The 2020 season was going to be an interesting one for the Indianapolis Colts for several reasons. Indianapolis would be heading into their first full off-season without a home-grown franchise quarterback since 1997 when Jim Harbaugh took the team to a 3-13 record. In the off-season, the Colts brought in eight-time Pro Bowler Philip Rivers on a one-year contract and added a cornerstone piece in the defensive line in DeForest Buckner. Additionally, general manager Chris Ballard will have to navigate the NFL’s most recent collective bargaining agreement and the new rules and strategies that go along with the new deal. Then in March, the coronavirus came and stayed and stayed and stayed and ultimately disrupted the NFL’s off-season schedule.
The current schedule has the Colts returning to their facilities on July 28th and opening camp with 80-man rosters without a preseason slate. Indianapolis’ first game is scheduled for September 13, but the league and the NFLPA still have issues to work out regarding return to play.
The new CBA made several major changes that seek to expand the number of players teams can utilize during the season:
- Prior to 2020, teams activated 46 players to their gameday roster, but the new deal expands team’s active rosters to 47 players or 48 players (if a team carries eight or more offensive linemen on their 53-man roster). The move incentivizes teams to activate three backup offensive linemen each game and makes players like ex-Colts offensive lineman Joe Haeg, who can play all five line spots, less valuable as teams could conceivably activate a reserve guard, tackle, and center on game day.
- The new CBA also allows teams to activate up to two additional practice squad players to the active roster or inactive list on game day and then return those players to the practice squad without exposing them to waivers. An individual player can have this move done twice a season. This protects players from waivers, where teams can freely pick up new players without committing to keeping the player beyond one week, which they have to do if they sign a player off another team’s practice squad. Last season the Colts promoted cornerback Shakial Taylor from their practice squad and then lost him when they waived him from the active roster and he was claimed by the Denver Broncos.
- Practice squads have been expanded from 10 to 12 and eligibility rules have been relaxed, allowing teams to carry two players on their practice squad without experience limitations and four players who have two or less accrued seasons (without limitations on the number of games that player spent on the 53-man roster in those seasons). Due to COVID-19, the NFL currently wants to expand practice squads to 16 players but will need an NFLPA sign-off. Were this to go through, 70 players would remain under contract to start the year while only 20 players (or 10 if the NFLPA cuts camp rosters to 80) would be out of jobs, with many players getting opportunities later in the year when players start getting injured or infected.
It might be harder than ever for the Colts to have an undrafted free agent make the team in 2020 due to coronavirus, but the Colts are proud of their streak of 21 straight seasons with an undrafted rookie making Indianapolis’ opening roster – the longest streak in the NFL. A lot of streaks have been broken in 2020 and the undrafted streak may be no exception.
Indianapolis Colts 53-Man Roster Prediction: Pre-Training Camp
Quarterback (3): Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Jacob Eason
Missed the cut: Chad Kelly
The Colts selected Eason in the fourth round, but Ballard claims that Eason won’t be handed the third quarterback job. “Well, he’s got talent, but there is a long way to go. He still hasn’t even put on a Colts uniform. Like any of them, they’ve got to earn it. Right now he is competing with Chad Kelly,” Ballard said after the draft. I’ll believe it when I see it. Since 2010, no quarterback drafted in the fourth round or higher hasn’t made the 53-man roster as a rookie per review of Pro Football Reference’s Draft Query tool. I can’t see Kelly making the 53-man roster but it’s possible that Kelly stays around on the Colts practice squad as a fourth arm. The Colts may hope to trade Kelly for a late-round draft pick at the cutdown date or keep Kelly around for 2021 when Brissett and Rivers’ contracts expire.
Running Back (5): Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Fullback Roosevelt Nix
The Colts apparently plan on utilizing a fullback next season to boost their running game. Indianapolis signed Roosevelt Nix to help as a lead blocker and contribute as a special teamer. “I can envision it being 10 to 20 percent of the offense, let’s just say. That would be the goal that it is somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the offense,” head coach Frank Reich said. “There are things that you can do in a two-back offense run and pass game that are unique. It is a way to be more multiple in the run game.” Nix’s roster spot isn’t guaranteed and his contract is easy to get out of, but it appears that he’s in Indianapolis’ plans in 2020.
