Firing general manager Ryan Grigson was the first step in the Indianapolis Colts helping quarterback Andrew Luck progress.
First Round Pick: Will Fuller-Wide Receiver-Notre Dame
Best Pick: Will Fuller
Although that the Houston Texans will enter the 2016 National Football League season as the defending champions of the AFC South, they need to improve on several flaws. The Texans went 9-7 last year and they have issues on the offensive side of the football which they have begun to address.
The Texans feel like they’ve found their franchise quarterback as they signed former Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweilier to a four-year, $72 million deal at the start of free agency. And during the National Football League Draft last month, the Texans attempted to get Osweiler some help in the earlier rounds when they used their first-round selection on Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Will Fuller, which was followed by a third-round selection of Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Braxton Miller.
Speed is the name of the game for both Fuller and Miller. At the National Football League Scouting Combine, Fuller was picking them up and putting them down as he ran a 4.32 in the 40-yard dash. Miller went to Ohio State as a quarterback, but he eventually converted to wide receiver, and upon drafting him, the Texans feel that he has untapped potential. And don’t think that gadget plays with Miller is something that hasn’t crossed the mind of Texans head coach Bill O’Brien who learned that from his time as an assistant coach for the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick.
But the Texans only had five picks in the draft, and they failed to upgrade their offensive line which needed to be upgraded. The Texans are rolling the dice on an unproven quarterback in Osweiler, and they need to sure up every position around him.
First Round Pick: Ryan Kelly-Center-Alabama
Best Pick: Round Four-Antonio Morrison-Inside Linebacker-Florida
Heading into the 2016 National Football League Draft, there weren’t questions surrounding the quarterback position for the Indianapolis Colts as Andrew Luck in entrenched as the guy there. But the team that is around Luck is where the issues begin as this is a Colts organization with a general manager in Ryan Grigson that must do a better job of putting play makers around their franchise quarterback on both sides of the football.
Luck took a beating last year as he played behind a porous offensive line. But Grigson began to fix this in the first round of the National Football League Draft when he selected Alabama Crimson Tide center Ryan Kelly. Kelly comes to the Colts as the Rimington Award winner as the nation’s top center. And the Colts are hopeful that Kelly will be able to anchor their offensive line in the mode the Jeff Saturday did at the position for so many years.
Grigson and the Colts found themselves selecting several projects in this draft, but he might have found an impact player in the fourth round in Florida Gators inside linebacker Antonio Morrison. At 6’1″, 232 lbs., Morrison doesn’t have the physical intangibles that the National Football League is looking for at middle linebacker, but he is a football player that plays with determination and major instincts which is evident by his 294 career tackles at Florida. And for Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, he might have a solid starter on his hands with Morrison.
First Round Pick: Jalen Ramsey-Free Safety-Florida State
Best Pick: Jalen Ramsey
2007 was the last time that the Jacksonville Jaguars made the playoffs in the National Football League, but the team is beginning to assemble play makers that could end that drought. The Jaguars hit it big in the early stages of the 2016 NFL Draft when they used the fifth overall pick on Florida State Seminoles safety Jalen Ramsey. In each of my mock drafts I had the Jags selecting Ramsey as the match between the player and organization appeared to be a perfect fit. For the longest time Jacksonville has needed impact players in their secondary, and what Ramsey provides them with is tremendous range.
In the second round the Jaguars selected UCLA Bruins linebacker Myles Jack. Jack suffered a knee injury last year in college that prevented him from being a top-10 pick in the draft, but he fell to the Jags who see him has another first-round pick. And once you factor in that Jacksonville is counting on the return of outside linebacker/defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., from a knee injury, this team could be ready to roll out three rookies in the starting lineup come September.
First Round Pick: Jack Conklin-Offensive Tackle-Michigan State
Best Pick: Derrick Henry-Running Back-Alabama
Trading back and still getting value was a theme for the Tennessee Titans at the 2016 National Football League Draft. The Titans came into the draft with the first overall pick. But with teams such as the Los Angeles Rams very desperate to move up in order to select a quarterback, Tennessee moved down and they received compensation in the form of additional picks in the process. And after striking a deal with the Cleveland Browns, the Titans used the eighth overall pick on Michigan State Spartans offensive tackle Jack Conklin.
