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2016 season preview: Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts' T.Y. Hilton (13) runs out of the tackle of Tennessee Titans' Coty Sensabaugh (24) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The Colts entered the 2015 season as the clear divisional front-runner, but after a multitude of injuries (including franchise QB Andrew Luck) and general poor play led to an 8-8 record, there are numerous questions on both sides of the ball.

Indianapolis spent its first round pick this year on Alabama C Ryan Kelly, and while he should be able to contribute immediately, the rest of the offensive line is not particularly inspiring. Depth at the skill positions is also an issue, as the Colts failed to upgrade from the aging RB Frank Gore and will need second-year WR Phillip Dorsett to make significant strides after his disappointing rookie campaign.

On the defensive side of the ball, the defensive line is the best unit both in terms of talent and depth, but the LB corps is comprised of too many aging veterans whose best days are behind them (a la D’Qwell Jackson and Robert Mathis) and not enough talent youth. With the addition of Patrick Robinson via free agency, Indianapolis has a solid CB tandem, but little depth behind them and some real concerns at safety, especially if 2016 second-round pick T.J. Green is unable to quickly elevate his game.

[More: Be sure to check out PFF’s ranking of all 32 NFL QB situations, offensive lines, running back units, receiving corps, secondaries, and defensive front-sevens. Catch up on all the team previews here.]

Luck must stay healthy, limit reckless mistakes

Quarterbacks: Ninth in PFF’s season preview rankings

Luck played in just seven games last season, after missing Week 6 with a right shoulder injury and the final eight games with a lacerated kidney and torn abdominal muscle. His play in the seven games he was healthy for was certainly not up to expectation, as he ranked 35 out of 36 QBs in passing grade (through Week 9), threw the second-most interceptions (12), had the worst PFF QB rating and the lowest adjusted completion percentage (which takes into account drops, throwaways, passes batted at the line of scrimmage and hits that alter throws).

Colts fans can take solace in the fact that Peyton Manning also saw a significant drop in quality of play in his fourth season in the league, as with the Colts in 2001 he threw 26 touchdowns to 23 interceptions (after throwing 33 and 15 the year prior) and his QB rating dropped more than 10 points to 84.1. In order for Luck to get back to the elite play he flashed early in his career he will need to do a better job of limiting his mistakes, in particular when under pressure. His six interceptions and 50 percent accuracy when under pressure last year were both the second-worst marks in the league. The addition of Kelly to the offensive line will hopefully help Luck stay healthier this season, and as long as receivers TY Hilton and Donte Moncrief are healthy, he should have the weapons he needs to pick apart defenses.

With the retirement of Matt Hasselbeck, the Colts do not have a quality backup. Free agent acquisitions Scott Tolzein and Stephen Morris as of now will be competing to be Luck’s understudy (2016 undrafted free agent Josh Woodrum from Liberty is also currently on the roster), and with just 170 career NFL snaps between the two, neither is likely to produce at the level Hasselbeck did last year if called upon.

Colts may be leaning too heavily on the most senior RB in the league

Running backs: 29th

Gore played 707 snaps last year (third-highest among all RBs), and health-providing he is likely to approach the number again in 2016, as free agent acquisitions Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman have never shown themselves to have better than backup traits. At 33 years of age, he is the oldest projected starting RB in the league (Adrian Peterson is second at age 31). While he forced 36 missed tackles last season, he only averaged 3.7 yards per carry and posted a negative receiving grade for the sixth-straight season.

Talent at the top is there, depth is not

Receiving corps: 22nd

T.Y. Hilton had another strong campaign in 2015, and is clearly Luck’s top aerial threat. After averaging almost 10 drops per season his first three years in the league, Hilton last year dropped just three of the 72 catchable targets thrown his way. Despite injuries and poor play at QB, he still proved to be a dangerous vertical threat, as he had catches of at least 25 yards in 10 of Indianapolis’ 16 games.

Donte Moncrief is turning into a solid possession receiver (64 catches for 733 yards in 2015), but has not displayed the ability to take the top off the defense, averaging just 4.1 yards after catch (tied for 39th in the league). Behind him the corps is razor-thin, as 2015 first-round pick Phillip Dorsett was limited by injury and had just 18 grabs, and the remaining receivers on the roster played just three total snaps in 2015.

Despite declining play and another season filled with injuries, the Colts re-signed TE Dwayne Allen, but let Coby Fleener walk via free agency. Allen posted the first negative run-blocking grade of his career in 2015, and caught just 16 balls for 109 yards and one touchdown in 11 games played.

(PFF Fantasy Insight: Mike Tagliere would rather draft Moncrief than the higher-profile Larry Fitzgerald. Tagliere also likes Dwayne Allen as a nice boom-or-bust option at tight end.)

First-round rookie should provide much-needed stability

Offensive line: 16th

The Colts used their first-round pick this year on Alabama center Ryan Kelly, a wise move considering how poor the play was last year from Khaled Holmes and Jonotthan Harrison (50 total pressures between them). Jack Mewhort is finally locked into his natural position of left guard, where he looks poised to break out as one of the top players in the NFL at the position. If LT Anthony Castonzo can put last year’s mediocre season behind him and return to his 2014 form (he had the 10th-best grade for his position), Indianapolis could field one of its better offensive lines in recent years.

LBs need to elevate their play behind a strong front

Front-seven: 26th

The defensive line is one of the clear strengths of the team, but the LB corps lost 2015’s fourth-highest-graded inside linebacker in Jerrell Freeman to free agency, and in his wake is left a collection of aging and underperforming players. DE Henry Anderson was having an outstanding rookie season last year until it was derailed by an ACL tear (through eight weeks he owned our fourth-highest run-defense grade among 3-4 DEs), and DE Kendall Langford was also a strong performer. DE Arthur Jones will also be expected to contribute heavily once he returns from his four-game suspension, and we also have high hopes for rookie fourth-round pick DE Hassan Ridgeway.

Despite posting negative grades in every major defensive phase for the second year in a row for Indianapolis (not to mention 35 combined missed tackles in 2014 and 2015), D’Qwell Jackson still appears locked into one of the starting ILB spots. Next to him there will be a training camp competition likely between Nate Irving (who played just 106 snaps last season) and rookie fourth-round pick Antonio Morrison. On the outside, veterans Robert Mathis and Trent Cole have shown they still know how to get to the QB (the duo combined for 69 total pressures in 2015), but the Colts were never able to develop the youth behind them on the depth chart, thus they will need Erik Walden get back to the production level he had in 2014, when he posted 46 total pressures and 30 defensive stops.

Excellent CB play should aid unproven safeties

Secondary: 20th

The health of Indianapolis’ top two CBs will be critical to the success of the back end, as there is little experience behind Vontae Davis and Patrick Robinson, and the safety position is likely to be a significant weak spot. Davis had a disappointing 2015 considering how well he played the year prior, as he was responsible for yielding seven touchdowns and QBs’ rating against him (76.9) was more than 35 points higher than 2014. Robinson’s 2015 campaign in San Diego was the best of his career, as he yielded just 36 catches and one score, with a league-low 8.9 yards per completion.

Indianapolis used its second round pick on Clemson safety T.J. Green, but expectations on his 2016 contributions should be limited. Most likely to win the two starting jobs are Mike Adams and Clayton Geathers, who yielded QB ratings of 98.2 and 89.2 when targeted last season.

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