The Colts used tight end, Ryan Hewitt, as an H-Back/fullback in 2018, but didn’t carry a player as a lead blocker in 2019. The Colts were the fifth most run-heavy team in the NFL last year and all of the teams who ran more than the Colts carried fullbacks on their roster. In fact, all of the top 12 teams in Sharp Football Stats’ Run Rate in 2019 carried a true fullback on their 53-man rosters in 2019 except the Colts. Indianapolis doubled down on their running game this off-season by drafting Jonathan Taylor so I’m willing to categorize Nix as safe.
After drafting Taylor, Wilkins suddenly becomes the fourth running back on Indianapolis’ depth chart but would likely have some sort of role on offense were Mack or Taylor to suffer an injury. Wilkins has played well in limited action, but the Colts already have three backs and are going to keep a fullback in 2019. Still, Wilkins is talented enough to keep around. Jonathan Williams was kept around the past two years in this role even when Indianapolis kept Hewitt as a lead blocker in 2018.
Tight End (3): Jack Doyle, Trey Burton, Mo Alie-Cox
The Colts have carried a fourth tight end at times the past few seasons, but with Roosevelt Nix in the picture, it’s hard to imagine the Colts carrying a fourth in 2020, with Nix essentially replacing Hewitt’s role in 2018 and what Hale Hentges could have been in 2019. Indianapolis retained Matt Lengel, who spent the last part of the 2019 season on the Colts active roster and added Xavier Grimble, who played a few years in Pittsburgh. Indianapolis also gave $10,000 in guaranteed money to undrafted free agent Farrod Green, who will at least compete for a practice squad spot. Indianapolis additionally brings back Ian Bunting, who spent part of the season on the practice squad. Green and Bunting seem like solid candidates for the practice squad.
The wild card in this position is Burton’s health and if Burton has a setback the Colts would be forced to carry another tight end on their active roster. Burton had hip surgery in December and is hoping to be back to normal by the summer, but he’s struggled to stay on the field the past few years. Of the remaining tight ends Lengel, 29, is the veteran of the group and at 6’7″, he’s also the largest. Marvin Lewis once said, “Matt Lengel is a big, physical player, and we play in a big, physical division.” Even Bill Belichick went on to praise Lengel when he was a member of the Patriots. Lengel consistently gets pushed off rosters as he lacks playmaking ability to stick around on teams as an all-around tight end. His skill set isn’t duplicative of Burton’s or former Colt Eric Ebron’s, so Indianapolis may opt with someone else if Burton isn’t healthy by the start of the year. When Ebron was placed on injured reserve in 2019, the Colts opted to go with Ross Travis instead of Lengel as their third tight end as Travis provided some juice as a receiver. Travis is a Jet currently, but it’s possible the Colts claim Travis off waivers at the cutdown date if Burton is hurt.
Grimble is more of a receiving threat and spent several years with the Steelers as their third tight end. He’d likely be the leader in the clubhouse for a roster spot were Burton to miss time. It’s likely that Indianapolis would target outside options in this scenario, but they have Grimble in their back pocket were the Colts to need a receiving tight end to run five to 10 snaps a game. Grimble started 2019 as Pittsburgh’s number two tight end behind Vance McDonald but was placed on injured reserve early in the year. Grimble also has some versatility to play fullback if the Colts opt against keeping Nix.
Bunting was a standout in the Bears’ crowded tight end room last season as an undrafted rookie and the Colts pounced on the opportunity to add him to their practice squad. Bunting, like Lengel, is 6’7″ but has more success as a receiver and less success as a blocker than Lengel does. “He’s a big kid, he’s super smart, he’s really smart. He has big hands. A lot of times when people (have) big hands, they’re natural catchers. He’s a natural pass catcher. We’re testing him out in the run game, we’re testing him out in pass protection,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said last year. The Bears ultimately went with converted offensive tackle Bradley Sowell instead of Bunting last year, but Bunting could also be a name to watch if Burton’s injuries catch up to him.