Conklin was the safest pick for the Titans at the time due to the fact that teams were passing on Mississippi Rebels offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil due to a questionable photo of him popped up on Twitter. At 6’6″, 308 lbs., Conklin has prototypical size to play left tackle in the National Football League, while Tennessee is hopeful that he can protect the blind side of quarterback Marcus Mariota who is clearly their franchise quarterback.
The Titans had three selections in the second round with the first one being used on Clemson Tigers defensive end Kevin Dodd. In Dodd’s last year at Clemson, he recorded 12 sacks in helping the Tigers reach the national title game. And at 6’5″, 277 lbs., the Titans are hopeful that he provide pressure off of the edge. Later in the second round, Tennessee selected Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry. Last year Henry won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top player, and at 6’3″, 247 ls., he was a runaway freight train with the football. Henry’s presence in Tennessee will give the Titans a solid inside-out combination at the running back position with veteran running back DeMarco Murray who was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this off-season. The arrival of Henry will be a welcome sight to the folks of Tennessee as they saw enough of him torching their beloved Tennessee Volunteers, and now they are hopeful that he can light up the scoreboard in their favor.
With all 32 National Football League teams prepping for the Scouting Combine which begins in a few days, the Indianapolis Colts are in the midst of one of their most important off-seasons in franchise history. The Colts finished the past NFL season with a record of 8-8 as they were far from being a pillar of success; even though they only missed out on the AFC South Title by just one game. Colts starting quarterback Andrew Luck only appeared in only seven games this past season as shoulder and kidney injuries limited him. In all the Colts used five different starting quarterbacks while assistant coaches were fired at an alarming rate and head coach Chuck Pagano was unsure of his own job security. But after the Colts were beginning to take on a public relations nightmare as they were set to fire Pagano, team owner Jim Irsay and general manager Ryan Grigson came out in support of their beleaguered head coach which included a contract extension for him. However all is not well in Indianapolis as the Colts cannot simply rest on their laurels in regards to putting their team together for the 2016 NFL season.
In spite of the fact that this is a different regime that is in the Colts front office, the same rules apply as the quarterback is expected to do everything for this team. Since Luck was drafted first overall by the Colts in 2012, he has not only been the face of the franchise, but he has literally been expected to carry the team.
In each of Luck’s first three seasons with the Colts, they went 11-5 with a trip to the postseason. After making the AFC Championship Game in the 2014 National Football League season, the Colts headed into 2015 with expectations to win the Super Bowl. And although that Luck’s injuries did play a role in the Colts struggling this past season, the elephant in the room was the lack of talent around him.
Since Luck entered the National Football League in 2012, he has been sacked 115 times. And whereas a solid running game can be the best friend of a quarterback, the Colts have not produced a running back that has gained 1,000 yards on the ground since Joseph Addai in 2007. Addai was also the last Colts running back to make the Pro Bowl which he did in 2007 as well. Along with that, the Colts have not produced a Pro Bowl offensive lineman since Tarik Glenn in 2006.
Former Colts general manager Bill Polian relied too much on the greatness of quarterback Peyton Manning and it finally caught up to Indianapolis in 2011 when Manning missed the entire season after undergoing neck surgery. Manning’s absence took the Colts from being a perennial Super Bowl contender to the worst record in the National Football League, and rightfully so, Polian lost his job.
But whereas in Grigson’s first year as the Colts general manager, he did draft Luck, along with tight ends Dwayne Allen, and Coby Fleener, he has failed to consistently put talent around his young quarterback on either side of the football.
In 2013, the Colts used their first-round pick on defensive end Bjoern Werner. In Werner’s last year at Florida State University, he was the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Player of the Year, but he hasn’t been able to match that production in the National Football League and all of the blame doesn’t fall on him. In college, Werner was a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, but the Colts have converted him into an outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. Werner has never been comfortable and in 38 games as a professional, he only has 6.5 sacks. That same year Grigson traded away the Colts first-round pick for the 2014 NFL Draft to the Cleveland Browns for running back Trent Richardson. After Richardson gained 950 rushing yards as a rookie in 2012, the Browns front office had a change in philosophy as he was no longer in their long-term plans. But Richardson fizzled out with the Colts as in 29 games with the team, he only gained 977 rushing yards, and he is now out of the league. The jury is still out on the Colts 2015 first-round pick in wide receiver Phillip Dorsett who tallied just 225 receiving yards this past season, but once you factor in that Grigson has also signed washed up players in free agency such as wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Frank Gore, the question should be raised as to how does Indianapolis expect Luck to succeed?
