Loading scores...
Offseason Team Previews

2021 Colts Offseason Preview

by Hayden Winks
Updated On: March 4, 2021, 6:15 pm ET

My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top -- cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures -- and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).

 


Colts 2020 Recap

Colts2020

 

Blessed with the easiest schedule in the league, the Colts finished with top-10 rankings in point differential (8th), points (9th), points against (10th), passing EPA (8th), and passing EPA defense (10th) in 2020. It was a successful season for the coaching staff and front office, who brought in elite DT DeForest Buckner and didn’t mortgage the future at quarterback. The defense was well-coached and disciplined, and the offense was just as methodical with Philip Rivers calling shots. For as respectable as they were, Indy never felt like AFC Championship contenders because they lacked multiple elite players. The Colts made an aggressive, high-ceiling move to acquire Carson Wentz, and I wouldn’t be surprised if another big move was made now that the core of the roster is set.

 


Colts 2021 Offseason

Notes

 

Colts Cap Space

$43.6 million (4th)

Colts Draft Picks

1.21, 2.54, 3.85, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, plus compensatory picks

Colts Departures

QB Phillip Rivers, WR T.Y. Hilton, CB Xavier Rhodes, TE Trey Burton, TE Mo Alie-Cox, WR Zach Pascal, EDGE Justin Houston, EDGE Denico Autry, EDGE Al-Quadin Muhammad, FS Malik Hooker, FS Tavon Wilson

Colts Cut Candidates

RG Mark Glowinski ($6.2M cap savings), TE Jack Doyle ($4.4M)

 


Colts Depth Chart

Position

Base Offense

Notable Backups

Personnel

11

-

% of Passes

81%

-

QB

Carson Wentz

Jacob Eason

WR

Michael Pittman

Marcus Johnson

WR

???

Dezmon Patmon

WR (Slot)

Parris Campbell

De'Michael Harris

TE

Jack Doyle

Noah Togiai

RB (Early Down)

Jonathan Taylor

Jordan Wilkins

RB (Third Down)

Nyheim Hines

 

LT

???

 

LG

Quenton Nelson

 

C

Ryan Kelly

Danny Pinter

RG

Mark Glowinski

 

RT

Braden Smith

 

 

WentzColts

 

Offensive Coordinator: The Colts’ offense under coach Frank Reich has been conservative, partially because of the strengths and weaknesses of his quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers. Last year, Indy was 25th in average depth of target, 18th in neutral pace, and 11th in neutral pass rate. A lot of the Colts’ passing attack included shallow crossers, something Carson Wentz has historically struggled with (Benjamin Solak noted that Wentz attempted just eight shallow crossers in 2020!). I’m projecting more vertical elements to be added to the playbook, but Wentz will have to improve his short-area accuracy and reads to reach a ceiling in this offense hand-picked to suit the quick game. Regardless of how the pass game looks, it’s likely that Indy continues with their balanced pass/run rates as Jonathan Taylor enters the prime of his career. Both Taylor and Wentz will benefit from Indy’s top-10 offensive line.

Passing Offense: Among 47 QBs to have 400 plays since 2018, Carson Wentz ranks 34th in passing EPA per dropback and 42nd in completion percentage over expected. He’s been bad since his back and ACL injuries, but there’s no denying that his 2021 setup will be better than what he’s had in Philly for the last three years. Playing indoors and against a similarly easy division pave the way for a rebound year. How much so depends on how well the receivers play. T.Y. Hilton will test the free agent waters this offseason, leaving 2020 second-rounder Michael Pittman as the only long-term option at outside receiver on the roster. Finding a veteran to pair with Pittman and 2019 second-round slot man Parris Campbell makes sense on the surface. At least one starting-caliber player is necessary after 81% of their pass attempts came in three-receiver sets last year. At tight end, the Colts could lose Trey Burton and Mo Alie-Cox to free agency, and 31-year-old Jack Doyle can be released with $6.4 million in cap savings. A full-blown rebuild could be underway this offseason. Overall, it’d be a major surprise if the Colts’ No. 8 passing EPA offense from last year repeated in 2021.

