Anthony Richardson, Jonathan Taylor give Colts a view into a promising future
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts got a glimpse of their future with quarterback Anthony Richardson in 2023.
Now, they can start dreaming about all the new possibilities.
Two days after falling a win short of the playoffs, Indy’s players cleaned out their lockers and reflected on their accomplishments during coach Shane Steichen’s first season — and what next season might look like.
“That’s going to be a really awesome sight to see,” running back Jonathan Taylor said when asked about playing with Richardson. “What I saw from watching the tape and what I saw in person, he’s very, very talented. But he’s also eager to learn. Any time you’ve got someone talented like that, with that hunger to learn, you’d better watch out because those are the ones who are going to be special.”
The Colts (9-8) were eager to see that backfield pairing during the 2023 season.
But Taylor’s lingering ankle injury forced him to miss Indy’s offseason workouts, training camp, the entire preseason and the first four weeks of the regular season. By the time the 2021 NFL rushing champ returned in Week 5, Richardson was making his fourth career start.
Then, after the pair took exactly one snap together, Richardson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
Still, the Colts saw enough from Richardson to believe they made the right choice with the No. 4 overall draft pick last spring and enough of a healthy Taylor to start envisioning the stress the duo can put on defenses next season.
“Anthony got a chance to sit back and watch and learn, really just seeing the NFL season as a whole,” Steichen said. “Obviously, we would have loved to have had him out there for the season to have him learn that way. What happened to him was unfortunate, but I think it’s going to make us stronger.”
While this season was supposed to be measured by Richardson’s progression, Indy got strong enough play from backup quarterback Gardner Minshew and backup running back Zack Moss that it came within 15 yards, 66 seconds and perhaps one dropped pass from winning its first AFC South crown since 2014.
How did the Colts do it?
Indy’s offensive line rebounded from a dismal 2022 to establish itself as one of the league’s premier units, and Steichen’s offense produced about eight more points per game than the Colts did in 2022 under coach Frank Reich and his interim replacement, Jeff Saturday.
Defensively, the Colts recorded a franchise-record 51 sacks. Indy’s young secondary endured some midseason growing pains but showed steady improvement as the season wore on. Linebacker Zaire Franklin recorded a franchise-record 179 tackles despite missing one game.
Those promising developments — along with Taylor’s re-emergence and Richardson’s strong start — provide hope for the future.
“The natural reflection is you look back at where we were a year ago to where we are now, I mean, guys’ lives have changed. Guys are in different places,” Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly said. “But we’re certainly much better, much closer than we were a year ago.”
PITTMAN’S NEXT STEP
Taylor signed a three-year contract extension in October and now the Colts must decide how they can best keep Taylor’s draft classmate, leading receiver Michael Pittman Jr.
He caught a career-best 109 passes — with his production increasing after he asked for more targets during a midseason meeting with Steichen and general manager Chris Ballard — and produced his second 1,000-yard season. And Pittman doesn’t view the possibility of receiving the franchise tag as all bad, either.
“I don’t think anyone would be displeased with $23 million,” he said. “The franchise is almost like a tag of respect. Obviously, you get paid in the top five at your position. Do I necessarily want to play on one? No, but you can use that to work toward a long-term deal as well.”
MORE ON FREE AGENCY
Pittman is one of 14 Colts players set to become unrestricted free agents and the list includes some familiar names.
While Minshew, who won a career-high seven games, and Moss, Indy’s leader in yards rushing (794 yards) and total yards (955), are expected to look for starting jobs elsewhere, the tougher decisions may be what to do with three key starters — defensive tackle Grover Stewart, Pro Bowl cornerback Kenny Moore II and safety Julian Blackmon.
The Colts will be monitoring Richardson’s recovery from shoulder surgery. The hope is that he runs with more discretion so he can stay healthy — and take the Colts back to the playoffs.
Then come the decisions. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has been under fire since the Colts gave up 114 points during October’s three-game losing streak. On Monday, Steichen wouldn’t hint if there would be staff changes, saying he valued continuity.
Indy’s deep passing game also struggled this season, and while Richardson’s strong arm would provide a boost, another potential solution would be to draft a receiver with the No. 15 overall pick.