Since Manning left the Colts in 2012 and joined the Denver Broncos, he has made a pair of Super Bowl appearances along with winning the big game earlier this month which was due to the fact that he had a solid “team” around him and that also included the top defense in the league as he didn’t go to Denver expecting to do everything by himself. In the National Football League it takes all 53 players on the team in order to win as there has never been a quarterback that has simply won the Super Bowl all by his lonesome. And unless the Colts front office changes its philosophy of looking to their quarterback to do everything, they can forget about being a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Luck attempted to play through the injuries this past year which only made things worst; especially when you factor the porous offensive line that he played behind.
After three consecutive 11-win seasons and a trip to the AFC Championship Game last January, the bar of expectations was raised for the Indianapolis Colts heading into the 2015 National Football League season. And rightfully so as the Colts have quarterback Andrew Luck who appears to be the future of the NFL. But the Colts 2015 campaign, it has never been able to get ignited and with just one game remaining in the NFL’s regular season, they are on the outside looking in as far as the postseason picture.
The Colts began the 2015 National Football League season by losing their first two games and doubt began to creep in around this team. The Colts would win their next three games, but the injuries would begin to mount for Luck. Luck was attempting to play through a shoulder injury which saw him sidelined after the Colts, Week 3 victory over the Tennessee Titans. Luck attempted to rejoin the Colts in Week 6, but he hasn’t played for Indianapolis since Week 9 as he suffered a lacerated kidney. Last season Luck led the NFL in touchdown passes with 40 and he appeared ready to assert himself into being the league’s MVP, but it never came to fruition in 2015 due to his injuries.
In Luck absence, the Colts turned to veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to lead them. Hasselbeck is 5-3 this year as the Colts starting quarterback, but a shoulder injury of his own has limited him and it might see him miss the team’s regular season finale this Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. Hasselbeck removed himself the Colts 18-12 victory this past Sunday against the Miami Dolphins as he would be replaced at quarterback by Charlie Whitehurst. But in Hasselbeck’s absence, Whitehurst suffered a hamstring injury which forced the Colts to place him on season-ending injured reserve. And with the Colts season on the line this Sunday, they might have to turn to Stephen Morris to be their starting quarterback. Morris is in his second year in the National Football League and he has yet to attempt as pass which does not bode well for the Colts.
Throughout the Colts struggles this year, you can see the mistakes that have been made by the front office in Indianapolis as they have simply put too much on the shoulders of Luck. Ryan Grigson is in his fourth year as the Colts general manager, but he hasn’t done a sound job of putting talent around Luck as this team is unable to function if Luck isn’t on top of his game. And if this sounds familiar, this was basically the same way that the Colts functioned when Bill Polian was their general manager which was evident in 2011 when former Colts and current Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning missed the entire season as he recovered from neck surgery. The Colts struggled mightily as their 2-14 record without Manning was the worst in the National Football League which resulted in them drafting Luck.
The Colts organization is simply relying to much on Luck to bail them out of everything while bringing in “system” players as opposed to play makers. In the National Football League, you do need a franchise quarterback that will make those around him elevate their respective games, but at the same time one man cannot do it by himself. And if you look throughout the annals of NFL history, there has never been a quarterback that won a championship by doing it all by himself.
The Colts have never given Luck a top-tier wide receiver to throw to, or for that matter, anyone on their 53-man roster which falls into the lap of Grigson. The Colts did sign wide receiver Andre Johnson this year after he was cut by the Houston Texans. But at the age of 34, Johnson is not the player that he once was which is evident by the paltry 457 receiving yards that he has tallied in Indy. Somehow Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was able to get Indianapolis to the AFC Championship Game last year without a ton of talent, but it is going to be tough for this team to make consistently deep runs in the postseason without more play makers on the roster.
The Colts are 29th in total offense this year while they’re tied for 28th in total defense. Even with Luck under center, the Colts struggled on offense this year which resulted in offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton being fired last month. But this has simply been a team that lacked cohesion since the season began.
Hamilton was fired last month by Pagano due to the fact that Pagano’s job was on the line and he needed a scapegoat. And now Pagano has joined Hamilton as the Colts fired him this week. But whomever the Colts head coach is going to be next season, this is an organization that needs more structure from within.
