The Indianapolis Colts have done a solid job at acquiring young talent in recent years.
While some of those players have made an instant impact — like the Quenton Nelsons and Darius Leonards of the world — other players obviously take time to develop.
In 2021, the Colts could begin seeing some big dividends paid their way on behalf of the young players in which they've invested.
Whether it's due to health, opportunity, or talent and potential, these guys could be in position for a breakout this upcoming season.
WR Michael Pittman Jr.
Pittman's play as a rookie in 2020 left plenty of reason for optimism in 2021. With size, speed and hands, he's a reliable target who can win in contested-catch situations and also create yards after the catch. As a result, he was the Colts' third-most-targeted wide receiver despite missing three games with a leg injury.
With a full offseason under his belt where he got to focus on already being a professional football player rather than preparing for pre-draft events, progress seems imminent in both Pittman's play and role in the offense.
The common expectation is that Pittman may grab the Colts' WR1 role by the season's end.
WR Parris Campbell
This is all about health. We've seen that Campbell is electric with the ball in his hands, but he's got to be available in order to get the ball. He's missed 23 out of a possible 32 games through two seasons with freak injuries including a sports hernia, foot, knee, and hand ailments.
As a multi-purpose weapon in the nine games in which he has appeared, he averages 8.3 yards per touch offensively and 25.0 as a kick returner.
Campbell appears to be a huge piece of the Colts offense, so the opportunity is there in 2021 if he can stay healthy.
DE Kwity Paye
Rookie defensive linemen don't always earn starting spots right away but it looks like the Colts might throw their first-round pick into the fire. As long as he holds up and earns it in training camp, Paye seems to be slated to start as the Colts' right end, meaning his primary focus will likely be rushing the passer.
Paye is also a quality run defender who can move inside on certain downs, and with his frame, strength, and energy, the Colts can use him in a multitude of ways. He's a rookie, so he gets a pass on some things while he develops, but in the Colts' specific defensive scheme, Paye is set up to make plenty of plays.
DE Tyquan Lewis
Lewis' career has followed an interesting pattern, and if it stays true then 2021 is slated to be a big year for him.
As a rookie in 2018, Lewis started six games and had 2.0 sacks and 3 tackles for loss, but then he fell off a cliff in 2019, starting zero games, registering 0 sacks and just 1 tackle for loss. He bounced back in 2020 by starting four games and posting career highs in tackles (24), sacks (4.0), tackles for loss (8), and pass breakups (2).
In 2021, the starting left end spot might just be Lewis' to lose. If he's a full-time starter and continues to develop as a player then there's no reason why his number won't get even better.
DE Kemoko Turay
Turay is a popular breakout candidate every offseason, and for good reason. He had 4.0 sacks as a rookie in 2018 and was on a tear in his second season in 2019 before suffering a devastating injury. In Week 5, Turay fractured his ankle and was put out for the remainder of the season, but before the injury, he was Pro Football Focus' best-graded edge rusher in the entire NFL with a grade of 91.3.
Turay returned in 2020 to play in eight games (including the postseason), but he did not look like himself. He underwent a cleanup procedure on the ankle this offseason and is said to be in a much better position now than he was last year.
If Turay is able to put the injury behind him and get back to where he was before the injury, then the Colts have a solid designated pass rusher in their midst.
LB Bobby Okereke
With former starting MIKE linebacker Anthony Walker departing in free agency, the door is open for Okereke to earn even more snaps. Okereke began overtaking Walker last year, but Walker still played 715 defensive snaps compared to Okereke's 728. That 728 is now slated to grow.
In Walker's role full time, Okereke could put up some big numbers considering he's rangier and more athletic. Over the last three years, Walker averaged 107 tackles (6 for loss) and totaled 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumbles recovered, 3 interceptions, and 11 pass breakups.
While Walker is a more cerebral player than Okereke at this point, the latter is still plenty wise, and his athleticism should help allow him to rival or better Walker's numbers.
S Julian Blackmon
Blackmon wasn't supposed to be a heavy contributor to the Colts' defense early last year as a rookie, but a season-ending injury to starting free safety Malik Hooker made Blackmon a starter by Week 2. However, Blackmon was recovering from his own significant injury as he tore an ACL at the end of his college season.
The injury appeared to be irrelevant as Blackmon put himself in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation in the first half of the season. He finished the year with 2 interceptions and 1 forced fumble, and between those three forced turnovers, all three occurred in the fourth quarter or overtime with the Colts tied or protecting a lead. He also had a tipped pass that a fellow Colts defender was able to intercept.
In 2021, Blackmon is no longer recovering from a knee injury, and he is not preparing for the NFL Draft. It's a 100% healthy Blackmon with a full season of growth under his belt. If people thought he was good as a rookie, he should be an even bigger difference-maker this season.
What do you think of these players breaking out? Drop your thoughts below in the comment section!