Chris Ballard said prior to the season that this Indianapolis Colts' team was not in their Super Bowl window yet. Obviously, there was reason to be excited about some changes, but the Colts went too young at many key positions to call this a contending season.
I said this all offseason, this is more of an evaluation year than anything. With the Colts going very young at wide receiver, defensive end, and cornerback (along with new risks at left tackle and quarterback), there were a lot of variables that could go either way with this team.
Since we are at the midway point of the season, I decided to look at these five key positions and talk about what we have learned about each one since the beginning of the year.
Quarterback: Carson Wentz isn't Broken
While this point comes off as a lot less confident after his disastrous Sunday outing, Carson Wentz has been much better than he was last year with the Philadelphia Eagles. In fairness, that is hardly a complement, as Wentz was arguably the worst quarterback in the NFL a year ago.
It is hard to look at the film from both years and say that Wentz hasn't improved a good amount in the last year, though. In 2020, Wentz threw for 2,620 yards with 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions (in 12 games started). In 2021, through eight games, he has thrown for 1,926 yards with 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
He is still good for a few misses and mistakes in every game, but overall Wentz has been a perfectly average quarterback this year. He is extremely volatile, with fun highs (Texans/Ravens games) and awful lows (Both Titans' games).
The key part here is that he is not some broken, bottom-of-the-barrel quarterback. He can have good performances and he can win games. The flip-side of that is that he can also lose them with some poor moments and play.
Overall, the return on Wentz thus far is a resounding meh. He has been average with extreme highs and lows. The second half of the season will be huge for him, as the Colts play five teams with a record at or above .500.
If he can pull off a few upsets and put together some wins, he can show that he was more than worth that first round pick the Colts dealt for him.
Wide Receiver: Michael Pittman Jr is LEGIT
The biggest question I had with the young receivers on the Colts' roster is if they had someone who could emerge as a legit (and consistent) number one option. I didn't care who it was, just if one of them could emerge, then the Colts could be set for years to come.
Well, Michael Pittman Jr has certainly stepped up.
The second-year receiver has established himself as an emerging young star just eight games into the season. He has already surpassed his rookie totals from a year ago, as he currently has hauled in 45 receptions for 594 yards and four touchdowns.
With the play of Pittman Jr this season, the outlook at the position is so much more clear than it was in the offseason. The Colts just need to look at complementary players that can mix with his game. One major piece that needs to be added is a deep threat that can stretch the field and open up the middle for Pittman Jr to thrive even more.
Can the Colts get that in 2022? Hopefully. Regardless though, wide receiver is a position with a much more promising outlook going forward due to the play of Pittman Jr.
Left Tackle: Eric Fisher Evaluation is Still a Bit Muddy
Out of these five positions, the future at left tackle is the one with the least confident answer. On one hand, Fisher has been rough in pass protection and has allowed a ton of pressures. On the other hand, he is recovering from an achilles tear and has been a dominant run blocker.
This evaluation simply needs more time. Fisher has improved in recent weeks, and I think the last two games he has played have been his best pass blocking performances of the year. I'll say that I am more optimistic about Fisher going forward now than what I was a few weeks ago.
The other factor in this equation is Matt Pryor. The 26-year old tackle filled in well for Braden Smith on the right side for four weeks, allowing just one quarterback hit and four pressures in that span. Could he possibly be the solution at left tackle? There is no way to tell at this juncture.
I think the Colts are adequate at this spot for the moment, which should be fine with how much they are paying the other players on the offensive line. The big part of this evaluation is how well Fisher plays down this final nine game stretch.
Defensive End: Yikes
Well, we got a final answer on the defensive ends that Chris Ballard drafted in the 2018 and 2019 drafts. The result is not great.
Tyquan Lewis was having a decent season before tearing his ACL this past weekend. While he will likely never be a high impact pass rusher in the NFL, he can be a decent starter and a good complementary player. Hopefully he is able to return to full strength after this injury.
Kemoko Turay is the same as he has always been. A couple flashes when he plays, but he simply can't stay healthy. Even when he does play, he is just so inconsistent overall. Whether it is boneheaded penalties or getting steamrolled in the run game, he has just proven that he can't be a relied upon piece going forward.
When it comes to Ben Banogu, I can't speak too much on that situation. All I can say is that the team has no desire of playing him anytime soon and he is not in the team's future plans. Hopefully (for both his and the team's sake) he is out of Indy soon.
While this is pretty doom-and-gloom from the looks of it, this is the closure that Ballard and the fans needed to finally move on from these players. They got their shot, and it is quite clear from the Colts' league-worst pressure rate this year that this young group just isn't it.
Now, the attention can fully turn to developing rookies Dayo Odeyingbo and Kwity Paye along with (hopefully) bringing in a stable veteran in 2022. These were bad misses, but the clarity from this final closure is what was definitely needed.
Cornerback: The Young Guys are Playing Well
The final spot on this list is cornerback. The Colts do have a few veterans at this spot, but they were relying a lot on the development of Rock Ya-Sin and Isaiah Rodgers coming into the season.
The two youngsters have actually impressed so far.
Despite the struggles early in his career, Ya-Sin does appear to be turning a corner. In five starts this season, he has yet to record a penalty and has only allowed one reception of over 20 yards in coverage. If I told you all that prior to the year, you would simply call me a liar. He still needs to take the next step and become more aggressive with the ball in the air, but he has improved a ton.
The second biggest development of the year (behind Pittman Jr) is the play of Isaiah Rodgers. He has seen starter snaps in four games this year, filling in for injuries at boundary cornerback. He came down with his first career interception against the Houston Texans and has allowed a passer rating of just 64.4 in coverage on the season.
While both corners are still learning as they go, I think both players have been bright spots in a nearly lost season. I feel so much better about the cornerback position with the play of these two, even though I still think they need a true alpha/number one corner in the near future.
I know that this has been a disappointing season for a lot of Colts' fans that sold themselves on Super Bowl hopes prior to the year. In my eyes though, as someone who was much lower on the roster, this year has been somewhat successful in a lot of ways.
The Colts' quarterback isn't broken, they have a legit number one wide receiver, and they have young cornerbacks stepping up. Along with that, they can also finally be realistic with the young pass rushers and move on from them during/after the season.
This isn't me trying to put a positive spin on a nearly lost season. This is me saying that the needs for this team are clearly set because of this lost year. Now, we know what positions and roles have to be addressed going forward for this team.
Can the Colts right the ship this year, or next, and finally get over the hump? That still remains to be seen. If anything though, this year has given me (and I'm sure plenty of Colts' fans) a ton of clarity going forward.
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.