Since its inception in 2002, the AFC South has been one of the weaker divisions in the National Football League which is evident by the way that the Colts have dominated with 9 division titles. In that same period the Jacksonville Jaguars have never won the AFC South while the Titans and Texans have each won it twice.
There are a ton of scenarios that need to go the way of the Colts this Sunday for them to make the playoffs. And even if the Colts found a way to make the playoffs, they would just be there for the ambiance as this team has now a mash unit. The best thing for the Colts to do right now is to fold up show with an eye towards the 2016 National Football League season.
X-Indianapolis Colts 12-4
The Indianapolis Colts have shown that they are good enough to contend in the AFC, but will they be able to take that next step in 2015 and win the Super Bowl? Each of the past three years has seen the Colts go 11-5 in the regular season as they were able to advance a round further in the postseason over the last three years. And if you follow that formula for the Colts, they could win the AFC in 2015.
Andrew Luck has been the Colts starting quarterback in each of the last three seasons and he has proven that he is more than capable to put the team on his back. At 6’3″, 235 lbs., Luck is big and strong, but his biggest muscle is his brain as he is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the National Football League. Luck doesn’t tend to get fazed by adversity and this could be the season where he is named as the NFL MVP.
But as good as Luck has been, his teammates with the Colts need to improve their game around for this team to win the Super Bowl. The Colts were able to make the AFC Championship Game last season and they are looking to build off of that.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has attempted to improve the team around Luck as in this off-season he signed wide receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson spent the first 12 years of his NFL career with the Houston Texans where he was one of the top wide receivers in the league as he totaled 1,012 receptions, 13,597 receiving yards, and 64 receiving touchdowns. Johnson did this without the luxury of having a top-tier quarterback that was throwing him the football. But that now changes with Johnson being thrown the football by Luck. Along with Johnson, Luck will be throwing the football this season to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton who is one of the most explosive wide receivers in football.
The Colts struggled to run the football in 2014 as they were 22nd in the National Football League in the category. Running back Frank Gore spent the first decade of his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers where he was one of the most underrated runners of this era. But even at the age of 32, the Colts are hopeful that Gore will be able to gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground for the ninth time in his career.
Defensively, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano doesn’t have a star player that can take over the game, but he relies on his system which means that all 11 players must do their job.
In their first five games of the upcoming NFL season, the Colts will not face a team that made the playoffs in 2014, and a fast start for Indianapolis in 2015 could be just what the doctor ordered as they’ll need to get home-field advantage in the AFC as they look to solidify their chances of making the Super Bowl this February.
Houston Texans 9-7
In 2014, the Houston Texans kept a recent theme going in the National Football League where the team that finished the previous season with the worst record in the league was able to show vast improvement in the following season. The Texans went 2-14 in 2013, but they were able to turn things around in 2014 as they went 9-7 and barely missed out on making the playoffs under head coach Bill O’Brien who was in his first year in Houston.
O’Brien inherited a good defensive club that can also run the football. But the Texans biggest problem is at quarterback. The Texans used four different players at starting quarterback last season and the player that saw the most time there (Ryan Fitzpatrick) is now a member of the New York Jets. O’Brien and the Texans are hopeful that Ryan Mallett is ready to emerge and become the starting quarterback in Houston, but he has some fierce competition from former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer.
Last year the Texans acquired Mallett from the New England Patriots due to his familiarity with O’Brien who was his offensive coordinator in 2011 with the Patriots. Mallett was 1-1 as a starter last season until a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Mallett is now healthy and O’Brien along with the Texans are hopeful that he ready to lead this team mentally as he has all of the physical tools to be a solid NFL quarterback.
However, Hoyer and Mallett were teammates with the Patriots as they each studied under O’Brien and the most determined player will win out.
The Texans were fifth in the National Football League in rushing last season and you can expect more the same in 2015 as running back Arian Foster is one of the best in the business as far as carrying the rock. But the biggest problem for Foster in the NFL has been the ability for him to remain healthy as a groin injury will more than likely keep him sidelined to begin the season. Hands down Foster is the Texans all-time leader in rushing and if he can have another season in which he can gain at least 1,200 yards on the ground, it will be big for Houston and their potential postseason push.
