3 Colts with Most to Prove in 2024

The Indianapolis Colts have plenty of young talent on the roster, putting pressure on others to step up.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Jelani Woods (80) is wrapped up by a Los Angeles Chargers defender as he secures a first down Monday, Dec. 26, 2022, during a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Jelani Woods (80) is wrapped up by a Los Angeles Chargers defender as he secures a first down Monday, Dec. 26, 2022, during a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. / Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY
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The Indianapolis Colts are a team to watch for the 2024 season. With head coach Shane Steichen at the helm and quarterback Anthony Richardson returning from a season-ending shoulder injury, hopes are high within the walls of Indy's organization. Also, the 2024 NFL Draft brought the Colts names like defensive end Laiatu Latu and wide receiver Adonai Mitchell, among others, which adds more firepower to help Indianapolis reach the playoffs and continue with a winning record under Steichen.

However, while the energy is at an all-time high, certain names must step up their game in 2024. Whether due to a draft pick, prior performances, or too much depth, these three Colts mainstays have to show out. If they don't their future in Indianapolis could become a question mark.

Samson Ebukam | Defensive End

Colts defender Samson Ebukam celebrates after a big play while wearing a blue jersey with white helmet/pants..
Sep 17, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Indianapolis Colts defensive end Samson Ebukam (52) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Colts defensive end Samson Ebukam was acquired last season during free agency on a three-year, $24 million deal, per Over The Cap. After serving as mostly a rotational end for the Los Angeles Rams (2017-2020) and San Francisco 49ers (2021-2022), Ebukam joined the Colts as a starter.

Ebukam capitalized on the opportunity, notching career highs in sacks (9.5 - led Colts), tackles (57), tackles for loss (10), and quarterback hits (17). Ebukam was also a menace of QB pressure, ranking second on Indy (48) to defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (52) per Pro Football Focus. With such excellent metrics, why does Ebukam even make this list? The answer is simple, Latu's drafting.

While Ebukam is a fantastic edition (especially for the cost), Latu is a potential generational pass-rusher who will likely take snaps away from Ebukam, not Kwity Paye or Dayo Odeyingbo. The two defenders above are 25 (Paye) and 24 (Odeyingo) years old, while Ebukam is a veteran at 29 and could have already hit his ceiling. Also, Indy decided to take Paye's fifth-year option, and Odeyingbo is coming off a career year like Ebukam. This all while having first and second-round investment tags (both drafted in 2022). One more reason is that Latu plays Ebukam's style of defensive end more closely than Paye, who is more of a run-defending specialist than a big-time sack artist. Latu also can defend the ground attack well, accompanying his phenomenal pass-rushing prowess perfectly.

Latu still has to prove he's got the chops to succeed in the NFL, but the former UCLA Bruin was selected strategically by Indianapolis and fits beautifully with the rest of a solid defensive front. If he tees off in year one, Ebukam could be looking from the outside in sooner rather than later unless he continues elevating his play approaching 30 years old.  

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Rodney Thomas II | Safety

Multiple Colts players celebrate a turnover while wearing white uniforms with blue trim.
Nov 12, 2023; Frankfurt, Germany; Indianapolis Colts safety Rodney Thomas II (25) celebrates after intercepting the ball against the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter during an International Series game at Deutsche Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

After taking the Indianapolis defense by storm in 2022 as a seventh-round rookie out of Yale, Rodney Thomas II appeared like a player who could be a future starter. That year, he compiled 52 tackles, six passes defended, and a team-leading four interceptions. 2023 was a promising year for Thomas, but instead, the wheels completely fell off.

After a promising beginning, Thomas's performance vanished at times on the field. Thomas missed 10 tackles per PFF and had multiple gaffs in pre-snap communication defensively. This showed on the field with a mediocre 48.1 run defense grade and 21.2 yards per catch allowed (12 receptions on 20 targets).

Thomas has a slim chance with fellow safety Nick Cross being unestablished as a permanent solution, but he has to act in 2024. If Cross can even show a shred of the potential that convinced Indianapolis to trade up to secure him in the 2022 draft, Thomas could be relegated to backup or further. If this happens and/or Indy decides to sign a free agent, Thomas may be an afterthought soon after.

Jelani Woods | Tight End

Colts tight end Jelani Woods battles for a catch against a defender (black/yellow) wearing a blue jersey and white helmet.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Jelani Woods (80) goes up for a catch in front of Indianapolis Colts cornerback Darrell Baker Jr. (39) on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. / Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY

When the Colts selected Virginia tight end Jelani Woods in the third round (73rd overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft, the athleticism and size erupted off the page for the massive pass-catcher. When Woods was selected in 2022, Relative Athletic Score ranked him as the all-time most athletic tight end taken since 1987

While standing at 6'7" and weighing around 260 pounds, Woods was abnormally quick and agile for a player of that frame. Right away, glimpses of what could be were seen in his rookie campaign. That year Woods only caught 25 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns, but the general state of Indy's franchise was insane, with firings, drama, and awful play calling being the norm.

2023 had 'breakout' written all over it for Woods, especially with Richardson throwing him the ball and Steichen coming from coaching Philadelphia Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert. Sadly, Woods struggled with hamstring issues that scratched his sophomore season. Kylen Granson, Mo Alie-Cox, and Will Mallory formed a tight-end tandem to help fill the void from Woods's injury.

However, this is why the pressure is on Woods. Through two seasons he's barely been seen and now has a hamstring injury history to add to the ambiguity. It's fair to assume Granson isn't a top-level option and Alie-Cox is a blocking/red zone specialist, but a player like Mallory makes this intriguing. If Mallory can continue to elevate his blocking ability and be trusted for more snaps, his ceiling is the next highest behind Woods. While Indy likely wants Woods to be their TE1, Mallory could be someone to watch as a player who inches his way up the depth chart in a crowded position room.

Woods has sky-high potential just like his field general Richardson, but also similar to Richardson is the fact that injury is already an issue and has hampered the early stages of his pro career. The hope is that not only will Woods keep away the injury bug, but also that he'll blossom into a full-fledged starting tight end that Steichen hasn't had since leaving Philly.

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Drake Wally


Drake Wally covers the Indianapolis Colts at Horseshoe Huddle and co-hosts the Horseshoe Huddle Podcast.