Indianapolis Colts' General Manager Chris Ballard has put together one of the league's deepest rosters in his four years in role. With a deeper roster though, comes some tough decisions in the preseason. In this new series for the site, I will be looking at a few key positional battles that will take place in Training Camp this year.
The focus for today's Training Camp battle piece is the linebacker position. The Colts have a solid duo at the top with Bobby Okereke and Darius Leonard, and Zaire Franklin is another player who is likely a lock at this position due to his leadership and special teams ability. After that, the depth spots are up for grabs. Let's take a look at the five linebackers vying for the final two or three spots at this position.
The most likely candidate to make the roster out of this group is 2019 fifth round pick E.J Speed. Speed is a depth player who has played sparingly over the years, but has elite upside and potential. In two seasons with the team, he has logged just 34 snaps on defense but 361 snaps on special teams. He has 16 tackles and a tackle for a loss in 27 games played.
Speed was a bit of a project coming out of college, as the undersized Tarleton State linebacker needed some time to develop. This year should be a big one for him as there are snaps to be had in this linebacker group. He should be able to make this team and compete for regular snaps on defense with a good offseason.
I strongly debated putting Glasgow as a roster lock but ultimately decided to include him in this portion of the piece. The 2020 sixth round pick had an outstanding rookie season on special teams, as he logged 268 snaps and finished second on the team in special team tackles with nine.
With Glasgow, he may never be a player who logs snaps on defense in his career. He is an excellent special teams player though, and the Colts value that in their bottom of the roster players. He was firmly the team's second best special teams player in 2020 and I highly doubt that he doesn't make the roster in 2021.
A former seventh round pick in the 2018 draft (alongside Franklin), Adams has the most playing experience among the players fighting for these depth spots. Adams started out strong as a rookie in 2018, as he started five games and totaled 33 tackles, five tackles for a loss, and two quarterback hits. His playing time has decreased over the past two seasons however, and he saw zero snaps on defense in 2020.
Adams is tough to project going into 2021. He is the obvious choice to fill in at the SAM position with Okereke moving over to MIKE. The concern is that other players have seemed to pass him on the depth chart over the years and the team may look for other players to fill that SAM role. Regardless, Adams is a good player who can give some quality snaps, if the Colts elect to keep him for 2021.
Malik Jefferson (recently with the Chargers in 2020)
An interesting name thrown into the mix is former 2018 third round pick (of the Cincinnati Bengals) Malik Jefferson. Jefferson was a highly rated prospect who simply hasn't lived up to his draft position. He is entering his fourth year in the league and the Colts are his fifth different team. In three seasons, he has logged just 16 snaps on defense.
The main appeal of Jefferson is his athleticism, as he tested as an all time athlete at the Combine in 2018. He doesn't quite have the instincts or awareness to use it on defense but on special teams, he has proven to be a solid player. He has totaled 567 snaps on special teams in his career with 16 tackles. If he is going to make this roster, his focus is going to be on the third phase of the game.
Isaiah Kaufusi, BYU (2021 UDFA)
Isaiah Kaufusi is yet another player in the long lineage of Kaufusi's in the NFL out of BYU. Playing all over the BYU defense, Kaufusi totaled 204 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, four sacks, five interceptions, and 10 pass deflections in his career.
While it is a long shot for Kaufusi to make the roster, I could see him making some waves in Training Camp this year. He is a battle tested and rugged linebacker who can do a lot of things for a defense. His athletic profile is uninspiring but if he can show out on special teams and show that he can play the SAM position, he has an outside chance.
Final Thoughts + Predictions
To end each of these training camp battle pieces, I will include my way too early prediction for what happens to each player. Obviously, these will change throughout the offseason and some players can out perform my expectation for them. I also think this is a position where the Colts could still sign another player so things can obviously change.
For my predictions, I will say that Darius Leonard and Jordan Glasgow are the WILL linebackers this year. Bobby Okereke and Zaire Franklin are the MIKE lineackers and then E.J Speed and Franklin battle it out for the few SAM snaps. Kaufusi makes the Practice Squad while Jefferson and Adams are ultimately cut.
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.