The Texans decided to part with wide receiver Andre Johnson who is the best pass catcher in the franchise’s history, but they still have a depth at the position led by wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins is coming off of a season that saw him reel in 76 receptions for 1,210 yards and 6 touchdowns. And if Hopkins and Mallett, or Hoyer are able to develop some chemistry, they could be a nightmare for secondaries in the NFL this season.
The Texans were 16th in total defense last season and they are in line to vastly improve this year. Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick of the 2014 National Football League Draft, but a knee injury that he suffered in Week 1 last year due to the turf at NRG Stadium in Houston limited him to just four games last season. Clowney underwent micro fracture on his knee as he hopeful that he can finally display the talent that made him such a feared edge rusher in college. On the defensive line the Texans went searching for the beef and they found it when they signed defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Wilfork spent the first 11 years of his NFL career with the Patriots where he developed a reputation as one of the best nose tackles in football. With the Patriots, Wilfork also was a tremendous leader on the defensive side of the football as he helped New England win a pair of Super Bowl Championships during his time there.
Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has some strong linebackers to work with aside from Clowney. The Texans need inside linebacker Brian Cushing and his bad knees to hold up for an entire season while outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus is no slouch when it comes rushing the passer and he will look to feed off of the players around him. But the Texans defensive front seven will be led by the freak of nature that is defensive end J.J. Watt.
Watt has four seasons under his belt in the NFL and he is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year which is the second time that the honor has been bestowed upon him while his 57.5 sacks have him on a pace to threaten Bruce Smith’s all-time sacks record of 200. Players with Watt’s freakish ability to rush the passer, cover the pass, and play the run don’t come along that often as he might be the toughest defensive matchup that the NFL has seen since the days of Lawrence Taylor. Watt’s presence makes the players around him better and if he is not double or triple-teamed, he will make opposing offenses pay.
Led by cornerback Johnathan Joseph who received a contract extension this off-season, the Texans have a very athletic secondary that can be good on its own, but once they are combined with the front seven that is in Houston, they are free to do more due to the ability of the players in front of them.
The Texans will once again contend for a playoff spot in the AFC, it is just a matter of whether or not that they will be able to dethrone the Indianapolis Colts for the top spot in the AFC South.
Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11
The Jacksonville Jaguars enter the 2015 National Football League season looking to end the pain and suffering. For the first time in the history of the Jaguars franchise, they are coming off of their fourth consecutive season in which they lost 10 or more games. But in spite of the fact that Jacksonville was 3-13 last season, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley has a plan in place to turn things around as long as the front office there practices patience with him.
Bradley’s time as the head coach of the Jaguars will be defined by what he is able to accomplish with quarterback Blake Bortles. Bortles was the third overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft and he was able to display flashes of his potential last season as a rookie. Bortles record as a a starter was 3-10 as he passed for 2,908 yards with 11 touchdowns while being picked off 17 times and sacked 55 times. For this season Bortles has to develop better pocket awareness which will minimize his sacks and interceptions while it will also increase his passing yardage and touchdowns.
Bortles will need to develop chemistry with his young wide receivers in Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, and Allen Robinson. And like Bortles, the Jags young trio of wide receivers has potential, but it is time for them to take their respective games to the next level if the Jaguars are going to have their first non-losing season since 2010. In the off-season the Jags signed former Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, but he will find out real quick that it’s Bortles who is throwing him the football and not Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
The Jags are putting together a young offensive line that led by offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, has to step up and provide more protection for Bortles while opening holes for a rushing attack in Jacksonville that was 21st in the National Football League last season in rushing.
Defensively the Jaguars were looking to be a force, but things took a turn for the worst on the first day of rookie minicamp when defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., suffered a torn ACL. Fowler was the third overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft and he was expected to be an impact player for the Jags.
Whereas the Jags have youth on offense, their defense is made up primarily of journeymen who are looking to hold on in the NFL as Bradley is hopeful to get the most out of them this season.
The Jags need to get some early victories this season in order to gain some confidence for their young team. Week 4 will be a big game for the Jaguars as they travel to take on the Indianapolis Colts who have won the AFC South in each of the last two seasons and are favored to do so once again in 2015. If Jacksonville gets off to another slow start, it won’t matter how many improvements that Jags owner Shad Khan has made to EverBank Field, as the boo birds will arrive and he might end up parting with Bradley.
