Here is part one, a.k.a. three, of my 5 bold predictions for the upcoming Indianapolis Colts season (click this for Part II):
1. Derrius Heyward-Bey lives up to his potential
When you hear the name of newly acquired Colts wide receiver Derrius Heyward-Bey you may think ‘bust’, I think ‘potential’. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, he ran a 4.25 40 at the combine coming out of college (one of the top 40’s ever recorded at the combine). The possibilities for a man of his athletic prowess are numerous; pair that with a quarterback (Mr. Andrew Luck) who was the most hyped number 1 overall pick since John Elway (and Luck lived up to that hype in his rookie campaign) and Heyward-Bey might just fulfill those possibilities. To make my argument I present you with some important stats from the 2012 season:
Donnie Avery: 60 receptions, 781 yards, 3 touchdowns, 112 targets, 16.67% drop rate
T.Y. Hilton: 50 rec, 861 yds, 7 tds, 88 targets, 16.67% drop rate
Derrius Heyward-Bey: 41 rec, 606 yds, 5 tds, 80 targets, 12.8% drop rate
The drop rates and targets were found at Pro Football Focus and KFFL.com (other stats were taken from ESPN.com); Hilton and Avery were tied at third among the highest drop rates in the NFL. These were two of the primary guys Luck was throwing to last year, Hilton listed at 5-foot-9, 178 pounds, Avery at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, and they are both known for being speedsters (Avery is now gone).
Enter Heyward-Bey; he is regarded for his speed as well, but presents much more size on the field to go along with it, he had a lower drop rate at 12.8%, along with being targeted less than Hilton or Avery and Heyward-Bey has also had the misfortune of having to catch balls from 7 different quarterbacks in 4 years (such as JaMarcus Russell, an aging Carson Palmer, Kyle Boller, Terrelle Pryor, and others of similar skill, or lack thereof). Though he did have a 35.7% drop rate his rookie year and 21.6% the next, he has improved those rates the following years to 8.6% and 12.8% respectively. This showcases that he has the willingness to work on his craft. His work ethic, size and incredible speed combined with the fact that he’s playing with one of the next great quarterbacks in the NFL, after catching balls from the bottom dwellers of the league, make him primed for an outstanding season (800-1,000 yds, 10 tds, 60-80 receptions).
2. Lawrence Sidbury provides pass rushing depth
Who? A question I hope avid watchers of the Indianapolis Colts won’t be saying about Lawrence Sidbury by season’s end. He is a 6-foot-3, 269-pound defensive end out of Richmond who ran a 4.64 40 coming out of college in 2009.
He spent his first 4 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, and he did not really prove himself till 2011. In that year he played in 16 games and recorded 11 tackles along with 4 sacks, as a backup defensive end. But in 2012 he only played in 10 games and recorded 1 lone tackle.
However, reading about him all offseason, it seems that the Falcons coaching staff simply did not give him the chance to improve on his successful 2011 season in 2012. So, GM of the Indianapolis Colts, Ryan Grigson, signed Sidbury to a cheap deal hoping to hone his potential into something useful for the Colts defense.
I believe Grigson made a very solid decision in doing so. Sidbury proved that he can be an adequate backup rushing the quarterback in 2011, and he’ll get his chance to prove that he can be a good one with the Colts in 2013, most likely backing up Robert Mathis. Though, since he is learning a new position playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, instead of defensive end in a 4-3 defense, I expect most of his production to come in the second half of the season. That being said, I anticipate a 5-7 sack season from Sidbury (assuming no injuries occur, which we all know is a grand assumption), and that would be a great year for the backup of our main pass rusher (Mathis).
3. The Colts’ defensive secondary improves radically
Barring an injury (Landry and Toler are known to be injury prone, as was Davis last year) I believe the defensive backfield could be in the top echelon of the NFL. Darius Butler (arguably our best corner from last year excluding the last few weeks from Vontae Davis) is now our SLOT defensive back. He is behind Davis and Greg Toler. Davis had a terrible start to the year in 2012, but by the end looked like a shutdown corner.
In the AFC wild card game against the Baltimore Ravens, wide receiver Anquan Boldin may have demolished our secondary, but how many times did you hear Torrey Smith’s name? Davis was the one covering Smith and he ended up having 2 receptions for 31 yards (footballdb.com). Furthermore, Toler is a free agent addition from the Arizona Cardinals, an underrated defense last year. He is a physical corner who is suited for a man to man defense, which head coach Chuck Pagano likes to play.
I actually attended the Colts open mini-camp practice and I came out most impressed with Toler’s play. He has deceptively long arms and his instincts look fantastic, I look forward to watching him this year. Next up: LaRon Landry, Mr. Meat n’ Potatoes himself:
Landry, simply put, is a beast of a man. He is 6 feet and 225 pounds of pure muscle. He is a ‘make you scared to catch a ball over the middle’ safety. Landry is a very athletic hard-hitter (Bob Sanders anybody?) who is coming off a Pro-Bowl season; a major upgrade from Tom Zbikowski at the very least.
Another addition to the defense: Antoine Bethea. I know he was on the team last year, but because of the lack of help he had in the backfield, he tried doing too much to compensate and his play suffered. I expect us to add pre-2012 Bethea (a 2 time pro-bowler) back onto the roster: just look at the help he has this year in Landry, Toler, Davis and Butler, versus having to consistently deal with Cassius Vaughn, Sergio Brown, Tom Zbikowski and Joe Lefeged last season. Though, I do have my concerns of this secondary being exposed if the defense can’t collectively stop the run (I am still not sold on the rush defense even with the front 7 upgrades), I still have high hopes. All this, on top of the fact Pagano is back; I consider him to be one of the best secondary coaches in the entire league (defensive play improved significantly when he got back last year), and I think this secondary is primed for a fantastic season, a top 10 finish.
FOR PART II: click here