While free agency will continue to linger on, the core of the Colts' work is likely finished until the fall. With the excess in cap space, the Colts were able to sign nine free agents, filling multiple needs both in the starting lineup and in the depth of positions overall.
However, with a roster that was as weak as the 2012 Colts, there are still plenty of holes to be filled. The Colts' roster still isn't a Super Bowl roster, although it certainly has made many improvements.
So, with the draft coming our way, along with free agency and cuts throughout the offseason, where do the Colts most desperately need to improve on now?
The Colts, up to this point, have failed to land a #2 wide receiver for the 2013 season. While many among the media, including myself, have high hopes for LaVon Brazill, the fact is that Brazill is unproven. The Colts' offense was drastically harmed by Donnie Avery manning the #2 spot last season, and needs an upgrade. An early pick in the draft looks like a tantalizing option at this point, with DeAndre Hopkins or Keenan Allen looking like distinct possibilities in the first.
The Colts signed Donald Thomas to a moderate deal, but that doesn't shore up the interior line in the least. While many fans have expressed a desire to see Joe Reitz or Ben Ijalana to compete with Mike McGlynn for the projected open starting spot, my guess would be that McGlynn and Thomas will be starting in Week 1. The organization loves McGlynn and his leadership, despite the fact that he was terrible in 2012. Another guard would make a huge difference in the line's performance. Brandon Moore would be a great temporary fix, but a mid-round pick in the draft seems more likely.
Yes, the Colts signed Erik Walden to be a starter, but the odds are he will not be a long-term answer. Walden simply doesn't do much well, and I don't see that changing dramatically in Indianapolis. If the Colts don't go wide receiver in round one, I would not be surprised to see one of the many OLB targets be taken here. The Colts need a linebacker that can rush the passer, but is strong enough to set the edge.
The Colts' projected group of Davis, Toler, Butler, Vaughn is much better than the Davis, Vaughn, Butler, Grody group that finished last season, but it isn't a worldbeater by any means. The Colts could use a game changer at the position, leaving Toler as the nickel and Butler as a dime corner. If one of the top three corners in the draft falls to #24, the Colts need to take a long, hard look at him.
Several other starting positions (Center and defensive line mainly) need to be upgraded to truly have an excellent roster, but I simply don't see them happening this year.
The previous needs were all, at some level, needs on the starting lineup that can be addressed. But the Colts' roster issues run much deeper. Injuries are a perennial problem in Indianapolis, and the lack of depth on the 2012 roster killed the Colts against Baltimore. The team needs depth at several positions, namely offensive tackle, defensive line, and secondary.
The quarterback and running back positions should be set on both levels, while the wide receiver and tight end positions have a lot of potential stocked up. Offensive line could always use depth, but looks pretty full with the five starters plus Linkenbach, Reitz, and Shipley fighting for spots (as well as Ben Ijalana).
Defensively the starters are likely already on the roster for 2013, but it's a mediocre group that can use some restocking. The linebacker core looks good, although a dynamic strong-side OLB is still necessary. But with Toler's injury history and Landry's style of play, depth in the secondary is crucial.
Overall, the Colts have vastly improved upon their 2012 roster. Fortunately, they will continue to have more opportunities to as the offseason progresses.
Don't forget DE. It looks like we have solid starters and perhaps depth there, but a 3-4 really hums when it has a pass rushing DE, which we don't have. Plus Redding probably doesn't have too many good seasons left in him.
@ECB One of best defenses in NFL was San Fran and they play a 3-4 scheme. Key is not for the DL and DE's to rush the passer, but to create pressure and double teams for gaps in O-line. Justin Smith considered one of top DE's in football had 3 sacks. Linebacker Aldon Smith had 19.5 and LB Ahmad Brooks had 6.5. No one else had over 3.
Depth - I kind of look at it in two different ways, quality and experience. Vaughn has plenty of experience but may lack in quality. Lefeged has talent but not a lot of game time. Overall, I think we're in the top half of the league depth wise. Simply put, the team won 11 games and a lot of those starters will be backups this year.