Tennessee Titans 5-11
The 2-14 mark of the Tennessee Titans in 2014 was their worst regular season since 1994 when they were still the Houston Oilers. Last year was also the first season for Ken Whisenhunt as the Titans head coach and he spent his time in Nashville attempting to find players that would fit into his system.
Whisenhunt hopes that he took a step towards turning things around for the Titans when he used the second overall pick of the 2015 National Football League Draft on quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota comes to the Titans as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but things will a little bit different for him this fall. Mariota was able to flourish at the University of Oregon while operating in the spread offense, but now he must get adjusted to taking the majority of his snaps under center. The Titans are impressed with the physical tools that Mariota brings to the table such as his speed and strong arm; now he just has to adapt to a pro-style system. Mariota will now be operating in a Titans offense that was 29th in the NFL last season in total offense while scoring 14 points or less on seven occasions. And while Mariota was at Oregon, it was very common for his offense to score 14 points or more in a quarter.
Led by rookie wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, the Titans do have some potential in their passing game, but it just a matter of the Mariota and the wide receivers being able to get on the same page sooner rather than later. Last season running back Bishop Sankey was the Titans leading rusher at just 569 yards. And the Titans must improve their running game as they try to balance out the expected growing pains for Mariota as a rookie quarterback. In recent years the Titans have used early round picks to bolster their offensive line and now is the time for the likes of offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and guard Chance Warmack to take their games to another level as Mariota will need to be protected.
Under Whisenhunt, the Titans have gone to a 3-4 defense, but they are missing that big nose tackle on the defensive line that can take on double and triple teams in the interior. The Titans did sign outside linebacker Brian Orakpo this off-season to be an edge rusher, but in the last three seasons he has only appeared in 24 games as injuries have limited him. And the Titans must fins a way to improve a defensive unit that was 27th in the National Football League last season in total defense.
Under the guidance of Whisenhunt, this is a young Titans team that will be fighting an uphill battle in the AFC South.
For 13 seasons Peyton Manning was the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts and he was also the face of their franchise. Manning would set numerous team and National Football League passing records while in a Colts uniform as he was asked to carry the team which somewhat limited what he could accomplish in the postseason. When Manning sat out the entire 2011 National Football League season as he was recovering from neck surgery, the Colts would go on to have the worst record in the league as they were 2-14. The Colts had the first overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft which they used on quarterback Andrew Luck and they would subsequently release Manning who would go on to sign with the Denver Broncos.
In three seasons as the Colts starting quarterback, Luck has a regular season record of 33-11 with three postseason appearances under his belt. But Luck’s brief tenure with the Colts has been eerily similar to that of Manning’s time there as the organization is simply asking him to do too much by himself.
The Colts were destroyed last night in the AFC Championship Game at the hands of the New England Patriots 45-7. The loss to the Patriots makes Luck 0-4 in his career against New England and in those four games Indianapolis has been outscored 189-73. When facing the Patriots, the Colts have found themselves consistently fighting an uphill battle as they fall into early holes that they have been unable to recover from.
Unlike his predecessor as Colts general manager in Bill Polian, Ryan Grigson has attempted to surround Luck with talent on both sides of the football whether through free agency or trades, but it just hasn’t worked out. In 2013, the Colts traded a first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for running back Trent Richardson. But in 29 games with the Colts, Richardson has only gained 977 rushing yards which is less than what he was able to do in 17 games with the Browns. For this season’s playoff run, Richardson was inactive for all three games for the Colts. In 2013, outside linebacker Bjoern Werner was a first-round selection by the Colts. Werner came to the Colts fresh off of being named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in his final year at Florida State University. But in two seasons with the Colts, Werner only has 6.5 sacks and after being benched during last Sunday’s victory over the Broncos, he was inactive last night versus the Patriots as he was declared as a “healthy scratch”. At Florida State, Werner was a down defensive end in 4-3 system. But now the Colts are asking Werner to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme as he is asked to stand up which is something that he has been unable to adjust to. A few seasons ago wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was putting fear into secondaries around the National Football League. In 2011, Nicks had 76 receptions for 1,192 yards and 7 receiving touchdowns as a member of the New York Giants. That postseason Nicks would have 28 receptions for 444 yards and 4 touchdowns in helping the Giants win the Super Bowl. A knee injury bothered Nicks throughout 2012 and he hasn’t been the same player since. The Giants allowed Nicks to walk in free agency last off-season and he landed with the Colts. But this past season Nicks only had 38 receptions for 405 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Colts are still searching for a young wide receiver to take some pressure off of wide receiver T.Y.Hilton.
