By Lance Zierlein
March 13, 2013
When a team's roster is devoid of depth (and some would argue quality NFL talent) and it has just lost the face of the franchise, how can they possibly rebuild without it taking several years? Someone might want to ask Colts GM Ryan Grigson, because he appears to be doing just that with the Indianapolis Colts.
It just so happened, that the Colts were "lucky" enough to suck terribly in the right year when QB Andrew Luck was going to be the prize catch. Go ask the Chiefs if they are all that excited about having the first pick this year. Luck is already showing signs of being on the fast track to super-stardom after just one year and he is the cornerstone of what appears to be an incredibly expedited rebuilding process.
If you combined the three previous drafts of the Colts before Grigson took over, you'll find that the best player from those three drafts was P Pat McAfee who was recently franchised. Guys like DT Fili Moala, OT Anthony Castonzo, and OLB Jerry Hughes could play bigger roles as their careers move forward, but at the heart of this turnaround for the Colts is the 2012 draft.
We've already established how important nabbing Luck is, but what needs to be said is that the Colts roster needed a significant upgrade from top to bottom and that is exactly what last year's draft began to supply.
1st - Andre Luck: 4,629 total yards and 28 TDs
2nd - Coby Fleener: 26 catches for 281 yards and 2 TDs (was slowed by injuries)
3rd - Dwayne Allen: 45 catches for 521 yards and 3 TDs
3rd - T.Y. Hilton: 50 catches for 861 yards and 7 TDs
5th - Josh Chapman: NT from Alabama who missed 2012 due to ACL tear is expected to be a factor this year
5th - Vick Ballard: 814 rushing yards and 2 TDs
6th - LaVon Brazill: 11 catches for 186 yards and 1 TD
The Colts hit grand slams with Luck and Hilton and their willingness to pursue a young, dynamic two tight end set with Fleener and Allen will pay off huge for them in the long run. Ballard might not be the final answer at RB, but he definitely provides solid depth at the position while DT Josh Chapman could end up being an important cog in the Colts 3-4 defense if his knee is fully healthy. If Grigson and the Colts are able to pull off back-to-back strong drafts, then the Texans could be in trouble in the AFC South sooner rather than later.
We've already seen the Colts agree to free agent contracts with an OLB (Erik Walden), a CB (Greg Toler) and a couple of starting offensive linemen in G Donald Thomas and RT Gosder Cherilus. Walden's deal feels like a reach while Toler will be a starter in Indianapolis.
Donald Thomas is a very solid signing in my opinion. Good guard play was hard to find in Indianapolis last year and Thomas will immediately be a massive upgrade. Cherilus is an overrated RT in this man's opinion, but he's still better than what the Colts had been working with.
The Colts have plenty of money to spend and they are certainly likely to add to their growing talent pool. With such a depleted roster to work with when he took over, Grigson will be able to find plenty of free agents who should stick and play at a higher level than the players they are replacing.
One of the big mistakes that rags-to-(pseudo) riches teams make are taking a successful season after playing a weak schedule and catching teams off guard and then over-valuing that season.
The Colts had an amazing season last year when we think about how far behind the rest of the league they were, but they did play a soft schedule and teams may have taken them a little lightly early in the season. After making the playoffs, the schedule is going to get substantially harder and teams will have eyes wide open when facing Luck and the Colts.
If the Colts front office and coaching staff are able to keep their short term success at bay and continue to make their long term goals their priority, then they will spend their money wisely, draft for "best available" and not positionally and they be happy with growth of the organization rather than measuring their 2013 success with just a win total. The signings of Walden and Cherilus are for more than I would have expected, but then again, the Colts have to spend some of their money to conform to the league's new cap floor.
I remember watching the Saints come out of nowhere to get to the NFC Championship game in the 2006-2007 season only to see them take a step back in 2007-2008. Winning at a high level rarely happens this quickly when you have a roster that was as barren as what the Colts featured in 2011. However, with good draft picks and smart free agency signings, the Colts could easily be one of the teams to beat much sooner than any of us expected in the Post-Manning Era.