Wide Receiver (6): T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Michael Pittman, Parris Campbell, Marcus Johnson, Ashton Dulin
The top four appear set with Hilton, Pascal, Pittman, and Campbell, and Indianapolis almost certainly brings back their star gunner Dulin, who made a big impact on special teams in 2019. That leaves a big group competing for one or two roster spots including rookie sixth-rounder Patmon, veteran Johnson, oft-injured 2018 fifth-rounder Fountain, ex-Arizona Cardinals draft bust Williams, and Clemson all-time reception leader Scott.
Johnson is the veteran and the incumbent, and he benefits from having some uncertainty in Pittman and Campbell. Johnson was first developed in Philadelphia during Reich’s Super Bowl season and then joined the Colts in 2018. Johnson has a 4.39 40-time and solid size at 6’1″. After the Colts traded for Johnson in 2018, Reich said “I really like Marcus. Marcus has really good traits. He’s got good speed, he’s got good feet, he’s got good size. In a lot of ways, Marcus is a prototypical receiver in the NFL. I don’t think he’s had the right opportunity, but I think he’s got a chance at getting that here and we’ll see what he does.” Johnson was used as a deep threat at receiver in 2019 when the Colts had injuries at wide receiver. He caught 17 of 33 passes in eight games for 227 yards (16.3 average) and two touchdowns. Johnson was rarely used on special teams but if he makes the Colts in 2020, he’ll likely have more of a role in that area.
The Colts loved Fountain’s explosiveness when they drafted him in 2018 but he had to spend 2018 on the practice squad as he adjusted from Northern Iowa to the NFL and then missed all of 2019 with an injury. “[He’s] starting to show more consistency. He’s got that body that you want from a receiver. He’s big, strong, and physical. Now he’s starting to get a little quicker. Now he’s being a little quicker out of the break and he’s doing a good job of catching contested balls,” Nick Sirianni said last August.
Patmon appears to be more of a project player and may spend his rookie year on the practice squad as he transitions from Washington State’s spread offense to the NFL. Patmon has great size at 6’4″, something that Rivers has coveted in his receivers in the past, along with great timed speed at 4.48 for the 40-yard dash. The main concern with Patmon is his ability to run the NFL route tree, but that’s something that can be developed over time.
Williams and Scott are on the outside looking in and will need very impressive camps (and some luck) to make the team. Both players, along with Indianapolis’ other low-end prospects will be severely hampered by the potential loss of preseason games and other regular NFL off-season activities, where they have opportunities to make their case for a 53-man roster spot.
Offensive Line (8): left tackle Anthony Castonzo, left guard Quenton Nelson, center Ryan Kelly, right guard Mark Glowinski, right tackle Braden Smith, tackle Le’Raven Clark, guard Jake Eldrenkamp, guard Danny Pinter
Indianapolis lost reserve linemen Josh Andrews and Joe Haeg this off-season and the depth behind Indianapolis’ spectacular starting line took a hit. The Colts brought back Clark to a one-year deal with $300,000 guaranteed, so he’s almost a near-lock to return as Indianapolis’ swing tackle. Clark has some versatility to play guard but he’s better suited at tackle. Indianapolis drafted versatile Ball State player Pinter in the fifth round and he’ll get every chance to help replace the departed Haeg and Andrews. Pinter will primarily play guard and the Colts seem interested in having him play center as well. “I mean do I think he can play some tackle? Yes, but center/guard is where I think he’s going to make his hay in the league,” Ballard said. Pinter’s not guaranteed a roster spot either, but he’ll be hard to keep off Indianapolis’ 53-man roster. The Colts are also high on holdover lineman Eldrenkamp, who played for Colts offensive line coach Chris Strausser at Washington and spent 2019 on Indianapolis’ active roster. “We think Jake (Eldrenkamp) is a good player,” Reich said. “We think Jake Eldrenkamp can continue to develop. He adds good depth for us inside and a couple new guys that we brought in from last year we think will continue to develop there and keep our eyes open.”
