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Pony Express: Colts Free Agents WRs, UDFAs, and a New Defense – Sports Illustrated

The Indianapolis Colts have been a serious player this offseason.
They've made significant moves on both sides of the ball in order to get back on track and into the postseason, and they followed it up by adding a historically athletic draft class.
The Colts have definitely generated some buzz when it comes to teams that could surprise some people and be contenders late in the season.
With training camp just over a week away, people have questions, and I've got answers.
Introducing the "Pony Express" mailbag where you guys submit your questions on Twitter and I give you my best answer.
"How is the back up RB's looking? What UDFA's has the best chance of making the 53 man. Practice squad predictions?" – @patten1962
Part I: We'll start the backup running back talk with Phillip Lindsay (I don't consider Nyheim Hines a backup), who might be the NFL's most-accomplished third running back. He amassed 2,485 yards from scrimmage and 17 total touchdowns in his first two years in the league but has been in limbo ever since. His running style fits well with the Colts' zone runs and the quality run blockers up front, however. Ty'Son Williams, Deon Jackson, C.J. Verdell, and D'Vonte Price round out the group.
We'll really see what these guys can do in training camp and the preseason but so far through OTAs and minicamp, I really noticed Lindsay and Price. Lindsay's been there and done that so he looks the part, and Price's blend of size and athleticism is immediately evident. I expect to see quite a bit from all of these guys this summer so the Colts don't overload Jonathan Taylor and Hines' plates.
Part II: There are two undrafted free agents I've had my eye on since they were signed, and it just so happens that both stood out during spring ball. Sterling Weatherford and JoJo Domann are a pair of linebackers that fit this Colts' speedy defense perfectly. They both played linebacker and safety in college, and it shows in their game.
Darius Leonard, Bobby Okereke, Zaire Franklin, and E.J. Speed have comfortable spots on the roster, but outside of that the competition should be considered open. Plus, Okereke, Speed, and Brandon King are all free agents after the season. If either of Weatherford or Domann excel on special teams this summer, I could easily see them taking a spot.
Part III: I'll explain what seems like ever-changing practice squad rules in the NFL before making some predictions (h/t All Bengals). The maximum limit is 16 players; 10 of which can have no more than two accrued seasons while the other six players don't have any limitations.
The following players are all worth hanging onto but may have a tough time grabbing a roster spot at the end of the preseason: QB Sam Ehlinger, WR Michael Young Jr., OT Ryan Van Demark, IOL Wesley French, IOL Josh Seltzner, DL Kameron Cline, DL Scott Patchan, DL Bryan Cox Jr., LB Forrest Rhyne, CB Anthony Chesley, CB Rodney Thomas II, CB Dallis Flowers, DB Marcel Dabo. As part of the International Player Program, the Colts get an extra practice squad spot to develop Dabo.
"Any word on T.Y. coming back, I think him and Matt would have good chemistry" – @Sho31933631
All offseason, we've heard that the door is still open for Hilton to come back. That may very well still be the case. However, if it was going to happen, why hasn't it already? After all, training camp begins in less than two weeks.
The Colts have a young, athletic group of receivers with quite a bit of potential. If the Colts wanted a veteran receiver to take a majority of snaps behind Michael Pittman Jr. then they probably would have made such a move by now.
Reading between the lines, my guess is the Colts want to allow their young receiver corps to develop with a capable, accurate quarterback like Matt Ryan throwing to them. Hilton would likely need to accept a smaller role and/or a smaller paycheck than he's previously seen. However, if things aren't going well with the young guys or someone gets hurt for an extended period of time, that makes it more appealing.
I do agree, though; I think Hilton and Ryan would work well together.
"Will Taylor or Matt be captain or we doing six captains again?" – @oabuse91
Four of last year's six captains remain on the roster in Quenton Nelson, DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard, and Zaire Franklin. Assuming they remain captains again, that leaves two spots vacated by Carson Wentz and T.Y. Hilton. I'm not sure how the players and leadership council determine how many captains there will be, but let's say they do six again this year.