@smonroe Lefeged has plenty of time in game. He played half of the 2011 season and a good chunk of last season. Zbi did miss 5 games last year.
Also I think experience is pretty useless as far as depth goes unless it's specific to a scheme or something similar. Nmamdi obviously wasn't depth in PHI, but his ability to shut down an entire third of the field kind of died when he was thrown into in a zone coverage scheme. Likewise, asking a 6 year vet with 0 experience in the asked role isn't much different than asking a rookie with 0 experience to fulfill the same role.
If I had a choice between an experienced backup who sucked and an unknowledgeable rookie who was unfamiliar with the scheme, I'd go with the rookie or new player every time. We know Cassius Vaughn will suck if we have to use him in any non-negligible type of role. Might as well let some of the younger bodies get a chance. If your depth sucks and can be replaced by a warm body from the practice squad or the street, I'd argue that, with rare exceptions, it's not really depth at all.
@Payton Coaches will go just the opposite. They'll play an experienced player with less talent over a younger player who has less game time. Zbi and Satele are prime examples. I agree with you, depth does not mean you have another body, or someone who sucks. Depth means next man up is nearly interchangeable. And if your starter sucks as bad as his backup, that's not depth.
Current proposed !st Round Draft Strategy:
If Hopkins available take him, its a no brainer best combo of BPA and need, because Colts need legit 2nd WR immediately while developing Hilton and especially Brazil and future 1st WR to replace Wayne, should take advantage of Wayne's mentoring capacity now while he can still play at high level.
Otherwise choose Allen (Pro Day eval for now still issue) or BPA. If BPA could arguably be either OLB. CB or Guard, pick the OLB since it is the larger need.
If neither Hopkins or Allen available as WR, but only Austin(too similar to Hilton) or perhaps Patterson(too raw?) or Woods(injury history) and no true clear BPA 3-4 OLB, CB or Guard that makes one's heart go pitter-patter , consider trading down and getting additional picks. Consider picking 2nd tier OLBs like Margus Hunt, players with under developed skills but highly intelligent, have immediate ST assets, and likely huge future potential upside. Later additional round picks can be used to pick up WRs and CBs that are not yet NFL ready but have good potential upside for development.
Strategy is my take on a modified BPA, that recognizes clear critical needs.
I think one of BP's most underrated draft picks was going with Reggie Wayne late in the first round when he did. With the great Marvin Harrison already on the roster, this seemed somewhat of a luxery pick. As it turned out, it was a stroke of genius.
While there is certainly no #88 in his prime on this current roster, many Colts fans may still feel that Wide Receiver is not a vital need. I, on the other hand, think that the need for a true #1 is the most glarying weakness on this team.
I would love to see the Colts draft who they believe has the potential to be a true outside the lines #1 receiver. Especially, while Reggie is still around to show him what it takes to succeed in the league.
@DougEngland Teams like SF, Green Bay (while Jennings was hurt) and others made it work well without a first tier WR. A good QB and WRs that fit their roles in the system well can make a passing game exceptional without a Calvin Johnson or AJ Green. I definitely would not characterize WR as a glaring need on a team that has a ton of receiving weapons waiting to develop already. People are obsessed with the concept of the marquee WR, and it's great to have one, but also very expensive to keep one. I'm not sure that the payoff is worth it. I'd rather see a team have two guys that are 80% the player (Anquan Boldin, for example) at 65% of the cost. Guys like Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are albatrosses on the salary cap, especially in conjunction with a marquee QB. You package the two and you can easily eat through a quarter of your cap space on two players.
While I agree the Colts really need a WR, I wonder if Pep's offence will use TE effectivily enough that WR isn't the need we all think it is. I also say this since the WR position seems a little thin in the draft this year. Long term though, you are 100% right. WR is one of the team's biggest needs.
@hankster I agree about the offense and am on record as saying Fleener will make a really big jump. But I still believe that a true #1 outside the lines receiver would raise all boats, and make everybody's job much easier