Rushing Offense: Left tackle Anthony Castonzo retired, but the rest of the offensive line is set to return assuming RG Mark Glowinski ($6.2M cap savings) survives cuts. Between the LT rookie class, All-Pro LG Quenton Nelson, underrated RT Braden Smith, and 2016 first-round C Ryan Kelley, the Colts have the potential to be a top-five offensive line in 2021. That’s obviously great news for the Colts’ dynamic one-two punch at running back. Like last year, Jonathan Taylor will handle all early-down work while Nyheim Hines handles traditional passing-down duties. In a running-back heavy offense elevated by the o-line, Taylor has top-10 fantasy upside even with Hines in the mix. He averaged 16.4 expected PPR points after the Colts’ Week 12 bye last year. That’s a good over/under for 2021.

Editor’s Note: Get an edge with our premium Betting Tools that are packed with live odds, betting trends, predictions, player prop projections, our extensive Edge Finder and much more. And don't forget to use promo code WELCOME10 to get 10% off. Click here to learn more!

 

Position

Base Defense

Notable Backups

Scheme

Cover 2 Zone

-

% of Plays

30%

-

CB

???

Isaiah Rodgers

CB

Rock Ya-Sin

 

CB (Slot)

Kenny Moore

 

SS

Khari Willis

 

FS

Julian Blackmon

 

LB

Darius Leonard

Zaire Franklin

LB

Bobby Okereke

 

DT (1T)

Grover Stewart

 

DT (3T)

DeForest Buckner

 

Edge (5T)

Tyquan Lewis

 

Edge (7T)

Kemoko Turay

Ben Banogu

 

Defensive Coordinator: The defense experimented with more single-high looks down the stretch, but the Colts were leading the NFL in Cover 2 zone (30%) through 12 weeks of the season under DC Matt Eberflus. It was arguably the least aggressive defense in the league, only blitzing on 17% of plays. The key to the entire unit is having DT DeForest Buckner clog gaps against the run and win inside against the pass, and that’s exactly what he did as a 27-year-old in 2020. The end result was top-12 marks in most defensive categories, including points allowed (10th). How repeatable that is in 2021 will depend on how Indy replaces some of their free agent edge rushers and CB Xavier Rhodes. They also will be facing a tougher strength of schedule than they faced last year (32nd).

Passing Defense: The Colts need edge rushers if they’re going to be blitzing on fewer than one-fifth of their plays. Their top three edge rushers from last year are all free agents, leaving 2018 second-rounder Tyquan Lewis, 2018 second-rounder Kemoko Turay, and 2019 second-rounder Ben Banogu bigger roles in 2021 than they’ve shown capable of having. This trio has combined for 15.0 sacks across eight NFL seasons. One veteran addition, particularly one with size and a presence against the run, should be a priority. At corner, the Colts are likely looking to re-sign Xavier Rhodes after a rebound season in their Cover 2 zone scheme. If he walks in free agency, finding a new CB1 will be a top priority. Current CB2 Rock Ya-Sin is a fringe starter, and slot CB Kenny Moore has no more guaranteed money left on his contract. It’s a big need. Indy is set at safety, however. 2019 fourth-round SS Khari Willis played well despite injuries, and 2020 third-round FS Julian Blackmon is the one-for-one Malik Hooker replacement. Overall, the Colts look like a team poised to regress a little bit against the pass in 2021. They were 10th in passing EPA last year.

Rushing Defense: Because the Colts are Cover 2 zone defense, they typically have fewer defenders in the box than most and face an uphill battle against the run. But because DT DeForest Buckner is such a stud, the Colts squeaked out a No. 12 rushing EPA defense finish last year. NT Grover Stewart also had a good season on the interior, and both are under contract for 2021, so Indy is set there. The same can be said for linebacker with 2018 second-rounder LB Darius Leonard and 2019 third-rounder Bobby Okereke playing on their rookie deals. Another mid-range season against the run feels likely as their schedule toughens up in 2021.

ColtsDEF

 


Colts Team Needs

1. Left Tackle - Right tackle is set with 2018 second-rounder Braden Smith looking like a long-term starter, but the future at left tackle is up for grabs with Anthony Castonzo’s retirement. Whoever replaces him will be lucky enough to work next to All-Pro LG Quenton Nelson. Indy’s offensive line should be one of the best. 

