The Indianapolis Colts defense had a strong year in 2020, despite some inconsistencies in many key areas. The two main concerns last year were the lack of a consistent edge rush and the struggles at the second outside cornerback position.
With edge rush being addressed in the draft with Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo, the main focus of concern for the defense has shifted to the cornerback spot.
The Colts have three, technically four, players vying for that starting spot this offseason. In today's film room, I'm going to give the case for each player and then make my decision for who I would go with to start the year.
Making the Case for Rock Ya-Sin
The most polarizing player on the Colts roster is easily Rock Ya-Sin. Some think that he is a perfectly capable starting corner while others think he should be out of the league. I think the answer, like with most things, lies in the middle.
I broke down Ya-Sin's highs and lows in an article for Stampede Blue prior to joining Sports Illustrated. He is an excellent zone corner, who actually allowed a negative EPA per play when targeted in zone in 2020.
When he is able to get his eyes on the quarterback and stick in his zone assignments, he plays confidently. He doesn't get himself in the bad situations that we saw hurt him last year. His interception in zone against the Green Bay Packers last year was one of the best defensive plays by the team.
The issues come in man coverage, particularly in press. Ya-Sin is struggling big time with his hands early in reps, and the result is bad penalties down the field. He also needs to drastically improve his ball tracking. His 15 penalties over the last two seasons are the most by a Colts' defender.
He needs to improve at the line of scrimmage. If he can work on his hands and learn to stop panicking when the ball is in the air, he can be a good cornerback in this league.
Ya-Sin should be the favorite to start week one this year on the outside. If he can't improve on these major weaknesses and show something positive in camp though, these other players will have a window to take that starting spot.
Making the Case for Marvell Tell III
Tell III is the most interesting player in this roster battle. After a promising rookie season in 2019, Tell III opted out of 2020 due to concerns over Covid-19. As he heads into his third NFL season, it is hard to gauge where he is at as a player.
Tell III is an elite athlete who flashed high level ability as a rookie. This clip was my personal favorite, as he pinches the receiver to the sidelines and gets the nice pass breakup. Full showcase of his length and athleticism on this play.
He was one of the better tackling cornerbacks in the league as a rookie as well. He didn't miss one tackle on the season and even forced a big fumble against the Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Colts do opt to start him, they certainly wouldn't be losing anything in the physicality department.
Tell III wasn't perfect as a rookie, he did allow a passer rating of 111.2 in coverage, but if he took the past year to improve his craft, he could be a surprise this year. He has the traits to be a legit starter in the league.
Making the Case for T.J Carrie
One of the more pleasant surprises of the 2020 season was T.J Carrie. While he wasn't a star by any means, he was able to give the Colts quality snaps in a pinch throughout the season.
Carrie may not have elite traits or be a promising young corner, but he is a steady veteran presence who does a lot of things right. He can also play in the slot or on the outside which adds a lot to what he can do for the team.
When Ya-Sin's struggles became too much for the Colts last year, Carrie was able to fill in a play at a solid level. He allowed a passer rating of just 80.2 in coverage and had two interceptions to go along with six pass deflections on the year.
The best part of his game is how aggressive he was playing the ball from his zone drop. He has excellent anticipation and this allows him to play fast downhill to get pass deflections. Look at how smooth this transition is out of his break.
He wasn't perfect by any means but he is a great fallback option to have if the young corners don't step up. He is a capable veteran who plays aggressive and downhill. The perfect type of veteran to have in a youthful secondary.
Making the Case for Isaiah Rodgers
While this is the toughest case to make, I am woefully optimistic about the future for Isaiah Rodgers. On only eight targets in coverage last year, Rodgers had two pass breakups. His athleticism and movement ability is rare and potentially the best among the defensive back group (behind Kenny Moore II that is).
Rodgers likely isn't ready for starting reps just yet, but I do think his rookie season has earned him more snaps on defense in 2021. He just moves so effortlessly. This near interception in the playoffs is more absurd every time I watch it.
The year for Rodgers to start isn't 2021 but I am too optimistic about his future to not mention him in this article.
Final Thoughts + Who I Would Start
This one is tough for me. At the moment, I am going to go with Rock Ya-Sin starting with Marvell Tell III and T.J. Carrie eating into a good bit of the snaps.
Ya-Sin has put together good stretches in the NFL but he needs a strong offseason to build on going into his third year. The hope is he has a good training camp, and the addition of James Rowe as the new DB Coach works wonders for his game.
I could see any of Carrie, Ya-Sin, or Tell III being the starter come week one. It will ultimately come down to who performs in practice and in the offseason camps. I am going with Ya-Sin for now but this competition is one of the more important ones for this team heading into 2021.
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.