Following an extremely disappointing season that saw the Indianapolis Colts go 4-12-1, earning the fourth overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, there are several ways to improve. The first order of business was finding a new head coach, but now that Shane Steichen has been hired, general manager Chris Ballard can focus on overhauling the roster.
It’s a group that vastly underperformed in 2022, yet the Colts still have several pieces that could lead to a quick turnaround with the right moves. As they enter the offseason with about a million different options available, here are four changes the Colts need to make in the next couple of months.
Continue investing in the offensive line
As with every NFL team, it all starts up front in the trenches for the Colts. The team’s protection let them down in 2022. Quenton Nelson’s sudden poor play (compared to his past) came as a surprise, as the three-time All-Pro allowed a career-high five sacks. Then there was a new left tackle, with rookie third-round pick Bernhard Raimann protecting Matt Ryan‘s blindside. Naturally, there were growing pains.
But the Colts actually do have a strong foundation to drastically improve in the trenches next season. Raimann allowed four sacks in his first three starts but just three in his next six, showing continued improvement. Nelson still graded as the 20th-best guard in football, according to Pro Football Focus, and we’re betting he returns to top form in 2023.
Still, the Colts need to, at the very least, address the right guard position, where Will Fries graded 50th among 77 guards according to PFF. One potential low-cost solution is adding free agent Isaac Seumalo, who started all 17 games for Steichen’s Eagles offense this season.
Seumalo allowed just one sack while grading as PFF’s 10th-best guard in 2022. Set to turn 30 next season, Seumalo likely wouldn’t break the bank as a free agent, and he’d still get to play for a coach who believes in his abilities next season.
Recruit T.J. Edwards and C.J. Gardner-Johnson from Philadelphia
The Colts have several key defenders whose contracts have now expired, including linebackers Bobby Okereke and E.J. Speed plus safety Rodney McLeod. The team could very well look to bring back any of the trio, but they will have options as free agents.
Two potential solutions would be to pursue two former Eagles whose contracts are also set to expire. Linebacker T.J. Edwards put forth a career year in 2022, grading as PFF’s sixth-best linebacker who did everything well for the Eagles. He was above average as a run defender, as a pass rusher, and even in coverage.
- T.J. Edwards stats in 2022: 159 tackles (10 TFLs), 2 sacks, 7 pass deflections, 1 FR
Set to turn 27, Edwards should be able to maintain his level of play for a number of seasons, making him a wise investment if the price is right. With Darius Leonard a question mark heading into next season, Edwards would serve as insurance, yet even if Leonard returns to his dominant self, Edwards has shown to be effective in multiple roles.
Another way the Colts could improve their defense is by adding safety/nickel corner C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who led the NFL with six interceptions this season. He’s just 25 years old and could be looking to cash in on his excellent standout season.
But the Colts shouldn’t overlook Gardner-Johnson’s playmaking ability in coverage. Again, it comes down to cost, as the Colts only have roughly $12 million to spend. If Gardner-Johnson is expecting a massive payday, Indianapolis may be better off finding a better value elsewhere. Still, he’d be an immediate upgrade in the secondary.
Draft a playmaking receiver in Round 2
Whoever is under center for the Colts next season will need not only better protection up front, but more production from the receiving corps. Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce are a good start, and both have a great mix of size and speed, but the Colts could use a burner who makes life easy on the next signal-caller.
We believe GM Chris Ballard would be wise to take advantage of another deep pool of talent available in this year’s draft class. The Colts don’t need to spend their top pick on a receiver, but their second-round selection may be the perfect spot to add to the current corps of pass-catchers.
This is where teams can snag players who slipped in the draft for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s off-field issues, and other times it’s due to a lack of production, or in the case of Zay Flowers, it could be due to his smallish frame at 5-foot-10. But he’s not going to rise to fame from Mossing defenders. Instead, he’ll do his best to get behind the defense using his blazing 4.3 speed.
Flowers enjoyed a productive career at Boston College, where he finished his final season with 77 catches for 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns. But it wasn’t a fluke, as Flowers had two other seasons with 740 or more yards. Flowers accounted for 36% of his team’s receiving yards in 2022, showing just how impactful he can be on the gridiron. He’d be a great addition to the Colts’ offense.
Draft the best QB available
Ever since Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement in 2019, we’ve seen the Colt scramble from veteran to veteran. It’s brought the likes of Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan. Aside from Rivers, who at least managed to reach the Wild Card, all were failures.
The Colts need to do everything in their power to avoid making the same mistakes this offseason. In turn, they need to focus a lot of their attention on the upcoming QB draft class. Chances are, they won’t be getting Bryce Young, who’s expected to go No. 1 overall. Ditto for C.J. Stroud, who may very well be the second or third overall pick.
Barring a trade where the Colts mortgage their future to offer a massive trade offer that they may not be able to quickly recover from, that means someone like Will Levis or Anthony Richardson could be the best options left on the board.
Either QB would be an improvement over what the Colts currently have in the cupboard in 2021 sixth-round pick Sam Ehlinger as far as long-term potential. Levis is the more polished passer of the two, with scouts enamored with his big arm and mildly athletic traits.
Yet, Richardson’s tantalizing combination of both arm strength and outstanding mobility could just as easily intrigue the Colts, especially after seeing Jalen Hurts’ success in Philadelphia under Steichen. Who knows, maybe we’ll see a similar roster model play out in Indianapolis.