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09. State of the Colts – Inside Linebacker
 

Posted By: sherck

Outside Linebackers on the 2017 Roster:
 
  $0.669m cap hit / 22 years old / Antonio Morrison
  $0.540m cap hit / 25 years old / Edwin Jackson
  $0.540m cap hit / ?? years old / Luke Rhodes
 
  Josh McNary is an RFA and would cost around $1.750m to retain for 2017.
 
  Antonio Morrison
 
  In the first 12 games of his rookie season (where he played Special Teams with spot duty at ILB), he totaled 20 tackles. In the final 4 games in which he started due to D’Q Jackson’s suspension, he totaled 32 tackles or an average of 8.0 per game. The pure numbers look solid for ILB but he also recorded 0 Passes Defended and 0 INT for the season and I can remember thinking to myself “he is just not starter material.”
 
  In the last four games of the season with Morrison starting in place of D’Q Jackson, the Colts defense gave up:
 
  20.3 points per game………season average of giving up 24.5 points per game / that looks good
  382.8 yards per game……..season average of giving up 382.9 yards per game / that looks solid as well
  230.0 passing ypg……………season average of giving up 262.5 passing ypg / wow, perhaps he is a stud!
  152.8 rushing ypg……………season average of giving up 120.4 rushing ypg / oh, right. He sucks.
 
  Now, I begin to remember thinking that he just cannot meet the runner in the hole. Many of his tackles seemed to me to be of the variety of hitting the guy 4 years downfield from an angle and then getting drug another 2 yards for the “tackle.”
 
  Only 20 rookie defenders had more tackles than Morrison did this season so there is something to be said for a 4th round draft pick who did not start early getting that many tackles. There were only 4 rookies at MLB or ILB that got more tackles than he did…..Morrison was the 9th ILB taken in the 2016 NFL draft (2 of those ahead of him in tackles were drafted before him, 2 on the list ahead of him in tackles were drafted lower than him).
 
  I have no idea what the Colts have in Morrison. Perhaps he can make a 2nd year jump and become a solid starting ILB in 2017.
 
  His NFL draft profile reminds me of what there is to like about him but also what there is not:
  [quote] Ultra competitive with unmatched intensity. Alpha male in the locker room who teammates gravitate toward. Work ethic on full display as he recovered from a severe knee injury two to three months ahead of schedule and in time for start of the season. Plus lateral quickness. Has burst to beat offensive lineman to a spot. Not content to sit back and wait on a play. Always in attack mode. Uses explosive hips to launch into his tackles with as much force as he can. Can turn, swivel and close ground with good change of direction. Was one of the best tackle finishers in the game in 2014. Plays with extraordinary balance and is very rarely off his feet. Used as an effective spy vs. mobile quarterbacks. Could become interesting blitz option as a pro. Refuses to stop pursuing until he hears the whistle.
 
  "Write him up however you want, but he's a two-down MIKE linebacker who is tough as hell and a good football player. I worry much less about his 'negatives' than I do with what he can do." -- AFC general manager
 
  Glass eater who will be the first in line to battle. Morrison's leadership, toughness and aggressiveness will be exactly what NFL teams want, but his lack of instincts and size are barriers that may always hinder his pro potential. After his knee injury, Morrison's athleticism wasn't quite where it was in 2014 so he might be at full strength by 2016. Morrison may be too tight to play outside linebacker in a 4-¬3 and lacking the instincts to play in the middle. His best fit could be as the WILB in a 3¬-4 where he figures to be an eventual starter.
 
  Pick Analysis: This two-time second-team All-SEC pick is undersized, but extremely productive; he hit triple digits in tackles in 2014 (101) and 2015 (103, leading the team), and doubled his impact in the backfield between those two seasons, going from six to 12 tackles for loss. The fact he played at all this fall was a tribute to his work ethic, as he came back from undergoing multiple surgeries on his left knee to repair an injury from the 2014 Birmingham Bowl. However, teams will have to check into his background due to two arrests (punching bouncer, barking at a police dog/resisting arrest) within five weeks in the summer of 2013. If he can convince general managers that his hard times are behind him, they'll bank on his talent. [/quote]
 
  It sounds like he is the 2-down run stopper every defense needs but yet our defense with him in gave up 30 yards more rushing yards per game than we had with D’Q in there. Granted, it is unfair to compare a rookie to a 10 year veteran but if he cannot do the one thing he is supposed to excel at…. ?
 