The Colts can hang their hat on the fact that they have advanced an extra round in each year with Luck which is a building block for them heading into the off-season. The Colts play in the AFC South which is not tough division for them to win as they are the gold standard there which means that there most difficult task will be to get it done in January and that brings with it a gauntlet of tough teams. This postseason the Colts did defeat the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos which did come as a shock due to Indy’s inability to run the football in the regular season along with their struggles against postseason teams. This past season the Colts were 2-4 versus playoff teams, but it was how they were outplayed in those four defeats which was further illustrated in their loss to the Patriots.
When teams lose in the playoffs their flaws tend to be exposed and last night it was evident that the Colts lack play makers around Luck on both sides of the football. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano has shown in his brief time in Indianapolis that he can coach, motivate, and change the culture. But Pagano and Grigson must improve this team through the draft and free agency in order to give Luck his opportunity to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Luck is the future of the National Football League and that future is now or else he will hear the same questions that have haunted Manning for the majority of his career.
X-Indianapolis Colts 10-6
With two seasons as the starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts under his belt, Andrew Luck has built a reputation as a prime time player in the National Football League. Luck has led the Colts to consecutive 11-5 regular seasons which has resulted in two AFC South Titles. Luck will continue to progress as a quarterback and as a leader for the Colts, but what about the supporting cast around him in Indianapolis?
Last year the Colts were 20th in rushing offense in the NFL and you can expect to see a running back by committee in 2014. Last year Colts general manager Ryan Grigson gave up a first round pick in the 2014 National Football League Draft to obtain running back Trent Richardson from the Cleveland Browns. What Grigson and the Colts got from Richardson last season in 14 games was a paltry 2.9 yards per carry. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw was limited to just three games last season as a result of injuries which makes it tough to be optimistic about the Colts running game for 2014.
Last season as a member of the New York Giants, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was an enigma. Nicks was in the final year of his contract with the Giants, but he was never able to answer the bell. Nicks signed with the Colts this off-season, but will he be the player that he was in 2011 when he nearly gained 1,200 receiving yards or the player that was only a shell of himself in 2013? With wide receiver Reggie Wayne returning from a knee injury, Luck will need another option on offense to offset wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in the passing game. But will Nicks or Wayne be able to do it?
With veteran outside linebacker sitting out the first four games of the National Football League season as he serves a league mandated suspension for violating their drug policy, it is imperative for outside linebacker Bjorn Werner to show the ability that made him a first round pick in Indianapolis last year. Last season as a rookie, Werner was limited to 2.5 sacks and he will need to be up for the challenge early and often in 2014.
For Colts head coach Chuck Pagono his team must navigate through a tough schedule to begin the season. The Colts will be on the road this Sunday to take on the Denver Broncos who are the defending AFC Champions. The Colts will be at home in Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles who won the NFC East last season before they travel to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars who will a very formidable opponent. The Colts should win the AFC South for a second consecutive year, but it will not be easy.
Houston Texans 8-8
The old saying is that everything is bigger in the state of Texas. Last season the Houston Texans started off with Super Bowl expectations. After winning their first two games of the season the Texans would lose their last 14 games of the season and wholesale changes were made. After eight seasons as the head coach of the Texans, Gary Kubiak was fired and replaced by former Penn State University head football coach Bill O’Brien. Like Kubiak, longtime Texans starting quarterback Matt Schaub was shown the door as well as he was traded to the Oakland Raiders due to the fact that O’Brien is looking to start fresh.
The Texans began last season expecting to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy, but instead they got the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. The Texans selected defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with first overall pick and he joins a defense in Houston that could be extremely special in 2014. The Texans defense last year ranked 7th in the NFL in total defense and they may be better this year. Romeo Crennel is taking over as the Texans new defensive coordinator and he will run the same 3-4 defensive scheme as former Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Along with Clowney you can expect Texans defensive end J.J. Watt to line up in multiple spots in the defensive front seven as they could be the scariest combination of edge rushers this season in the National Football League. Along with outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, it is not far-fetched to believe that the Texans could lead the league in the sacks for the upcoming season.
