A week ago, if you named the two most important players for the Indianapolis Colts, one would have been Carson Wentz. The Colts didn't have much behind him at quarterback, which in hindsight was a mistake.
The second-most important Colt would have been debatable, but guard Quenton Nelson would have been one of the options. You can make an argument that he's one of the 20 best non-quarterbacks in football. Maybe top 10.
No team has had a rougher start to camp than the Colts. Wentz hurt his foot and needed surgery. He's out 5-to-12 weeks. Then Nelson hurt his foot, needed surgery and — stop me if you've heard this one before — he's out 5-12 weeks.
Nelson's absence is less complicated than Wentz. Nelson will presumably return, hopefully at his All-Pro level, but until then the left side of the Colts' line will struggle in run and pass blocking. No way around that.
It gets more complicated at quarterback, especially when you didn't have much of a backup plan.
Jacob Eason is next man up, and he's a 2020 fourth-round pick who hasn't appeared in a game. Most mid-round picks are wastes, because teams immediately are looking for something better at the position. Speaking of, the Colts used a sixth-round pick on quarterback Sam Ehlinger this year.
The Colts' realistic options are not great:
Go with Eason, run the ball, play defense: The problem with Wentz's timetable is there's just enough optimism for an early-season return (five weeks from his surgery is Sept. 6, about a week before the opener) that making a big move might not be prudent. Eason isn't going to air it out, but he can hand off to Jonathan Taylor a lot. Not having Nelson to run block might make this plan less palatable.
Go with Ehlinger, run it even more: Ehlinger is more mobile than Eason; he scored 33 rushing touchdowns at Texas. Eason brings very little mobility. If the Colts want to get weird and run a Taysom Hill-type offense until Wentz returns, they could go to the rookie. It's not a good option, but what is?
Trade for Nick Foles: This quote from Foles, currently the third-stringer for the Chicago Bears, is funny because Foles came as close as a player can to publicly asking a coach to trade for him without doing it.
"Listen, Frank Reich is one my favorite if not my favorite coach of all-time," Foles said, via NBC Sports Philadelphia. "He understands me as a player, he understands me as a person. I haven't had any talks with them. I'm a Chicago Bear right now. But he knows me. Y'all watched the 2017 season and the playoffs, where he changed the offense and built it around me, and y'all saw what happened. So he understood my mentality as a player, and he was able to build it around me and put me in a successful position, and my teammates."
Reich danced around the topic and a tampering charge, saying, "There’s nothing about Nick Foles I don’t like. I think he’s a winner. He’s certainly a guy who fits our kind of culture, but he plays for the Chicago Bears." So we wait.
Foles is a fine stop-gap option, but there's also the question of whether he'd fit in a QB room with Wentz. As you know, those two had some awkward times in Philadelphia together.
Make another trade: The problem with any quarterbacks available right now is they're not going to exactly light it up. The San Francisco 49ers don't seem to want to trade Jimmy Garoppolo. If the Colts make a deal with the Chicago Bears it seems likely it would be for Foles, not Andy Dalton. Who else that might be traded is really that exciting? The Colts would be better off rolling the dice with Eason or Ehlinger.
Another option out there is "lose a lot of games and be hopelessly behind the Tennessee Titans when Wentz returns by midseason," but that's probably not what the Colts want. It's hard for a team to feel pretty good, and then have the entire scope of its season changed before a preseason game is even played. The Colts will do their best, like they did when Andrew Luck retired suddenly late in preseason a couple years ago, but it's a much bigger challenge than they planned on.
The links on the team names will send you to each team's in-depth season preview. The rankings were set at the start of the preview series in June, and we'll update them after the preseason:
32. Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson is the best scout-team safety in the world. As Charles Robinson and I talked about on the "You Pod To Win The Game" podcast this week, this entire situation is crazy. Having Watson being at practice but not practicing seems to be a weird passive aggressive power move. I can't assume Watson plays QB for Houston this season, for any number of reasons, but who knows what happens next.
31. Detroit Lions
Lions coach Dan Campbell told a funny and fitting story, about his first training camp in 1999 as a tight end and veteran Howard Cross being ready to rumble.