  Edwin Jackson
 
  Walk on at Georgia Southern. UDFA who was waived in the final cut down to 53 in 2015 with the Arizona Cardinals. Was not on an NFL squad for all of 2015 and was signed by the Colts at the end of the season in 2015 and was on the active roster for all of 2016.
 
  It was a revolving door for the Colts in 2016 to find someone to start next to D’Q Jackson. It started when the Colts let Jerrell Freeman walk in free agency, then cut Nate Irving following the preseason, then cut Sio Moore after week four. Josh McNary got the first shot at replacing Moore as he started the next three games, but after that, the Colts transitioned to Edwin Jackson as their starter.
 
  Prior to earning his start against KC, he recorded 7 tackles in 7 games. In his final 9 games of the season, he recorded 59 tackles in nine games (averaging 6.6 per game). He recorded 4 tackles a piece in his first two games starting (KC and GB) and then recorded 7, 7, 7, 10, 7, 7, 6 in the final seven games of the season. He recorded 2.0 sacks in his nine games as a starter but was mostly known as a run stuffer.
 
  Another way to think about this, Jackson’s 66 tackles was 16th among all 2nd year defensive players and 9th among 2nd year linebackers. Of those eight LBs who had more tackles, only one other LB started less than 11 games this season (Joe Thomas, GB, 70 tackles, 7 starts). When he was given the opportunity, he produced.
 
  Jackson also recorded 0 Passes Defended and 0 INTs. And that, is the problem.
 
  Both Jackson and Morrison appear to me to be the same player; a 2-down run stopper who has very limited coverage skills. I cannot find any draft profiles about Jackson that do more than just list his pro-day workouts (30 reps on 225lb bench. Wow, not bad for an ILB!) because he was not invited to the NFL Combine nor was he expected to be drafted. All the summaries of his college career indicate that he made a butt-ton of tackles but made almost no mention of any coverage accomplishments or skills.
 
  We appear to have two run thumpers that cannot cover my grandmother running a drag across the field.
 
  Jackson is cheap and matured as the season went by. He is certainly worth keeping on the roster and, hopefully, being replaced as a starter by either a top rookie pick or a veteran UFA.
 
  Luke Rhodes
 
  2016 UDFA from William & Mary. Signed with TB after the draft and was cut on the 3rd of September (final 53 man cuts). Signed with Indy on the 5th of October and signed to the 53 man active roster on the 7th of December following D’Q Jackson’s suspension.
 
  No NFL Stats.
 
  From his NFL.com Draft Profile:
  [quote] Rhodes is just one of 11 players in William & Mary history to be selected as a two-time team captain. He finished his career ranked fifth in school history in tackles (341). He earned all-conference honors in each of his four seasons.
 
  Pro Day Results:
  40-yard dash: 4.71 seconds
  Vertical: 35 inches
  Broad jump: 9 feet, 10 inches
  Short shuttle: 4.32 seconds
  3-cone: 7.13 seconds
  Bench: 29 reps of 225 pounds
  Strengths
  Outstanding, athletic build with good muscular definition throughout. Former high school running back who possesses some straight line speed. Vocal leader elected captain two years in a row. Has strength to hold his ground in the hole. Plays with awareness in pass coverage. Stuffs cut attempts and continues his flow.
  Weaknesses
  Runaway freight train once he gets to top speed. Too stiff to stop suddenly and change directions. Missing agility to make tackles at challenging angles consistently. Too much time wasted on keys and takes too long to find the ball. Will flow past his run fit at times. Needs to improve hands to be better as take¬-on linebacker. Doesn't play the game downhill enough.
  Bottom Line
  Big, athletic build, but plays with a lack of bend and marginal instincts for the middle. Rhodes does a decent job of handling himself in pass coverage, but will need to work on his hands and approach to the run game if he wants to make a team. His special teams play in pre¬season might be the key to giving him a shot.[/quote]
 
  Pretty much a JAG, IMO but does have the one line of “plays with awareness in pass coverage” which is SORELY lacking in our other ILBs on the roster.
 