With running backs Arian Foster, Andre Brown, and Alfred Blue, “AAA”, the Texans will be a very physical team. For now O’Brien has entrusted Ryan Fitzpatrick to be the starting quarterback in Houston and this team can have some success with him leading the way this season as long as he decides not to play hero ball. But just prior to the end of training camp, the Texans were able to acquire quarterback Ryan Mallett from the New England Patriots. O’Brien was a former assistant coach with the Patriots and he is familiar with Mallett who should be ready to take over for Fitzpatrick at some point during the season.
Wide receiver Andre Johnson is entering his 12th season with the Texans where he as at times been frustrated. But if Johnson is willing to buy into O’Brien’s system he could have another Pro Bowl caliber season.
The Texans will not face a playoff team from last season until they meet the Colts in Week 6 and a fast start in Houston could put people on the O’Brien bandwagon as a quick turnaround could be on the horizon.
Jacksonville Jaguars 6-10
The downward spiral of the Jacksonville Jaguars began in 2008. The Jaguars have not had a winning record or playoff appearance since 2007 and thus their all-time record is now sub-.500. Last year was the first season for Jags head coach Gus Bradley. Jacksonville began the season with a record of 0-8, but they became tougher in the second part of the campaign to finish 4-12. Bradley is hopeful that the second half of the 2013 NFL season will carry over to the start of 2014.
The Jaguars are optimistic that they finally have their franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles. The Jaguars used their first round pick on Bortles, but veteran quarterback Chad Henne is not in a rush to hand over the reigns. Bortles is still a bit raw and more than likely you can expect Henne to be the Jaguars starting quarterback at the start of the season.
The Jaguars parted ways with longtime running back Maurice Jones-Drew who is now a member of the Oakland Raiders. More than likely Bradley and the Jags will have a running back by committee this season with veteran backs Jordan Todman and Toby Gerhart along with rookie Storm Johnson, but it can be effective. The Jaguars also have young wide receivers in Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, and Ace Sanders. But if one player is able to emerge from this trio as an impact player it will help Bradley in Jacksonville.
Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel was injured for the majority of 2013, but if he is able to return healthy this season to join veteran guard Zane Beadles on the offensive line, the Jags could have something cooking.
The Jaguars defense is full of veterans who built their reputations in other NFL cities. But for players like defensive tackle Red Bryant who helped the Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl last season it is a chance for them to show the football world that they still have what it takes.
More than likely the Jaguars will not be a playoff team this season, but they will make life miserable to each team that they will face.
Tennessee Titans 5-11
This year will be like no other for the Tennessee Titans franchise. The Titans will begin this season without former owner Bud Adams who passed away last October. Adams was the only owner that the Titans ever had dating back to their time as the Houston Oilers. Adams’ daughter Susie Smith is now running the Titans, but that is not the only change in Nashville. Ken Whisenhunt is the new Titans head coach and he is looking to get the team back to the postseason for the first time since 2008 and in the process he is looking to mold this team in his own image.
Titans quarterback Jake Locker has been an enigma. The Titans drafted Locker in the first round of the of the 2011 National Football League Draft. Locker has all of the tools to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL, but he has been unable to stay healthy. The Titans did not pick up the option on Locker’s contract which means that he will be playing for his job in 2014.
Longtime Titans running back Chris Johnson was let go this off-season and it will be a combo of veteran running back Shonn Greene and rookie running back Bishop Sankey in the backfield in Nashville.
Like Locker at quarterback, the Titans have talent a wide receiver, but it is just a matter of it all coming together. Justin Hunter, Nate Washington, and Kendall Wright could all do special things at wide receiver for the Titans this year, but it is just a matter of everyone being on the same page.
This season the Titans will have a good mix of youth and age on their offensive line with a pair of youngsters in offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and guard Chance Warmack along with veteran offensive tackles Michael Roos and Michael Oher and they should be up for the challenge of keeping Locker healthy.
Whisenhunt’s arrival in Nashville means that they Titans will be running a 3-4 defense just like he employed when he was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. This will be a difficult year for the Titans because they are transitioning their new defensive scheme, but veteran outside linebackers Kameron Wimbley and Shaun Phillips could cushion the blow.
Three of the Titans first four games in 2014 are against teams that made the playoffs in 2013. The Titans should struggle this year, but towards the end of the campaign Whisenhunt’s plan will take flight.