"I’m a rookie and he says, ‘Hey Dan, are you ready?’" Campbell said, according to the Detroit News. "I was like, ‘Yeah, I'm ready.’ He goes, ‘OK, so when this thing goes down, make sure you got my back.’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about when this thing goes down?’ I said, ‘What's going down?’ He's just like, ‘Have my back. Make sure you got my back.’
"It was like first period, team run, and it was like literally the first play and one of our D-lineman just slugs the crap out of our center and it's all out. It's an all-out brawl. I’m looking and there's Howard and somebody is on his back, I’m running over there. You're just trying to get involved, but yet you don't really want to be in there and fight in the middle all of it."
Yes, there have been fights at Lions training camp already, thanks for asking.
It would take a ridiculous rookie season from Trevor Lawrence, but Carson Wentz's injury opens the door just a bit for the Jaguars to win a division title. And Lawrence could have a ridiculous rookie season. In 2012, rookie Andrew Luck helped the Colts to an 11-5 record and a playoff spot and rookie Robert Griffin III took Washington to a surprise division title.
29. New York Jets
The Jets rookie class is getting a lot of love in training camp. That might not matter too much because positive training camp stories aren't hard to find, but it's nice to hear the good reviews for quarterback Zack Wilson, receiver Elijah Moore, running back Michael Carter and offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker.
As noted in the Bengals preview linked above, just because a player is back on the field doesn't mean he's back to normal. This quote from Tyler Boyd about quarterback Joe Burrow is a bit concerning.
Tyler Boyd today on Joe Burrow's progress:
"I think he's a little iffy on his knee, but it's hard to tell. I think he's ready to go, but he doesn't want to do too much."
Just one quote, but TB perfectly described what JB looks like right now. #Bengals @fox19
— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) August 4, 2021
The injury to DeVonta Smith, reported as a sprained knee, is troubling. Generally if a rookie receiver has a bad first season, an injury is involved. That's what happened with 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor.
There have been reports of Sam Darnold having interception issues in camp, which likely means little. But it's still a reminder that Darnold is no sure thing, even if the Panthers went about their offseason like he is.
25. Atlanta Falcons
Kyle Pitts is already making highlight plays. He's going to be a fun rookie to watch.
There are some positive vibes for Henry Ruggs III, the first receiver taken in last year's draft. Given that Ruggs was mostly ignored in the offense last season, his positive start to camp is a good sign for a potential breakout.
23. New York Giants
Art Stapleton of NorthJersey.com wrote that Giants running back Saquon Barkley is "looking more and more like his old self every day." That's good news (particularly for those wondering whether to draft Barkley in fantasy leagues).
"You know what, he’s making a lot of strides for us and I don’t want to go ahead and make any predictions or anything on Saquon, but I will say that this guy’s showing progress, tangible progress every day with our medical staff, with our strength staff," Giants coach Joe Judge said, via Stapleton.
22. Chicago Bears
For anyone hoping Justin Fields would win the starting job by Week 1, there hasn't been any news indicating that could happen. If anything, most of the Andy Dalton news has been positive.
"He’s got full control of this offense, without a doubt,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “We could play a game tomorrow and be just fine.”
21. Denver Broncos
There hasn't been any clear separation between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater in camp. It's a competition that will be mostly decided on who plays better in preseason games.
20. Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott has a right lat strain, and hasn't been throwing for days in camp. It's probably nothing big, and the Cowboys seem to believe it's not an issue that will linger, but everyone will feel better when Prescott is back on the field and throwing.
Reports from Washington say running back Antonio Gibson has been getting more opportunities as a receiver in camp. That's great news. Gibson was a great receiver in college at Memphis and could add a lot of value to the offense by catching the ball more than he did as a rookie.
Chandler Jones wants a trade and the Cardinals reportedly have no plans to deal him. Jones did report to training camp. The Cardinals need to win this season to avoid sweeping changes next offseason, and having Jones on the roster gives them a better chance at a playoff season.