It's hard for me to imagine Matt Ryan not getting one of those spots. One big thing he's known for is his leadership, and the Colts have gushed about what he's shown in that department since arriving in Indy.
Jonathan Taylor makes sense for the other spot, as you mentioned. He's shown leadership and is one of the most respected players in the building. I could also see someone like Nyheim Hines or Ryan Kelly getting voted in.
"Who will be Matt Ryan's second most targeted WR?" – @MauiBuckeye
Zach Hicks and I recently discussed this on the Locked On Colts podcast (check out the episode here). Although we both think Nyheim Hines will be second on the team in receptions, at receiver specifically it came down to Parris Campbell vs. Alec Pierce.
Campbell, of course, if he remains healthy should have a significant role in the offense and is one of the few players that the Colts have actually manufactured touches for in recent years. The rookie Pierce would have to show he's ready to be the other starting outside receiver opposite of Michael Pittman Jr. (Campbell and Ashton Dulin are probably more ready for slot duties), but it's certainly a possibility. Throwing downfield along the boundary particularly is an area where Matt Ryan and Pierce could connect.
"Will this year's defense under Gus Bradley be better than last years?" – @westtxcolt
Taking scheme out of it for a second, I think the players that the Colts added alone are enough to make them better in 2022 than in 2021. They essentially replaced Al-Quadin Muhammad with Yannick Ngakoue, and Xavier Rhodes with Stephon Gilmore. Plus, they fortified their safety group by adding Nick Cross, Rodney McLeod, and Armani Watts, which is much more appealing than the depth of Andrew Sendejo and Jahleel Addae.
On top of that, the Colts should see progress from young players like Kwity Paye, Dayo Odeyingbo, Bobby Okereke, and Isaiah Rodgers. They also get starting free safety Julian Blackmon back from injury.
Schematically, this group should also generate more pressure up front on the quarterback under coordinator Gus Bradley and defensive line coach Nate Ollie with the attack front. That's not a stretch for a defense that finished 18th in pass-rush grade according to Pro Football Focus, and ranked 25th in sacks with 33. Ngakoue and Paye will be lining up in wide stances more often, aiding them in defeating blockers, and DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart will be able to focus more on attacking the backfield from inside.
"Are the Colts thinking about a reunion between Matt Ryan and Julio Jones???" – @MarkHud774
Like I mentioned with T.Y. Hilton above; if it was going to happen, why hasn't it by now? And it's not like the Colts haven't considered this option, to my understanding.
In theory, it does make sense. Jones played a decade with Colts quarterback Matt Ryan in Atlanta, and the Colts don't have any proven receivers behind Michael Pittman Jr. while prime Jones might be the best receiver of his generation.
However, is that Julio Jones the one that you're getting? Probably not. He's missed 14 games over the last two years due to injuries and didn't always look like himself when he was on the field. There's also the financial cost. You're probably looking at a one-year deal worth anywhere from $6-10 million for Jones. Would the Colts want to risk that?
"Who is second on the team in generating turnovers? Who has the most sacks?" – @KSmith1872
I love this question. I imagine you're putting Darius Leonard and his unprecedented ballhawking skills in first place as far as takeaways go. In second place, I'll give it to Kenny Moore II, assuming he plays. He's averaged four takeaways per year since 2018 (13 total interceptions and 3 forced fumbles), but he seems to get better and more instinctual with age. I also like Yannick Ngakoue's ability to strip the ball when he gets to the quarterback.
As for who has the most sacks, I'll give this to Ngakoue as well. I think either of him, Kwity Paye, or DeForest Buckner could do it, but he's the defense's most accomplished pass rusher and has the benefit of blockers having to also worry about guys like Paye, Buckner, and even Darius Leonard coming on blitzes.
Have questions? Hit me up on Twitter @JakeArthurNFL!
Follow Jake on Twitter and Facebook @JakeArthurNFL. Follow Horseshoe Huddle on Facebook and Twitter.
Jake Arthur has covered the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for nearly a decade. He is also on FantasyPros’ expert panel and was named the No. 9 most-accurate fantasy football analyst for 2020 (No. 1 in quarterbacks).


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