Indianapolis typically keeps more than eight offensive linemen on their roster, but the Colts don’t have much else behind the three players mentioned earlier for depth. 2019 seventh-round center Patterson missed the entire 2019 season with an ACL tear, but he’ll have an opportunity to compete for a roster spot and potentially an active gameday roster spot with Pinter for the backup center job. Patterson was primarily a left guard at Ole Miss, but the Colts planned on using him at center. At the very least Patterson will have a practice squad spot and he has a decent shot at making Indianapolis’ 53-man roster. Patterson will be among those who get a shot in Indianapolis, but Reich admitted that the team will keep their eyes open for external options. Although Pister can play tackle, the Colts don’t have a lot of depth other than Clark, which may open up a spot for undrafted rookie O’Donnell, who Indianapolis gave a $25,000 guaranteed contract to after the draft (their largest guarantee). Veterans Donnal and Green will also have a chance after their disappointing NFL careers didn’t live up to their high draft pedigree. Both players have the versatility to play both guard and tackle.
It’s very possible the Colts keep a ninth offensive lineman as they did in 2018 (Haeg, Boehm, Clark, and Andrews) and 2019 (Haeg, Eldrenkamp, Clark, Andrews) and it’s also extremely possible that that lineman will come from another team’s practice squad or waiver claim as was the case with Boehm, Andrews, and Eldernkamp. The Colts didn’t add a ninth offensive lineman last season until mid-December when Eldernkamp was promoted from the practice squad so for now, Indianapolis will go with these eight players.
Defensive end (5): Justin Houston, Kemoko Turay, Al-Quadain Muhammad, Tyquan Lewis, Ben Banogu
Missed the cut: Gerri Green, Jegs Jegede, Kendall Coleman
Indianapolis lost Jabaal Sheard this off-season but the Colts plan on using tackles Denico Autry and Tyquan Lewis in Sheard’s place in 2020, which could lead to the Colts carrying fewer edge defenders and more interior defenders on their roster. 2019 sixth-round pick Green spent the year on Indianapolis’ practice squad and would be the leading candidate to step up to the 53-man roster from this group. Chris Ballard felt high about Green during the draft process and wanted to take him rounds earlier than round six, but Green failed to make the team last year and will have to hold off Jegede and Coleman. Green also doesn’t quite fit the mold of Sheard, possessing very similar characteristics to Turay. Jegede received a $20,000 signing bonus last year as an undrafted rookie but spent the year on injured reserve while Coleman is an undrafted rookie who received a $15,000 bonus this year. Jegede doesn’t have the speed of Coleman and Green but is a powerful player who fits the mold of Sheard and would likely have to beat out Lewis and Robert Windsor for a spot. Jegede started his college career playing college basketball and ended up playing college football at Valdosta State, so he seems more like a long-term project than a candidate to replace Sheard.
Defensive tackle (4): DeForest Buckner, Denico Autry, Grover Stewart, Sheldon Day
Missed the cut: Robert Windsor, Kameron Cline, Chris Williams
To make Indianapolis’ roster, Lewis is going to have to show that he can help take over some of Sheard’s old role in 2019 as an outside rusher on run downs. Indianapolis’ drafting of Windsor doesn’t help Lewis’ chances of making the team as a three-technique, where Windsor fits in. If Lewis makes the team, he’ll see his snaps at defensive end. The top four are near locks to make the roster, including Day who received a $500,000 signing bonus this off-season. Day will replace Margus Hunt, who wasn’t a great fit as a one-tech tackle.
If Indianapolis opts to only keep four interior defenders and utilize Lewis’ versatility, the Colts could use Windsor’s roster spot to keep an extra linebacker. Additionally, Indianapolis only kept four interior defenders on their roster last year so Windsor seems destined for the practice squad. Matt Eberflus echoed that thought in a press conference when discussing Day, saying “[Day’’s] one of those pieces inside that we were looking for in terms of having three or four players inside that can play.”
Windsor had some solid productivity at Penn State, leading interior Big Ten defenders with 7.5 sacks in 2018 and the Colts had a high grade on Windsor and were happy that he fell to the sixth round. Windsor played both the one-tech (Senior year) and three-tech (Junior year) and likely fell in the draft due to concerns about his size at the NFL level. The Colts think he’s a great fit for their scheme that relies on creating pressure from the three-tech but Windsor will have trouble cracking the 53-man roster.