The NFL vaccination controversy has been the story of Vikings camp. The team has the NFL's lowest vaccination rate, according to the Washington Post, and the team placed three quarterbacks including Kirk Cousins go on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
“Well, we’re very concerned,” Vikings president Mark Wilf said, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I think it’s safe to say that our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our players, our coaches, our staff and, ultimately, the entire community.
First-round running back Najee Harris is turning heads early on, particularly his ability to make defenders miss. He might need to do that often this season.
"Not every run is going to be blocked perfectly," Harris said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "My job is to make the most out of every run."
The initial power rankings for this season are done in June and I don't like to make changes until after the preseason. This is one team I'd move down now, based on Michael Thomas' injury. That's a really bad loss for an offense that was already iffy changing quarterbacks.
Former first-round pick N'Keal Harry might be saving his career. He is having a great camp from many accounts. That might mean he gets his wish and gets traded elsewhere, but he had virtually no trade value before his hot start to camp.
13. Miami Dolphins
The word from Miami camp is that the offense is a lot faster after some additions.
“We’ve got more speed, we’ve got more pieces and even when DeVante [Parker] and Preston [Williams] come back, it will be even deeper,” safety Eric Rowe said, via the Palm Beach Post. “I’m excited to see it happen. Tua [Tagovailoa], I think he’s making that jump.”
The best news from Chargers camp: Derwin James is healthy and looks to be moving very well.
— Los Angeles Chargers (@chargers) August 3, 2021
11. Cleveland Browns
The one player that keeps coming up in camp reports is Jadeveon Clowney. Apparently, he has been unblockable. Clowney runs hot and cold, but his hot streaks are great. The Browns defense would look a lot better if they get the best of Clowney.
10. Tennessee Titans
The biggest gainer since camps started might be the Titans. The Colts' injury problems open the door wide open for the Titans to walk to a division title. The first of the two all-important meetings with the Colts happens in Week 3, and who knows which quarterback the Colts will be starting by then.
The word from Seahawks camp is that the uptempo offense that has been teased all offseason has been on display in camp. When you have Russell Wilson, you should want to get the offense more plays.
Now that Aaron Rodgers is back, the Packers' ranking will move up (probably in the top four). That's not to say Rodgers' offseason of discontent won't have a negative effect this season, but there's no reason to worry about the Packers right now.
The Cam Akers injury is a big one. Presumably the Rams will bring in a veteran, but who? Nobody available now is going to make the same impact as Akers. It's an injury that I think is more damaging to the Rams than anyone is talking about.
From all accounts, Trey Lance looks great in camp. Dieter Kurtenbach has already written a column: "The 49ers don’t have a quarterback controversy — Trey Lance gives them a better chance to win." The 49ers have been praising Jimmy Garoppolo but it seems hard to believe he can hold off Lance for long.
This ranking was based on a lot of optimism for the Colts heading into the season. Needless to say, they won't be in the top 5 when you see the power rankings again.
Marquise Brown has a hamstring injury and that's bad news for the Ravens. He's clearly their top wideout, and the Ravens need more from that position. First-round pick Rashod Bateman needs to be good right away.
From camp reports, veteran Emmanuel Sanders is far ahead of second-year receiver Gabriel Davis. It's positive that Sanders is looking good to start camp, but a little disappointing that Davis is behind after a promising rookie season.
It's hard to tell how serious Tom Brady's MCL injury last season was, and how much is being exaggerated just a touch to add the legend of his historic 2020 season. He did need surgery and said he's in a much better place this season.
“It’s exciting for me. I mean it was just a lot of maintenance last year, Alex [Guerrero, his personal trainer] and I would spend time day after day. ... ‘Hey, let’s tape it’ and take the tape off, pregame, pre-practice taping it at 7 a.m., leaving the tape on at night and just trying to stabilize it as best I could,” Brady said, via the Associated Press.
I'm a believer in Clyde Edwards-Helaire. His rookie season wasn't that bad. He's still the same dynamic talent that made him a first-round pick out of LSU. He disappointed a bit last season, partially due to high expectations, but there's no reason to give up on him yet.