10 Colts with first-time Pro Bowl potential in 2023
Just two seasons ago, the Indianapolis Colts had the most Pro Bowl selections (seven) in the NFL before their dumpster fire of a 2022 campaign resulted in Quenton Nelson being the lone representative for the franchise at the most recent all-star game.
This should be no surprise as bad teams typically don’t see their players earning honors by the end of the season since they aren’t getting attention from the national media and audience.
With that being said, there are a number of players on this year’s roster that will be looking to make grab the first Pro Bowl nod of their career. Let’s take a look at 10 Colts who have the potential to play in their first all-star game at the end of 2023:
Year 3 was supposed to be when Michael Pittman Jr. took the next step andf supplant himself as one of the better receivers in the NFL, but that all fell apart due to the poor quarterback play he received throughout the season. He had a career-high in receptions (99) but failed to crack 1,000 receiving yards and finished with four touchdowns.
He had just two 100-yard receiving games and after getting a touchdown in the season opener, it took him nine games until he found himself in the endzone for just the second time last season. As I mentioned, this wasn’t due to bad play by Pittman Jr., but more of the environment of the offense he was playing in.
With the rejuvenation of the franchise due to the additions of Shane Steichen and Anthony Richardson, there is excitement about what the offense could look like in 2023. MPJ is the No. 1 receiver in the offense and should once again command a majority of the share of targets in the passing attack.
I expect that Pittman Jr. will crack 100 receptions and can get to 1,100+ yards under Steichen. One other factor that will push Pittman Jr. to have the best season of his young career is that he is entering a contract year. If the Colts and MPJ can’t come to an agreement on an extension prior to the season then the fourth-year receiver will have an opportunity to increase his market value with a Pro Bowl year.
There were a few Colts who could’ve earned their first Pro Bowl honors in 2022, and Stewart is one of them. The veteran defensive tackle finished with a career-high in tackles (70), tackles for loss (nine), sacks (four), QB hits (seven), and pass deflections (three). But unless you were tuning into the games last year, most had no clue about the stellar season that Stewart was putting together.
His goal last season was to make his first trip to the NFL all-star game and after he found out he wasn’t selected he told the media that it was his goal “to put the league on notice about Grover Stewart, and I think I did that. ” He said he was “shocked” he didn’t get selected to the Pro Bowl.
The lone Pro Bowler, Quenton Nelson, agreed with him. He said, “I wish I could give my Pro Bowl to him because he deserves it.”
Stewart’s goal remains and earlier this month, he told the media that he is focused on becoming more of a consistent pass rusher. He wants to force the coaching staff to keep him on the field on third downs. More sack numbers would likely catch the eye of the fans that vote for the Pro Bowl.
He’s also entering a contract year so he falls in line with the players that will want to increase his value by having back-to-back impact years. It’s past time that Big Grove gets his respect nationally and he will look to become more of a household name in 2023.
WR Alec Pierce
It’s rare for a team to see two of their receivers make the Pro Bowl so Pierce earning honors in Year 2 will be dependent on a couple of factors. First, his level of play and production would need to be on par, if not better than Micheal Pittman Jr., and the seasons that the great receivers across the AFC put together in 2023.
While he can make a Pro Bowl without MPJ if he does indeed have a better year, it doesn’t rule out that they both could earn a nod by the end of the season. The last time that two receivers from the same team made the Pro Bowl came in the 2019 season when Mike Evans and Chris Godwin represented the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That came in the infamous 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions season by Jameis Winston so whether it’s Anthony Richardson or Gardner Minsew, the quarterback play doesn’t have to be perfect for the receivers as long as they are putting up the production.
Pierce will be looking to crack 1,000 yards for the first time after finishing with 593 yards in his rookie season.
The other player that put together a performance that was worthy of a Pro Bowl in 2022 was Franklin. He was named as an alternate but never got the call up so he is looking to make his first appearance in the pro all-star game. He not only set a franchise record with the most tackles in a season (167), Franklin also had a career-high in tackles for loss (12), sacks (three), QB hits (six), pass deflections (six), and forced fumbles (two).