Linebacker (6): Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker, Bobby Okereke, Matthew Adams, E.J. Speed, Zaire Franklin
Missed the cut: Jordan Glasgow, Skai Moore, Brandon Wellington
The impressive trio of Leonard, Walker, and Okereke are the only linebackers assured of a starting spot in 2019. Adams, Franklin, Speed, Moore, and Glasgow will compete for two or three roster spots in 2020. Indianapolis carried six linebackers on their active roster last year for 15 games and seven linebackers for Week 17. Adams is the favorite of the bunch having started some games in 2019 and established himself as a hard-hitting special teamer and a contributor as a SAM backer. Indianapolis likely will keep two of Speed, Franklin, and Glasgow.
The Colts like 2015 fifth-rounder Speed and he could play a role in the future on defense if Indianapolis loses Walker after the 2020 season. Like Walker, Speed can play all three linebacker spots, but the Colts started out with Speed at WILL linebacker behind Darius Leonard. Speed didn’t see too much action in 2019 with the Colts as he adjusted from Division II Tarleton State to the NFL. The Colts will expect more in year two but Indianapolis still has high hopes for Speed. Linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi told Colts.com that “physically you’re not going to find a guy that’s better than E.J., just in terms of size, speed” but added that “E.J. just needs to continue to develop. He’s from a small college, played offense in high school, played offense early in college. So just being a linebacker is relatively new to E.J. So we’re working really from the ground up and E.J.’s working really hard. He’s committed to football. He wants to be a really good player in this league, so the sky’s the limit for E.J.”
Franklin was a key special teamer last season but the Colts didn’t give him a single snap on defense in 2019 despite him being active every game. Franklin’s firmly on the roster bubble but he’d have a good shot at making the team if the Colts keep six linebackers. If Indianapolis thinks Speed can help out on special teams, Franklin could find himself out of a job. Franklin had a strong college career at Syracuse, where he racked up 311 tackles and 8.5 sacks.
Franklin will also have to compete with 2020 sixth-rounder Glasgow for a special teams role but with the depth at linebacker Glasgow seems destined for a practice squad role. Glasgow is a strong special teamer and great tackler who also showed some ability on defense at Michigan, where he played in a hybrid pass rusher/linebacker/safety role. Glasgow will have as good a shot as Franklin to make the team as Indianapolis’ final linebacker.
Moore started a game at linebacker for the Colts in 2018 as an undrafted free agent, but he spent 2019 on and off the Colts practice squad and will have a tough time making the roster. Moore has some special teams experience but he’s a little undersized and the Colts appear to like their other linebacker options better.
Cornerback (6): Kenny Moore, Rock Ya-Sin, Xavier Rhodes, Marvell Tell, T.J. Carrie, Isaiah Rodgers
Missed the cut: Picasso Nelson, Jackson Porter, Lafayette Pitts, Travis Reed
Moore, Ya-Sin, and Rhodes will make up the starting group at cornerback and the Colts have a host of players competing for depth jobs behind the top three. Tell has a strong chance of being the team’s fourth cornerback after playing well in limited action last season and Indianapolis may even give Tell a shot at competing for a starting outside cornerback spot with Rhodes. Tell didn’t play cornerback in college, so the 2019 fourth-round pick exceeded expectations as a rookie and the Colts hope that he further develops.
Carrie will have to make the team first, but Indianapolis guaranteed $300,000 of his contract this off-season and hope that he can provide depth at both inside and outside roles. “T.J. is a guy that’s got experience playing inside and outside. That’s certainly a piece we were missing at times last year once Kenny (Moore II) went down; we didn’t have the depth there that we thought we needed to develop more, and (Carrie’s) certainly a piece that can slide in and can slide out,” Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said after the draft. Eberflus certainly makes it seem like Carrie is in Indianapolis’ plans in 2020. Carrie also has some experience playing safety.
