The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we head to the AFC South to provide a Indianapolis Colts 2016 preview.
Here, we’ll be discussing a team that is banking on quarterback Andrew Luck to stay healthy and lead them back to the playoffs.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
Indianapolis Colts 2016 Preview
Head coach: Chuck Pagano (fifth season)
Key arrivals: CB Patrick Robinson, QB Scott Tolzien, TE Chase Coffman, RB Robert Turbin
Key departures: TE Coby Fleener, LB Jerrell Freeman, FS Dwight Lowery, WR Andre Johnson
1. Is Andrew Luck ready to continue ascending?
The Colts and their fans hope they can just laugh off last season’s debacle as a one-year fluke. They’re hoping Luck can come back and continue rising as he did his first three years when he improved as a player and helped the team get further in the playoffs in each of those campaigns.
But is it going to be that easy?
Luck’s training camp hasn’t been all peaches and cream. He’s reportedly been throwing interceptions like crazy (more on that here) and has been described as “uneven.”
Now, Luck and the Colts are playing this off like it’s to be expected. And, maybe they’re right to a certain degree. However, when you realize that Luck has been turnover-prone throughout his career, a lot of interceptions in camp is somewhat alarming.
Throughout his career, he’s averaging an interception per game. During the playoffs, that number has doubled.
Hopefully he can get things under control early and continues to ascend as he did before injuries derailed his 2015 season. But fans might want to temper their expectations just a bit to deter late-season depression if he does not.
2. Can the offensive line protect him?
Luck’s development has been hindered somewhat by Indy’s atrocious offensive line.
General manager Ryan Grigson has done a remarkably terrible job of protecting his No. 1 investment thus far, but he finally did something positive this year. Drafting center Ryan Kelly out of Alabama was a big-time move to help Luck stay clean in the pocket, as center has been a huge area of weakness in the past.
It remains to be seen if left tackle Anthony Castonzo will ever develop into something more than a mediocre bookend. And Joe Reitz isn’t a name that generates much fear in opposing pass rushers.
But if these guys can play with any competence at all and the line becomes cohesive around Kelly, then Luck has a chance to finally develop without fearing for his life every snap.
3. Can Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson coexist?
Internal strife was a huge factor in last year’s dysfunction. Yes, the quarterback situation made things difficult enough, but the power struggle between Grigson and Pagano almost tore the franchise in two.
Most NFL insiders figured one or both of them would have been fired at the end of the season. Heck, Nick Saban was a name that was thrown around an awful lot as a replacement candidate.
But owner Jim Irsay shocked us all by keeping both of them — a decision Luck called an “awesome, gutsy move.”
If they can coexist and learn to work together, then the Colts have a chance to win lots of games, not only this year but for many years to come. If not, then this franchise will collapse.
Phillip Dorsett, wide receiver
After a very disappointing rookie season in which Dorsett caught just 18 passes for 225 yards and one touchdown, Dorsett has done nothing but impress this summer.
Indianapolis let tight end Coby Fleener walk in free agency and has switched to a clear-cut three-receiver offense. This bodes well for Dorsett, who was deemed the most improved player in training camp by Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star.
A guy who possesses outstanding speed, he was not a diverse player last year — something that has changed heading into 2016.
“The Dorsett we saw in camp cannot be accused of being one-dimensional. He showed great skill in running clean routes and displayed consistent hands throughout camp.”
While it is a risky proposition for fantasy football owners to take Dorsett over Donte Moncrief, don’t be surprised if he ends up with better numbers at the end of the season.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
Even without Luck, and even without any continuity within the organization, the Colts went 8-8 and finished just one game outside of playoff contention.
The offensive line improved with the addition of Kelly, Frank Gore and Robert Turbin could be a nice one-two punch at running back and the team has an outstanding receiving corps.
Provided Luck gets back to his 2014 form, this is a playoff team that could make some noise in the AFC.
REASON TO DOUBT
As usual, Indianapolis’ defensive front is questionable — at best.
Kendall Langford was a nice addition last year and should be a nice player again. Hopefully the aging Robert Mathis still has some gas left in the tank, because outside of him there isn’t much talent to speak of at outside linebacker.
As good as the secondary is, pressure is needed or the defensive backs will get beat regularly.
On top of all this, what if Luck struggles early?
Still, we’re betting the Colts end up looking like a contender once again in 2016.
Prediction: 11-5, first place in AFC South