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NFL Draft

Colts Will Have Successful 2021 Season If…

  • The Draft Network
  • July 2, 2021
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Are you ready for an extremely dumb answer? Here it comes!

For a successful 2021 Indianapolis Colts season, they have to be better than they were last year.

This is painfully obvious. What coach doesn’t step up to the podium and say: “We’re gonna be better every year” or “We know we have to be better than we were last year?” What team could possibly have a better season this year than last year, and not claim that it was a successful season?

But that’s the reality that Chris Ballard, Frank Reich, and the Colts have created for themselves. Ever a patient team-builder, the Colts have sat on big nest eggs in the last couple of free agency cycles and endured a carousel of quarterback options since the surprise Andrew Luck retirement. As Ballard said in February of the increasing pressure to draft a quarterback to bring stability to the position: “We are not going to operate in a desperate world… we will be aggressive when we need to be aggressive.”

Well, the Colts got aggressive. They traded a third-round selection, and a conditional future first, to the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback Carson Wentz not one month after Ballard’s comments. It’s arguably the biggest trade of Ballard’s tenure as general manager (he sent the 13th overall pick to the San Francisco 49ers for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner last offseason), and it’s definitely the biggest quarterback move he’s made since Luck’s retirement.

This isn’t necessarily the only move. The Colts didn’t sell the farm to get Wentz, so if another quarterback becomes reasonably available on the trade market or in free agency, they’re still equipped to make that move. Wentz has no dead cap hits after the 2022 season, and the Colts have all of their picks in the 2023 draft—they’re fine. But it certainly feels like it’s A Move; definitely a Big Move; and maybe, potentially, The Move.

Now, let’s remember where the Colts were last season. They hit 12th in offensive DVOA and seventh in defensive DVOA. Per RBSDM, Philip Rivers’ EPA/Play was sixth in the league; his success rate was 14th. Altogether, this was an above-average offense with above-average quarterback play. Fold in a top-10 defense, and the Colts churned out an 11-win season and a playoff berth.

Rivers’ retirement hurt, but it gave them the opportunity to pursue a shot in the arm for the offense. Wentz was the avenue they elected to take, and he steps into a situation that expects double-digit wins, playoff berths, and at this point, an elusive playoff win—they have one in the last six years. For the investment that the Colts made in him, Wentz cannot deliver the same season he gave the Eagles last year (31st in EPA/Play; 30th in success rate) or even from 2019 (19th in EPA/Play, 16th in success rate). If he does, then the Colts spent some pretty solid draft capital just to get worse at quarterback—this, after signing some one-year deals (T.Y. Hilton, Xavier Rhodes, Eric Fisher) clearly oriented on winning this year.

For the Colts to chalk 2021 up as a successful season, Wentz must be able to deliver Rivers-level production to a team that clearly can support a playoff run. If he’s a limiting factor on this team—and, say, Matt Stafford is absolutely awesome in Los Angeles with the Rams—then the Colts chose the wrong swing to take at quarterback this year. It won’t necessarily set the team back in the long term, but another year of treading water as a lower-tier AFC playoff team is another year of patience expended on the Reich-Ballard tenure. A successful season hinges on the fact that they got the Wentz gamble right.

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