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Colts report card: Grading each position from 2023

The Indianapolis Colts are gearing up for a pivotal offseason in 2024 as they look to build on some impressive success in the first year under head coach Shane Steichen.

Though the 2023 season didn’t go as planned in terms of making the playoffs, there were still some developments that should bring optimism moving forward for the franchise.

Now, we’re going to grade each position for the Colts after the 2023 campaign as they prepare for a decisive offseason:

Quarterback

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B

Rookie Anthony Richardson showed immense promise before his season was cut short due to a shoulder injury. His play style moving forward will be a topic of discussion, but he proved to have true dual-threat ability in Steichen’s offense.

Minshew did fine as a replacement-level starter. He had moments of triumph leading the offense and equal moments of despair in which the unit was trying to win in spite of him. Overall, though, the Colts should be glad they had Minshew as an option, and he’s partly they reason they were so close to the playoffs.

Running Back

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Grade: B

Though we didn’t get to see the true potential of the run game due to Richardson’s injury, we got a glimpse of what it would be like early in the season. Zack Moss dominated when Jonathan Taylor was on the PUP list to begin the campaign, but his numbers fell off toward the end of the season.

Taylor’s season was filled with drama between an ankle injury and a contract dispute. Both went away when he signed a three-year extension during the season. There’s plenty of excitement for what Taylor and Richardson can do together.

Wide Receiver

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Grade: B+

Michael Pittman Jr. carried this entire unit. If it weren’t for him, the offense would have flopped massively. He’s the top priority this offseason after setting career-high marks in receptions (109) and receiving yards (1,152).

Rookie slot receiver Josh Downs showed immense promise during the first half of the season and then seemingly hit a rookie wall during the second half. How much of that was due to a nagging knee injury isn’t clear, but he has potential to be a strong option over the middle.

Alec Pierce was streaky in Year 2 but came along a bit during the second half. Having Richardson’s rocket arm should provide more opportunities in 2024.

Overall, the Colts need to add another playmaker to this room while continuing the development of the young receivers.

Tight End

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Grade: C

Kylen Granson had a decent season setting career-high marks with 30 receptions for 368 yards, and rookie Will Mallory was second in the room with 18 receptions for 207 yards.

The Mo Alie-Cox experiment is likely coming to an end either this offseason or in 2025. He isn’t making much of a difference as a receiver, and it’s time the Colts look toward adding a true Y option.

Meanwhile, Jelani Woods missed the entire season due to a nagging hamstring injury, and Andrew Ogletree missed the final month after being charged with two felony counts of domestic battery in December.

Offensive Line

Jenna Watson-USA TODAY Sports
Jenna Watson-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: A

The resurgence of the offensive line was a sight to see. Under Tony Sparano Jr., the front five for the Colts returned to form as a dominating unit in both pass protection and run blocking. Though the starting five didn’t play a whole lot together due to injuries, this unit when above and beyond what was expected of them.

Left guard Quenton Nelson, center Ryan Kelly and right tackle Braden Smith all played at Pro-Bowl levels in 2023. Meanwhile, Bernhard Raimann broke out in Year 2 as an ascending left tackle, and Will Fries provided quality play at right guard in his first full season as a starter.

Defensive Line

Jenna Watson/IndyStar
Jenna Watson/IndyStar

Grade: B

It was a mixed bag for the defensive line. On one hand, the unit registered more sacks than any other Colts team in franchise history. Four players finished the season with at least eight sacks, led by newcomer Samson Ebukam’s 9.5.

On the other hand, the run defense was brutal. It was better when Grover Stewart was available, but he missed six games due to a suspension. Even when he returned during the second half of the season, the unit struggled to stop the run.

If we had to choose one over the other, though, we’d prefer having a better pass rush, which is why the grade comes out more positively.

Linebacker

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B+

Few players have been as productive as Zaire Franklin over the last two seasons. He ranks second in total tackles and solo tackles among all linebackers during that span. This also was the second year in a row he set the franchise record for tackles in a season, and he did so while missing a game.

E.J. Speed moved into a starting role after the team sadly parted ways with Shaquille Leonard, a move that had to be made considering the latter’s tough decline. His work in coverage was truly stellar. Among linebackers with at least 200 coverage snaps, Speed’s 86.4 passer rating allowed and five forced incompletions both rank eighth-best, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Colts also got some quality special teams play from Grant Stuard and Segun Olubi. It’s likely they add more depth to the room, but this position is in solid standing entering the offseason.

Cornerback

(AP Photo/Terrance Williams)
(AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

Grade: C+

Kenny Moore II bounced back to his Pro Bowl form in a contract year, returning as one of the top slot defenders in the entire league. Meanwhile, the group was highlighted by a pair of rookies in Julius Brents and Jaylon Jones.

Both Brents and Jones had their ups-and-downs throughout their rookie campaigns, which were to be expected. Despite some of their struggles, it was vital for them to gain experience starting in the NFL, and the outlook should be a positive one entering 2024.

Losing Dallis Flowers early in the season was a tough blow, and this could be position the Colts target in the first round of the 2024 NFL draft.

Safety

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Grade: C

Julian Blackmon had a career season and truly enjoyed a breakout campaign before it ended on the injured reserve list due to a shoulder injury. It isn’t clear whether he would have returned for a playoff run. Regardless, he proved to be a key cog in the secondary.

Second-year safeties Rodney Thomas II and Nick Cross had opposite results. Thomas entered the season as the starter after a surprisingly strong rookie season, but he failed to build upon that in Year 2. Cross was solely a special teamer for the majority of the season before excelling in a starting role during the final month.

This will be a big area of emphasis for the Colts this offseason either through free agency or the draft.

Special Teams

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Grade: C

The Colts were pretty middle-of-the-pack on special teams in the first season under new coordinator Brian Mason. Kicker Matt Gay was solid, but he did miss eight field-goal attempts, five of which were from 50 yards or more.

Punter Rigoberto Sanchez returned from a torn Achilles and while he didn’t regain his near Pro Bowl form, he showed flashes of being that weapon again at times in 2023.

The Colts were middle-of-the-road on kick and punt returns. The new kickoff rules led to far fewer returns in that phase. Josh Downs was a better punt return option than Isaiah McKenzie while the defense on punt returns was inconsistent at best. They allowed the ninth-most punt return yards (360) and the seventh-most yards per kick returns (26.1).

Overall

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Grade: B

Overall, it was a solid season for the Colts. To be competing for a playoff spot during the final week of the regular season despite the immense injuries was admirable. Doing so under a first-year head coach proves what kind of culture is being set. The future is bright for this squad if Richardson can come back healthy and a few areas are cleaned up.

Story originally appeared on Colts Wire