A first-round exit in the playoffs wasn't good enough for the Indianapolis Colts, a franchise with a talented roster that lost Phillip Rivers to retirement as the offseason started. The Colts believe they found their next franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz, giving up a conditional first-round pick and a third-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for the opportunity to "fix" the former MVP candidate.
Wentz was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league last year, quite a fall from grace for a quarterback who threw 81 touchdowns to just 21 interceptions from 2017 to 2019. The Colts are banking on him to return to the form that made him a top-10 quarterback in the league, hoping a Wentz resurgence catapults them toward the top in a tough AFC.
Indianapolis made sure Wentz has the protection he needs on the offensive line -- a problem that plagued him last season in Philadelphia -- by signing Eric Fisher to a one-year deal to protect Wentz's blind side and complete one of the best offensive lines in football. The Colts also brought back T.Y. Hilton and Marlon Mack, giving the offense more depth at wide receiver and running back.
The Colts worked on building the pass rush in the draft, selecting Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo with their first two draft picks, although the latter isn't expected to be healthy for the start of the season because of an Achilles injury. Xavier Rhodes returns in the secondary, which features one of the game's top slot cornerbacks in Kenny Moore. Indianapolis' defense was a top-10 unit last year and is expected to stay true to that form in 2021.
If the Colts are going to advance past the wild card round this year, their success hinges on Wentz. Here's a look at what will surround Wentz in 2021, as Indianapolis boasts one of the deepest rosters in the AFC.
Rookies denoted by (*)
The most intriguing battle will be how the Colts handle the running back situation. Jonathan Taylor emerged as the No. 1 RB, but the Colts do like to rotate at the position. The intriguing question will be where Mack fits in the rotation after suffering an Achilles injury in Week 1 of last year. (Mack was the No. 1 running back prior to the injury.) Nyheim Hines is an excellent pass catcher, so he'll have a prominent role in the offense. Jordan Wilkins also has provided excellent depth at the position.
Hilton and Michael Pittman are a solid 1-2 combination at wide receiver, a group which would become instantly better if Parris Campbell emerges as a threat in the slot. Zach Pascal deserves a shot at the No. 3 wide receiver spot, as he's been productive the past two years. Indianapolis could use improvements at tight end, but the team can get by with Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox.
The starting offensive line is set with Fisher, but Julie'n Davenport will likely assume the starting left tackle spot if Fisher isn't ready for Week 1 due to an Achilles injury. Indianapolis' offensive line arguably is the best in football, but it is dealing with injuries with Fisher and Quenton Nelson.
Let's focus on the linebacker position first -- a highly underrated group. Darius Leonard is one of the best linebackers in the game as he anchors the unit, while Bobby Okereke is coming off an inconsistent sophomore season. Those two should lock up two of the linebacker spots, while Zaire Franklin is the front-runner for the other starting linebacker job. Matthew Adams and E.J. Speed will also be competing for playing time.
This depth chart features the slot cornerback position because Moore is one of (if not) the best slot corners in the game -- and is extremely hard to take off the field. Rhodes has one of the cornerback spots on the outside locked up, while Rock Ya-Sin has other outside job. T.J. Carrie is the biggest threat to take Ya-Sin's spot, as he logged more snaps than Ya-Sin toward the end of the 2020 season.
Now comes the defensive line. The Colts will be banking on Tyquan Lewis, Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu until Paye is ready to receive the majority of the snaps. This group got significantly younger in 2021, as DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart are the oldest of the unit (both are 27). Indianapolis is asking a lot from its rookies on the edge this year, which may be unfair to Paye and Odeyingbo -- whenever he's ready to go.