INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — If the Indianapolis Colts are going to return to the playoffs in 2020, their offense will need some upgrades.
Simply put, the Colts didn’t score enough last season. Indianapolis averaged 25.8 points per game in their seven wins and just 20 in their nine losses. At 22.6 points per game for the season, the only team to average fewer points and still make the playoffs was the Buffalo Bills at 19.6.
Specifically, what held the offense back was their passing game. The Colts finished seventh in rushing but ranked 30th through the air in 2019. Only the Steelers and Bears averaged fewer yards per pass attempt, and Pittsburgh was the only team to notch fewer passes of 20 or more yards.
Everyone is waiting to see how Indianapolis addresses the quarterback position this offseason. Whether they sign a veteran in free agency, draft a passer of the future or give Jacoby Brissett another year, whoever is behind center for the Colts in 2020 will need more weapons to work with.
Tight end Eric Ebron is expected to sign elsewhere in free agency. Wide outs Devin Funchess and Chester Rogers are set to hit the open market as well, and star receiver T.Y. Hilton will be 31 by the end of next season when his contract expires. If we continue to look ahead, receiver Zach Pascal and running back Marlon Mack are also entering the final year of their deals.
The closer you look at it, the more glaring the Colts’ need for playmakers appears. The good news is Indianapolis is expected to have the most salary cap space of any team entering the offseason, according to overthgcap.com.
Here are five impending free agents who can bring some much needed juice to Indy’s offense in 2020:
Amari Cooper – Wide Receiver – Age 25
As stated in a previous article, Cooper isn’t just the best pass catcher set to hit the market, he’s one of the best impending free agents period. He’s a true number-one receiver with prototypical speed and size, and his route running is truly a work of art. Cooper has a knack for making big plays, as his 503 yards on deep (20-plus yard) passes last season was the third-most in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. He won’t turn 26 until June and already has four 1,000-yard seasons under his belt.
If Cooper escapes the Cowboys’ clutches, he’ll be one of the more sought after assets available, which is sure to drive up his cost. However, with his talent and youth at a position of need, the Colts may decide Cooper is worth ponying up for.
Hunter Henry – Tight End – Age 25
Like Cooper, Henry is the top free agent at his position in 2020. When healthy, he’s a do-it-all tight end who can line up in-line, in the slot or on the outside. Henry is a mismatch weapon who has PFF’s eighth highest receiving grade against single coverage league-wide since 2016. He’s been an above average blocker during his time with the Chargers as well.
Head coach Frank Reich loves him some tight ends and has regularly used two-tight end sets, even dating back to his time with the Eagles and Chargers. Henry would give the Colts a premiere target to work the middle of the field, and his pairing with Jack Doyle would elevate their tight end group to among the NFL’s best. Though Henry won’t come cheap, his impact on Indianapolis’ offense could be profound.
Robby Anderson – Wide Receiver – Age 26
While Anderson doesn’t come with the name recognition of other free agent receivers like A.J. Green or Emmanuel Sanders, his youth and durability are something they can’t offer. He’s played all but two games since joining the Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2016, and Anderson’s production in an offense that has ranked in the bottom 10 in passing during each of his four seasons is admirable.
Though he hasn’t developed into a number-one receiver, Anderson’s potential in a competent offense is exciting to think about. The playmaker has blazing speed, a 6’3″ frame and the 11th most deep receiving yards since 2016, according to PFF. Anderson will likely demand upwards of $11 million per year, but his home-run ability would provide an element the Colts were lacking in 2019.
Austin Hooper – Tight End – Age 25
In 13 games, Hooper put up career highs in catches (75), yards (787) and touchdowns (6) this past season, although the Falcons’ tendency to play from behind likely inflated those numbers. While he’s a tier below Henry in terms of talent, Hooper is still a reliable pass-catcher with above average athleticism for the position and middle-of-the-road run blocking ability.
In the Colts’ offense, Hooper would be used in a role similar to how Eric Ebron was utilized. He’d give Indianapolis a solid one-two punch in two-tight end sets, something defenses would have to game plan for. If teams offer Hooper contracts based on his 2019 production, he’ll be one of the most overpaid players of the offseason. But if the Colts can get Hooper at a reasonable price, he’ll be a solid addition to the offense.
Jordan Howard – Running Back – Age 25
On the surface, running back doesn’t appear to be a position of need. However, if the Colts want to continue to be a ground-and-pound offense, they’d be wise to give Mack a running mate. Howard enjoyed a renaissance with the Eagles in 2019 before injuring his shoulder, as the IU alum’s 4.4 yards per carry was his highest average since his rookie year.
Though Mack’s ability to run inside has certainly improved, he’s still not the bruiser Howard is. Howard would bring an element of power the Colts’ backs don’t currently have and provide the thunder to Mack’s lightening. While Mack would still garner 15-20 touches per game, Howard could spell Mack for 10-12 carries, and his presence if Mack goes down with injury would be invaluable. Howard would bolster the Colts’ rushing attack for a fraction of the price of other free agent running backs like Derrick Henry and Melvin Gordon.
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