  Josh McNary
 
  Please do not re-sign him to an RFA tag. He is not worth it.
 
  2017 OUTLOOK:
 
  Our defense could probably survive the year if we upgrade one ILB position to someone who is an all-around complete player and then had to start either Jackson or Morrison at the other spot. Rhodes appears to have the possibility of a 3rd down coverage ILB but is easily replaceable. You cannot rebuild Rome in a day.
 
  The UFA ILB market has a few interesting names in it but for the most part is thin:
 
  3-4 defense ILBs:
 
  27 years old / 147 tackles / 4 sacks / 7 QB Hits / 2 FF / 04 PD / 1 IN / Zach Brown, BUF
  26 years old / 084 tackles / 3 sacks / 4 QB Hits / 1 FF / 02 PD / 2 INT / Gerald Hodges, SF
  28 years old / 083 tackles / 1 sacks / 3 QB Hits / 1 FF / 05 PD / 1 INT / Nick Bellore, SF
  26 years old / 082 tackles / 4 sacks / 7 QB Hits / 0 FF / 04 PD / 0 INT / Kevin Minter, ARI
  27 years old / 065 tackles / 3 sacks / 7 QB Hits / 1 FF / 02 PD / 0 INT / Don’t’a Hightower, NE
 
  4-3 defense MLBs:
 
  28 years old / 082 tackles / 0 sacks / 1 QB Hits / 0 FF / 07 PD / 0 INT / Keenan Robinson, NYG
  28 years old / 054 tackles / 3 sacks / 5 QB Hits / 1 FF / 03 PD / 0 INT / Sean Spence, TEN
 
  Zach Brown is obviously the most interesting name since he killed it this year with 147 tackles this season. In his previous 3 non-injured seasons (he was out in 2014), he recorded 93, 91 and 77 tackles so him doing well was not unusual but he obviously put it all together with BUF in 2016. It was also his transition from the TEN 4-3 MLB slot to the BUF 3-4 ILB slot and it is interesting to wonder if that duties / responsibilities change accounted for his large tackle number.
 
  In addition, Brown has always been solid / good in coverage recording an average of 4 PD and 2 INT for the 4 seasons he has played. He also adds some QB pressure presence with a total of 14 sacks in his 4 seasons. Overall, he is an all-around ILB that the Colts needs.
 
  BUF does have $25m in free cap space (about $17m usable to sign free agents) but also has a pretty long list of starters that they need to make decisions about including: CB Stephon Gilmore, WR Robert Woods, ROT Jordan Mills, OLB Lorenzo Alexander, WR Marquise Goodwin and ILB Zach Brown in addition to injured WR Percy Harvin and backup QB E.J. Manuel. They can open $6.8m in cap space by cutting DT Kyle Williams and $3.7m by cutting FS Corey Graham but there is not much other cap space that can be freed up without re-structuring contracts. There is a good change that some of their free agents are going to hit the open market and we can hope that the likes of Gilmore, Brown or Mills might be available in addition to perhaps Williams or Graham.
 
  SF is in great cap space with $81m in free space so if they want to re-sign both of their ILBs, they can.
 
  ILB has to get a new starter; if we go into 2017 with Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison as our starters, then we will be vulnerable in the middle on every down. We cannot play nickel every down.
 
  OLB is still more critical, IMO because there are very few options to sign someone in free agency to fill the void. If the Colts choose to re-sign Erik Walden (which will be for too much but there is not much else out there) then I would probably be good with using our 1st round draft pick on OLB[Rush] and then wait until the 4th round before picking another OLB to develop.
 
  However, if we do not re-sign Walden, then I think we would need to use two of our top three picks on OLB to include our 1st round on OLB[RUSH].
 
  That would leave using the other of our 2nd or 3rd round pick on ILB with coverage skills to pair with Jackson / Morrison in the middle for 2017. Add a D-Lineman in free agency (hopefully 0-Tech) along with one of the 4th round picks (5-Tech) and our defensive front-7 will have gotten a pretty good overhaul in one year.
 
  Next Up, Cornerback.
 
  Cheers,...
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