The return of Shaquille Leonard will garner the attention of those that cover the league nationally but if Franklin can show that his breakout season is here to stay then he will be able to make a strong push to make his first Pro Bowl.
QB Anthony Richardson
It would take a special season for Anthony Richardson to be selected for the Pro Bowl as a rookie quarterback. The last rookie quarterback to play in the game was Mac Jones but that came because he was an alternate and he got called up. The last first-year quarterback to be selected to the Pro Bowl came back in 2016 with Dak Prescott.
He earned those honors with 3,885 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns, and four interceptions. He also had 282 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. With Richardson’s electric rushing ability, you could see him captivating fans with his playmaking ability, and push for a place on the Pro Bowl by the end of his rookie year.
This would mean Richardson is indeed the opening-day starter for the Colts and he ends up having more highs than lows in Year 1.
RT Braden Smith
Making the Pro Bowl as an offensive lineman can be quite difficult if you’re not a common household name and that has been the case for Smith. He’s put together stellar seasons in the past but he has yet to get his first selection to the all-star game. The last few seasons haven’t gone his way due to injuries and the poor play across the entire offensive line in 2022. But, he still was able to put together a solid year despite the struggles across his unit last season.
If there was one game I would suggest checking out from last year it would be the one against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had one of his best games of the season lining up against T.J. Watt. The talent is still there and if he can put together a healthy season and the team can have a good year, then maybe this is the season that Smith makes his first Pro Bowl.
The ability to make plays for the defense and create turnovers is the path for a safety to get on the radar of the Pro Bowl voters. Blackmon looked like he had the potential of a playmaking safety his rookie season and was set to have a breakout season in Year 2 but it unfortunately came to a quick end due to suffering a torn Achilles during an October practice.
Last season he was ready for the opener but did suffer an ankle injury that caused him to miss time and he was eased back into action. In the tumultuous season that it was for Indy, Blackmon ended up finishing the 2022 season as the nickel corner because Kenny Moore II missed the end of it due to his injury. He was able to finish with a career-high in tackles (50).
With Moore II back to being healthy and Blackmon having a full offseason to be healthy and prepare for the season, he is set to put together the best season of his career. He’s also another player on this roster that is set to play out the final year of his rookie deal so a Pro Bowl honor can help him get the payday that he will be seeking next offseason.
CB Isaiah Rodgers Sr.
If you asked those that cover the Colts and their fans, Isaiah Rodgers Sr. was the favorite pick as the breakout player entering the 2022 season. After flashing his playmaking ability in 2021, everything seemed lined up for him to make an impact for the defense. But, Gus Bradley felt different and it was Brandon Facyson that began the year as the starter.
Rodgers Sr. started in just nine of his 15 appearances last year. With Facyson leaving in free agency, and the trade of Stephon Gilmore, he finds himself as the veteran among the cornerbacks that looks set to be one of the starting boundary corners entering the season.
If he has taken the next step of his development and starts all 17 games, then he has a chance to earn some household recognition by showing his ability to get his hands on the ball.
CB Julius Brents
It’s pretty rare to see a rookie cornerback make the Pro Bowl but just last season we saw two first-year corners earn honors between Sauce Gardner and Tariq Woolen. For Gardner, he was the No. 4 overall pick so he was expected to make an impact in Year 1 and exceeded those expectations which led to his selection.
For Woolen, the fifth-round pick took advantage of his opportunity to be an opening-day starter and never looked back. His ball skills were quickly recognized when he got an interception in four straight games. He finished his season with six interceptions and 16 pass deflections.
While Brents was a second-round pick, he isn’t entering his rookie season with a household name like Gardner but has a path to quickly become one as Woolen did. Brents will be in the competition for a starting outside cornerback spot and if he secures the job then he will have a chance to showcase his ability.
Brents did finish with a career-high in interceptions (four) in his final college season. If he can get his hand on the ball early this season then the first-year corner could find his way into the Pro Bowl.