Tennessee Titans. The Colts will play host to the Titans here before they go on the road to face the Jaguars. That's right -- the season series against the Jags will be done by Week 6. Make it make sense! Anyhow, if Indy decides to slow-play Richardson's ascension to the starting lineup, this winnable Week 5 contest could be a nice spot to break out the new face of the franchise.
- Week 18 vs. Houston Texans. I'm not 100 percent sure how competitive the Colts will be this season. But it's the AFC South -- you never know. There are so many possibilities of what this game will mean by the time we actually get to the final week of the regular season. It could be for the top draft pick. It could be for the division title. I mean, the Colts do have one of the easiest schedules in the league ...
Will the Colts be able to ...
... stop teams from scoring? The Colts weren't completely hopeless on defense last season, finishing 15th in yards allowed. But they ranked 28th in points allowed. That's what happens when you're dead last in red-zone defense. Clearly, Indy missed the heartbeat of the defense, Shaquille Leonard. A three-time first-team All-Pro, Leonard was limited to just three games (and only one start) last season, due to a nagging back injury as well as a broken nose and concussion. Still rehabbing from a second back surgery, Leonard's status for training camp and the start of the regular season remains up in the air. Getting the tone-setting 'backer back would be an enormous boost for Gus Bradley's defense.
... get Quenton Nelson to play like Quenton Nelson again? In the VIPs section of this piece, I list RB Jonathan Taylor as the projected MVP and LT Bernhard Raimann as the breakout star. But for both of those players to max out, they'll need help from the left guard who just wasn't himself last season. Can Nelson -- who earned first-team All-Pro honors in his first three NFL seasons -- return to dominant form in 2023? My guy Adam Schein believes he's going to bounce back, and I share his optimism. Nelson's still just 27 years old. Indy needs him to play up to his mega contract. And I like what Nelson had to say about new offensive line coach Tony Sparano Jr.'s attention to detail.
One storyline ...
... people shouldn't overlook: The Colts receiving corps could be kind of nice. I like Michael Pittman Jr. an awful lot. He is consistently one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL. The team also drafted Josh Downs in the third round in April. But really, the player I like the most from the Colts' receiving corps -- the guy I almost listed as the team's 2023 breakout star -- is Alec Pierce. The second-year pro is the field-stretching deep threat. Putting Pierce in Shane Steichen's vertical passing game could really unlock his production. And ... AND this team has Jelani Woods as a potential breakout at the tight end position. A lot of young quarterbacks need that gamebreaking pass catcher (SEE: C.J. Stroud in Houston), but Anthony Richardson could have multiple options in Indianapolis.
For 2023 to be a success, the Colts MUST:
- Develop Anthony Richardson. Don't get me wrong: If you're a fan of the Colts, you want to make the playoffs. Go crazy! You want to make a little run like the 2022 Jaguars did. That is the goal for this season, sure. As I've alluded to, the AFC South isn't exactly loaded these days, so nothing's out of the question. But in the bigger picture -- and in a QUARTERBACK LEAGUE -- Richardson's long-term development is everything. Colts fans look at how Shane Steichen developed Jalen Hurts -- who just finished second in the MVP race and nearly outdueled Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl -- and think big. Which is fine. But that didn't happen overnight. This is Year 1 of the Steichen-Richardson era in Indy. Growing pains will come, but establishing a steady upward trend would be a major achievement after the 2022 debacle.