2. Edge Rusher(s) - The Colts’ top three edge rushers in snaps played (Justin Houston, Denico Autry, and Al-Quadin Muhammad) are all free agents. Because the Colts rarely blitz (31st), Indy needs better edge rushers who can pass rush. Relying on DT DeForest Buckner is asking for a lot. 2019 second-rounder Ben Banogu has been a backup in each of his two NFL seasons. He’s likely a rotational player only long-term. Dudes are needed.

3. Outside Receiver - 2020 second-rounder Michael Pittman has some No. 1 appeal long-term, but the Colts need another outside receiver starter with T.Y. Hilton heading into free agency. The Colts’ top-two receivers (Pittman and slot receiver Parris Campbell) have a combined 64 career receptions. Finding an experienced receiver to round out the three-receiver set makes sense.

4. Outside Corner - The Colts could lose CB1 Xavier Rhodes to free agency after he had a rebound 2020 season. Even if he re-signs, Indy could look at upgrading CB2, a spot occupied inconsistently by 2019 second-round Temple Owl Rock Ya-Sin. The Colts will look for a corner with zone experience if Rhodes walks because they led the league in Cover 2 zone last year.

5. Tight End - Trey Burton and Mo Alie-Cox are free agents, and the Colts can save $4.4 million against the cap by cutting Jack Doyle, who only had 23 receptions last year. The 31-year-old is a rotational option only even if he hangs around. Indy needs to get younger at the position and 2020 UDFA Noah Togiai doesn’t exactly count.

 


2021 Fantasy Football Rankings

Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.

Jonathan Taylor (RB1/2) - After I published one of the greatest memes in Twitter history, Taylor took off. He averaged 20.3 PPR points on 16.4 expected PPR points following the Colts’ Week 12 bye and looked like the prospect everyone made him out to be pre-draft. Everything about Taylor’s profile suggests a top-five ceiling is in play, but Wentz isn’t the type of quarterback to check down to running backs and it’s possible the offense regresses as a whole. With Nyheim Hines under contract for passing downs, I fear Taylor’s ADP could get too out of control for the uncertainty that comes with an entirely new offense.

Michael Pittman (WR4) - Inconsistent as a rookie, Pittman may be forced into a No. 1 role in 2021 with Hilton heading towards free agency. The 23-year-old made some big plays but didn’t look ready for a big workload last year, ultimately finishing as the WR67 per game. Pittman’s 1.37 yards per route run doesn’t stand out among historical rookies, but his game meshes best with Wentz among the current Colts pass-catchers. He made some insane grabs down the field as a USC Trojan.

Carson Wentz (QB2/3) - The Colts are incentivized to bench Wentz if he’s not playing well because the Colts’ 2022 second-round pick that’s being sent to Philly next year turns into a first-rounder if Wentz plays more than 70% of the snaps. That alone lowers Wentz’s season-long floor, but this is an ideal environment for a rebound season. He has high-end QB2 potential as a boom-bust quarterback option.

Nyheim Hines (RB4) - Things will be schemed for Hines, but between Taylor’s third-down role possibly increasing in year two and Wentz’s struggles checking down, it’s easy to be out on Hines in all formats. The former fourth-rounder is in the last year of his rookie contract and could be phased out by the time fantasy playoffs roll around.

Parris Campbell (WR6) - Heading into his age-24 season, the 2018 second-rounder has just 24 receptions because of a list of injuries as a rookie and a torn PCL last year. Campbell profiles as a starting-caliber slot receiver if healthy, but where he wins and where Wentz targets his receivers don’t overlap much. There’s a lot of things to overcome for Campbell to be a fantasy starter, but the path is there late in drafts.

FA T.Y. Hilton (WR6) - There was a disconnect between how Twitter thought Hilton was playing and how he was actually playing. Ultimately, the veteran finished as the WR46 per-game on WR49 efficiency. Not great, but Hilton showed he can be a low-volume starter as a 31-year-old. The Colts have the cap space and the team need to re-sign him if they wish to do so.