The Professor’s 2021 NFL Preview: AFC South – Indianapolis Colts


Indianapolis Colts

Team Projection

TeamPoints ForPoints AgainstGames FavoredPythagorean Expected Wins

Since Chris Ballard and Frank Reich assumed their positions as the general manager and head coach, the Indianapolis Colts have fielded a roster capable of competing for a Super Bowl. The key variable in the equation has been the quarterback position, and as that has varied, so have the team’s fortunes.

The retirement of Philip Rivers meant that the Colts would have another chance at starting quarterback, and Ballard and Reich elected to acquire Carson Wentz from the Philadelphia Eagles to fill that role.

Until he gets back on the field, Wentz will remain a mystery. He is an immensely talented player with MVP caliber play on his resume who should be in the prime of his career. Unfortunately, his game fell off a cliff in 2020, which is why he was available in the first place.

There were things outside Wentz’s control that negatively affected the Philly offense’s performance, but the things that he could control were far more concerning than what was wrong around him. His decision-making changed dramatically from his previous standard, and a slew of physical mistakes accompanied this change in play. While I can’t speak to what drove that, I can study the film and see that this player still has all of his physical talents if he cleans up his mechanics and mental game.

It’s impossible to say whether Wentz will make that happen, but it won’t take long to determine if the change has happened. In the same way that last year’s problems showed themselves almost immediately, Wentz’s decision-making will quickly show whether he is mentally aligned with the team’s offensive approach. I do believe there is a high probability of Wentz regaining his form; he and Reich seem to be aligned philosophically, and the biggest issue with Wentz’s 2020 film was that his decision-making indicated that, for whatever reason, he wasn’t on board with the offensive plan.

The Colts have the untested Jacob Eason and sixth-round pick Sam Ehlinger behind Wentz, so if the team’s hopes rest on his shoulders. Assuming Wentz does play well, he’ll be in a situation with an outstanding offensive line and run game. Left guard Quenton Nelson is the league’s most physical presence in the run game, right tackle Braden Smith has steadily developed into an excellent all-around player, and center Ryan Kelly has largely avoided injury issues to play at an elite level in recent years. If left tackle Eric Fisher successfully recovers from the Achilles injury he suffered in his final game with the Chiefs, he can provide a steadying presence on a line that only needs him to be the fourth or fifth best player. His 2020 tape against Saints end Trey Hendrickson, among other things, indicates that would be a better role for him than the best or second-best player.

Running back Jonathan Taylor is a viable candidate to win the league rushing title in his second season, given his standout play down the stretch of his rookie season and the big guys in front of him. The Colts lack a dominant receiver but have a deep cast of options who can slot into defined roles, and their pieces complement each other well. If all goes to plan, we could see a somewhat similar situation to Wentz’s 2019 season, when he became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 4,000 yards without a single wide receiver topping 500. I’d expect that T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, and Michael Pittman would all top that mark if healthy, but Wentz is likely to spread things around, particularly with a receiving weapon like Nyheim Hines, who I had underrated entering the 2020 season, in the backfield.

The defense will continue to work around the foundation of three-technique DeForest Buckner, nose tackle Grover Stewart, and inside linebacker Darius Leonard. Around them, the unit could be as good as it’s been under Matt Eberflus. Kenny Moore continues to excel in his slot corner-heavy role, linebacker Bobby Okereke possesses outstanding range and developed into an impact player last season, and safety Julian Blackmon was a difference-maker as a rookie and is likely to develop more season-long consistency in his second NFL campaign.

Xavier Rhodes reinvented himself in his first year in Indianapolis after several rough seasons in Minnesota and is a solid presence across from former second-round pick Rock Ya-Sin, who has improved throughout his first three seasons and is a steady starter. Indianapolis has solid base down ends in Tyquan Lewis and Isaac Rochell, but Al-Quadin Muhammad is the only established pass rush threat off the edge, and he’s best suited as the third player in a rotation. The defense’s ceiling will likely be set by the performance of first-round pick Kwity Paye and second-round pick Dayo Odeyingbo. Given the draft capital they spent, the Colts likely agree that if they can get more edge rush to complement what Buckner does on the interior, this unit could be among the league’s better units.

QB Passing Projections

Carson Wentz1617389.6602.30.656.714039.928.311.917.53

QB Rushing Projections

Carson Wentz161769.14.14286.13.114.517.817.53

Skill Projections, Rushing

Jonathan TaylorRB817278.55.001392.39.758.356.315.27
Nyheim HinesRB971790.34.05365.62.818.916.37.98
Marlon MackRB2321719.04.5085.
Jordan WilkinsRB2461720.45.82119.

Skill Projections, Receiving

Jonathan TaylorRB81776.042.97.99342.
T.Y. HiltonWR871757.163.013.19831.45.718.320.18.76
Nyheim HinesRB971772.554.67.45407.22.312.58.37.98
Michael Pittman Jr.WR1091767.658.212.60733.64.014.314.07.43
Zach PascalWR1301754.846.513.73637.94.514.115.76.69
Jack DoyleTE1821767.135.19.37328.43.48.712.04.16
Mo Alie-CoxTE2061766.125.011.06276.
Kylen GransonTE2121759.826.68.75232.53.17.410.93.24
Marlon MackRB2321766.318.77.26136.
Jordan WilkinsRB2461771.519.06.00113.
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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.