Rookie sixth-rounder Rodgers is firmly on the roster bubble and he’ll have to show he can add something as a rookie, especially with safeties Julian Blackmon and Rolan Milligan able to also play cornerback. Rodgers might have more of a nickel/return specialist role if he’s able to beat out Milligan and Carrie for the backup nickel job. Rodgers possesses elite speed and if he makes the team he may end up being Indianapolis’ fastest player. The Colts believe that Rodgers can overcome his size limitations and even play outside cornerback, similar to Kenny Moore.
The Colts could keep an extra cornerback compared to 2018, especially if Indianapolis starts the year with just four safeties on the 53-man roster, giving Rodgers and Carrie better odds at making the 53-man roster replacing Quincy Wilson and Clayton Geathers’ roster spots in 2018. It’s possible that the Colts try and move Rodgers down to their practice squad when Blackmon returns from injury. Rodgers’ roster spot ultimately will come down to whether or not the Colts want to keep an extra lineman or receiver instead of Rodgers. For now, Rodgers is on the right side of the 53-man roster.
Pitts was brought in to compete for a backup role at cornerback on a futures contract but he’ll have a hard time making the team without an injury. Pitts sat out the 2019 season but he spent 2017 and 2018 with the Buffalo Bills as a gunner on special teams. To make the team Pitts would have to beat out someone like Ashton Dulin for a special teams role.
Safety (4): Khari Willis, Malik Hooker, George Odum, Rolan Milligan
PUP: Julian Blackmon
Missed the cut: Donald Rutledge
Blackmon will almost certainly start the season on the physically unable to perform list, as the Colts rookie third-round selection is dealing with an ACL injury. “He’s got the ACL injury, we know that he won’t be ready probably until late August, early September, which means that he might not even really help us until October,” Ballard said after the draft. Blackmon could have an important future in Indianapolis as Hooker’s contract expires after the season and seems unlikely to return to Indianapolis after the Colts did not pick up his fifth-year option this off-season. To start the season, Odum will be the primary backup at both strong and free safety. Milligan has a similar skillset to Blackmon and likely takes his spot on the roster at least until Blackmon returns. A reunion with Geathers can’t be ruled out to back up Willis at strong safety, but the Colts appear happy with the group they currently have for now.
Rutledge is an undrafted free agent and is the only other depth option at safety behind Milligan, and the undrafted safety from Georgia Southern will have a very hard time cracking Indianapolis’ 53-man roster. Were a safety to suffer an injury during camp, the Colts would almost certainly add a free agent to the roster.
Special teams (3): punter Rigoberto Sanchez, placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship, long snapper Luke Rhodes
Missed the cut: Chase McLaughlin
Indianapolis gave Blankenship a $20,000 guaranteed contract as an undrafted free agent to compete with Chase McLaughlin for the chance to replace Adam Vinatieri. The job appears completely open and will likely depend on their performance during the preseason. The Colts are still keeping tabs on Vinatieri, but he likely won’t be ready for the start of the season and Indianapolis may only bring him back if the Colts have struggles with one of their young kickers during the season.
Blankenship won the Lou Groza Award in 2019, awarded to the top kicker in college football. Of Groza winners from 2008-2017, six are under NFL contract and four are free agents. Pro Football Focus named Blankenship to their All-American team, calling Blankenship the “nation’s highest-graded kicker by a long shot.” In college, Blankenship was nearly automatic from within 40 yards, and as a senior, he converted all of his PAT attempts and 85.7 percent of his field-goal attempts at Georgia. In his career, he never missed an extra point and converted 80 of 97 field goals.
McLaughlin was impressive as a rookie journeyman last season, converting 18 of 23 field goals (78.3%) and all of his extra-point attempts. McLaughlin also converted all of his extra points during his college career and excelled with kicks over 50 yards. As a senior at Illinois in 2018, McLaughlin converted 20 of 25 kicks (including four of five beyond 50 yards).
Both of Indianapolis’ young kickers have shown enough promise to prevent Indianapolis from targeting a free agent kicker unless one of their young prospects struggles in camp. Since 1999 the Colts have had at least one undrafted rookie make their 53-man roster, which is the longest streak in the NFL. Blankenship has the highest odds of making Indianapolis’ 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie by a long-shot.