Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Vontae Davis, Clayton Geathers and Jack Doyle have been just a handful of the Indianapolis Colts’ bright spots so far this season. Luck is playing at an MVP level, Hilton is torching opposing defenses, Davis is locking up receivers, Geathers is as multi-faceted and physical as it gets and Doyle is the most dependable tight end in the league at the moment.
With all of these quintessential centerpieces doing their thing as the Colts near the mid-point in their season, there are a group of under-the-radar players on this roster who will have pivotal roles going forward if the Colts are to reclaim their stranglehold atop the AFC South.
T.Y. McGill, Chester Rogers, Edwin Jackson, Akeem Ayers and Jordan Todman find themselves primed for the opportunity to make enormous impacts as they head into the second half of the season.
With Henry Anderson’s knee injury the Colts’ defensive line features a heavy rotation of versatile defensive tackles along with more nose tackle type guys. McGill is one of those who has taken advantage of his opportunities when he’s been active. Last season, McGill came into Indianapolis with very little expectations among the fan base, but showed how disruptive he could be late in the season by notching eight tackles, three sacks and he was responsible for a safety as well.
This season, McGill has only been active for four games yet he’s been extremely helpful in creating interior pressure on the quarterback, getting into the backfield, being disruptive against the running game and he has already been instrumental in creating the Colts’ first defensive points of the season with his strip sack of Marcus Mariota in Week 7. Look for McGill to get called upon more as the season progresses as he’s certainly earned his spot in the rotation up front.
Additionally, on the defensive side of the ball, Jackson and Ayers should begin to see more snaps as well for a couple of different reasons. For the most part through the first seven weeks, the Colts inside linebacker play has been horrendous. They haven’t been able to cover tight ends or running backs in the passing game, and have struggled immensely with finishing tackles. This past week, Jackson saw his first semi-rotational action with 13 defensive snaps and looked pretty good in his limited role.
Jackson was a favorite to make the roster in camp due to his ability to cover as well as stick his nose between the ball carrier’s numbers. With Josh McNary, among others at the position, struggling in several facets, Jackson may just see a larger role as the coaching staff hopes to find a spark on this defense that is 31st in the league in Football Outsiders DVOA, and 29th in their passing defensive rank specifically. Anything has to be better than Antonio Morrison, McNary and D’Qwell Jackson in coverage.
Yet another guy who has shown that he is a step above a few starters at his position, but has failed to get the playing time that he has deserved is Ayers.
Ayers has historically played in a 4-3 base system, and is now more at home in a 3-4 scheme which is a far better fit for his skill set. Robert Mathis isn’t aging well, Curt Maggit has been sidelined recently and the only other real threat from the edge has been Erik Walden to this point in the season as he’s notched five sacks despite being the strong side edge-setter.
Ayers has proven, in very little opportunity, that he is not only the best option in coverage of the outside linebackers on the roster, but that he’s the best pass rushing threat within this scheme as well. Ayers has already put up two sacks and a pass defensed in just 41 pass snaps, and is grading out seventh among all edge defenders in coverage per Pro Football Focus. There’s little doubt that if he sees more action, the Colts defense should improve and if a spark is what they’re looking for, Ayers is one of the guys who can provide this.
Now, on the other side of the ball the Colts have a couple guys who could become reasonable contributors in the coming weeks.
One of which, Chester Rogers, has proven that he should be taken seriously as a solid third option in the passing game and has received the trust from Luck as well. The 6-foot-1, 180 pound UDFA has hauled in 11 catches for 159 yards on 19 targets thus far, six of his 11 receptions have resulted in first downs with only one drop.
Rogers has been a pleasant surprise for the Colts, showing the ability to get himself open regardless of where he lines up. Additionally, Luck has spread it around a bit and he looks for Rogers as well. He trusts him enough to get him the ball on early downs, and has successfully done so with nine of Rogers’ 11 catches being on first, or second down. He also, however, has been targeted on critical downs as well with four of those targets coming on third down situations.
Currently, Quan Bray – who was holding down the return duties – is sidelined likely for the remainder of the season, and the coaching staff has enough trust in Rogers to send him back in Bray’s absence. While it’ll take some getting used to for Rogers – evident from his fielding a punt from the goal line in Week 7 – he certainly has the speed and agility to give the Colts a threat in this regard. Donte Moncrief should be returning within the next couple of weeks, but Rogers will certainly have his opportunities to make an impact, both, as a receiver and now as a return man going forward.
Another skill position guy who has largely been forgotten since training camp is Todman.
Josh Ferguson’s guise of an NFL running back has seemingly been pealed back a bit for the Colts’ coaching staff, so Todman may now see some opportunities in the backfield in passing situations and will likely be shifted into kick return duties as well. Todman hasn’t really seen a good deal of action since his 2014 season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, when he got 69 touches averaging 5.8 yards per carry, and 7.9 yards per reception, but has the skill set to be successful as a scat-back option with the ability to make plays in the passing game as well.
Todman has only notched five career touchdowns but possesses the big play possibilities the Colts hoped to see from Ferguson, yet never received. In the return game, he has averaged over 23 yards per return, but he hasn’t been used heavily in that regard quite yet.
The Colts’ backfield desperately needs a spell running back who can make an impact moving forward. Relying on Frank Gore to carry the load on every down is not going to cut it. Todman may prove to have that “Donald Brown” single play explosiveness that the Colts’ backfield – as well as his career – so desperately needs.
While nobody is suggesting that these players should be expected to take the league by storm, I am most certainly eluding to the fact that they need to complement the playmakers on their given side of the ball in order for this team to get over the hump and improve throughout.
Sometimes, you just have to hope to find some real contributors further down the program, especially when there is such a desperate need in improving the depth on a talent-deprived roster.
All of these players have the ability to do as such, however, the results of the remainder of the 2016 season are far from written at this point in the year. Regardless, keep your eyes on these guys in the near future. Someone has to step up in a major way and it may as well be them.