Indianapolis Colts 2023 season preview and predictions
This appeared in the original VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on June 29, 2023.
Wes Reynolds: Colts owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard truly believed that they were just a few players away from being a serious contender in the AFC, but they quickly realized that perception was way off as head coach Frank Reich was dismissed mid-season and Matt Ryan showed that he just did not have it anymore. Enter Shane Steichen and No. 4 overall pick and rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson.
Steichen brings Gardner Minshew with him from Philadelphia, and he will likely be the early starter. The potential and athleticism of Richardson are massive, but this is a young player who only completed 54.7% of his passes at Florida, so accuracy is a major concern.
Jonathan Taylor led the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns in 2021, but he only posted 861 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games due to an ankle injury and an anemic offense. Michael Pittman Jr (99/925/4) is a good receiver but not good enough to be a true No. 1 that can beat double coverages.
Perhaps no group is more responsible for the Colts' recent decline than the offensive line, which was the highest-paid OL unit in the league for 2022. This unit allowed 60 sacks last season, the second-most in the NFL. Center Ryan Kelly is a former Pro Bowler and got pushed around way too often. Bernhard Raimann got baptized by fire at left tackle. Even three-time first-team All-Pro Quenton Nelson declined last season, partially due to injuries.
Gus Bradley was retained as defensive coordinator as this group was at least solid despite constantly being on the field due to the anemic offense which was largely responsible for the defense ranking 28th in points allowed (25.1 ppg). The defensive line is the best unit on the squad as DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart are one of the best defensive tackle tandems in the league. Kwity Paye has ten sacks in 27 games over two seasons but must make the leap to reach his full potential.
Nevertheless, the biggest question on this defense is the health of Shaquille Leonard. He made only one start in 2022 due to a lingering nerve issue in his back. “The Maniac” insists he is healthy, and the three-time first-team All-Pro is the man that makes this defense go considering he tallied 538 tackles, 15 sacks, 11 interceptions, and 17 forced fumbles in his first four years before last year’s injury-plagued season.
The young secondary has the most question marks on this defense with Stephon Gilmore gone and his replacement Isaiah Rodgers facing a likely suspension for being discovered to have bet on NFL games. Kenny Moore, now in a contract year, was a Pro-Bowler in 2021 as the slot corner but declined last year partially due to an ankle injury.
This organization has one playoff win in eight years and has not won the AFC South since 2014. The natives are getting restless for Ballard to put a winner on the field. Steichen worked wonders with Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia, and perhaps he can eventually do the same with Richardson. Minshew is only 8-16 as a starter, but he has the experience to keep the Colts in games early in the season. The schedule is manageable with just five playoff teams from last season on it; however, there are still a lot of questions looming with this team.
This appeared in the Updated VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on August 31, 2023.
Michael Lombardi: We are about to witness the full Anthony Richardson experience at quarterback for the Colts. Owner Jim Irsay said the Colts would have drafted Richardson at the first pick overall had they been in that position. I doubt that’s true, and how could anyone believe Richardson is ready to be a star in the NFL when he wasn’t First-Team All-SEC? Every great passer has growing pains, from Peyton Manning to Patrick Mahomes. The Richardson hype train is in full force this summer —every move he makes, athletically or showcasing his arm sends Twitter (now referred to as “X”) through the roof. Yet, none of these highlights are from playing the quarterback position. Why are they there? No one doubts or denies Richardson’s skill set. For him to help the Colts win games, it will take time. It will take him being more consistent with his accuracy and processing the information as the game speeds up.
The Colts will have to rely on their defense to keep them in the game, and in their last preseason tune-up, the Eagles backups moved the ball effectively against them with Tanner McKee at quarterback. That’s not a good sign. The Colt’s defense is good but not great. They are small, and having to play more than 28 minutes per game will affect their overall production. This means Richardson must be great on third down, and what rookie quarterback is great in that area? Or great with their accuracy? Josh Allen in his rookie season posted a 25% rate of bad throws, which improved to 16.6% last season. It's a dramatic improvement that Richardson will need to make as his career develops, but it just won’t happen this year no matter how many X highlights we watch.
Player to Watch: DE Kwity Paye
The player to watch for the Colts is clearly Richardson, who will do a lot of good things and make a lot of mistakes on offense. However, the Colts will probably be on defense a lot unless they can move the chains on third down and Richardson can avoid turnovers and the inaccuracy that plagued him at Florida. Therefore, another player to watch closely is Paye. The 2021 first-round pick missed five games last season and most of a sixth in Week 10 when he only played 18 snaps. After securing two sacks in Week 1 against the Texans, he only had four sacks the rest of the way, but went from three tackles for loss in 15 games in 2021 to 10 in 12 games in 2022. Paye may be ready to make that leap and rack up some more sacks, so long as he stays healthy. Remember, new head coach Shane Steichen’s Eagles defense had 70 sacks in 17 games last regular season. - Adam Burke
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