Welcome to 32 teams in 32 days. To get us through the offseason, we’ll be taking a closer look at every team in the league, in order of projected 2023 win totals. Up next: the Colts.
After a dreadful 4–12 season, the Colts finally realized that a temporary veteran quarterback in need of a fresh start wasn’t the answer to building a winning operation.
Indianapolis had some success as a wild-card team with Philip Rivers in 2020, before missing the postseason in back-to-back seasons with Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan as the starting quarterbacks. But the Colts avoided the patchwork method this offseason, as they hit the reset button for the first time since Andrew Luck abruptly retired before the ’19 season.
With GM Chris Ballard possibly on the hot seat, the Colts made two franchise-altering decisions with the hiring of coach Shane Steichen, the former offensive coordinator for the Eagles, and the first-round selection of Anthony Richardson, the tantalizing quarterback from Florida.
Most teams with a rookie head coach and starting quarterback tend to do very little winning during their first season, but thanks to Ballard, the roster has a handful of cornerstone players at various positions.
Nonetheless, offensive guard Quenton Nelson, running back Jonathan Taylor and linebacker Shaquille Leonard are coming off disappointing 2022 seasons. Plus, the Colts have plenty of inexperience in the secondary after trading cornerback Stephon Gilmore to the Cowboys.
The Colts are probably a year away from being viewed as a playoff team, but perhaps all owner Jim Irsay wants to see in 2023 is improvement, especially at quarterback.
Biggest gamble this offseason: Drafting Richardson No. 4
Perhaps no prospect in the 2023 draft drew more mixed reviews than Richardson due to his boom-or-bust potential. After playing it safe with veteran quarterbacks, the Colts went all in on Richardson’s rare skill set and overlooked his lack of college experience and shaky fundamentals. Indianapolis, however, might not view Richardson as a gamble because of Steichen’s track record of developing young quarterbacks—the coach has worked with Jalen Hurts and Justin Herbert, with the Eagles and Chargers, respectively. If the 6'4", 232-pound Richardson reaches his high potential, the Colts could have the next Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen on their roster for years to come. But if Richardson is forced to play early in his rookie season, there could be a lot of mistakes on the field, especially if he doesn’t improve his accuracy after completing 53.8% of his passes at Florida last year.
Toughest stretch of the season: Weeks 6 to 9
Based on projected win totals, the Colts have the third-easiest schedule in 2023, behind the Saints and Falcons, respectively, according to Sharp Football Analysis. But the Colts do have a tough four-game stretch halfway through the season, starting with a Week 6 road game vs. Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars, the defending AFC South champions. Indianapolis then returns home for back-to-back home games against two improved teams: Deshaun Watson and the Browns, and Derek Carr and the Saints. The gantlet concludes on the road vs. the Panthers, which added No. 1 pick Bryce Young and many notable free agents like wide receiver Adam Thielen and running back Miles Sanders.
Breakout player to watch: TE Jelani Woods
Woods, a 2022 third-round pick, had a quiet rookie season, seeing only 40 targets in 15 games played (partly because of a poor passing game led by Ryan last season). Woods ended with 25 receptions for 312 yards and three touchdowns, but he was also utilized often as an in-line blocking tight end to help during a subpar year for the offensive line. If the 6'7", 253-pound Woods isn’t needed as much to block this season, he could become Richardson’s security blanket in the intermediate game. Steichen is known for heavily involving tight ends in his offensive system after guiding Dallas Goedert to prolific back-to-back seasons in Philadelphia.
Position of strength: Wide receiver
Although the 2022 numbers don’t reflect it, the Colts have a talented group of wide receivers. With Steichen calling the plays, this might finally be the year that Michael Pittman puts it together as a true No. 1 wideout. He had a career-high 99 receptions last season but averaged a career-low of 9.3 yards per catch. Additionally, Alec Pierce flashed as a rookie with 41 catches, 593 yards and two touchdowns. The team also added veteran Isaiah McKenzie and rookie Josh Downs.
Position of weakness: Edge rusher
With how much the Colts have invested in the position through the draft, the edge rushers have been a major disappointment the past few seasons. Kwity Paye, the 2021 first-round pick, has struggled to find consistency, with only 10 career sacks, and he’s been unavailable at times due to injuries. Also, the Colts will need more from former second-round picks Dayo Odeyingbo, a third-year player, and Tyquan Lewis, a fifth-year veteran. Perhaps the addition of Samson Ebukam, who arrived from San Francisco, could help the unit make an impact in ’23.
X-factor: OG Quenton Nelson
How Nelson plays this season will dictate whether the Indianapolis offense will make vast improvements. Nelson made the Pro Bowl last year, but even the guard himself admitted that last year’s play didn’t meet his standards as a three-time All-Pro selection. If Nelson is at his best, that could lead to a bounce-back season for Taylor and a memorable rookie season for Richardson.
Sleeper fantasy pick: Jelani Woods
Woods popped a few times as a rookie, including a major game against Pittsburgh (17.8 points). A huge target at 6'7", 253 pounds, Woods could become a nice option in the short, intermediate and red zone areas. He’ll be worth a late-round look as a low-end No. 2 fantasy option. – Michael Fabiano, SI Fantasy
Best bet: Anthony Richardson under 2600.5 passing yards
Richardson will start the season behind Gardner Minshew and, though he has plenty of raw talent, he had only a 54.7% completion rate in college. Once Richardson takes over, It’s likely his mobility that will be the major asset for the Colts. – Jennifer Piacenti, SI Betting
Final record: 3–14, fourth in AFC South