32 NFL Teams in 32 Days: Colts Need a Healthy Anthony Richardson

Welcome to 32 teams in 32 days. To get us through the offseason, we’ll be taking a closer look at every team in the NFL, in order of projected 2024 win totals. Up next: the Colts.

The Indianapolis Colts fell short of making the postseason, but they gained so much more with the duo of quarterback Anthony Richardson and coach Shane Steichen quickly proving themselves last season.

The Colts were one of the surprise teams of 2023, coming within a win of capturing the AFC South crown. For the first time since Andrew Luck retired, the Colts finally have the pieces to turn into a perennial winner because of what Richardson displayed as a rookie and what Steichen managed to produce after his quarterback sustained a season-ending shoulder injury.

Richardson still has to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season, but the flashes on the field made it evident that the Colts might have a budding star at the most critical position. Indianapolis made sure to retain Richardson’s top target after agreeing to a contract extension with wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. this offseason. The team also provided Richardson with another weapon after selecting wide receiver Adonai Mitchell in the second round.

The Colts used their first-round pick on edge rusher Laiatu Latu to provide help for their stout interior defensive line featuring DeForest Buckner. With a balanced roster, the Colts could capture the AFC South and possibly not have to sweat with a winner-take-all Week 18 matchup, which was the case last season during the heartbreaker at home against the Houston Texans.

Biggest gamble this offseason: Using a first-round pick on Latu

32 nfl teams in 32 days: colts need a healthy anthony richardson

Latu had 23.5 sacks and 34 tackles for loss in his final two collegiate seasons at UCLA. | Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Colts GM Chris Ballard was ecstatic when he saw every defensive prospect still available when his team was on the clock with the No. 15 pick in the draft. That tells you how highly Ballard and the Colts thought of Latu, making him the first defensive player selected in the draft. But it’s somewhat of a red flag that many teams favored offensive players with no can’t-miss prospects on defense. Latu’s serious neck injury at Washington before transferring to UCLA might have prevented him from being a top-10 pick.

The Colts have been missing a star edge rusher for years, and the gamble could pay off based on the monster numbers Latu put up in his final two collegiate seasons (23.5 sacks, 34 tackles for loss). If Latu stays healthy, he could quickly push edge rushers Kwity Paye and Samson Ebukam for snaps on game days.

Toughest stretch of the season: Weeks 8 to 12

The Colts will get an early opportunity to avenge their Week 18 loss to the Texans, which cost them the AFC South title and a playoff spot. The two divisional rivals will clash in Indianapolis to kick off the 2024 season and face each other again with a Week 8 matchup in Houston. The second meeting will be the start of a grueling five-game stretch for the Colts, who will also face the Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Detroit Lions. Indy will be the road team against the Vikings and Jets. These five games could determine whether the Colts make the playoffs after falling short last season.

Breakout player to watch: LT Bernhard Raimann 

The Colts found a gem in Raimann, the Austrian who established himself as a reliable starting left tackle last season. The 2022 third-round pick found his footing after an up-and-down rookie season with 11 starts. Rainmann should continue ascending during his third season and could end up being named a Pro Bowler at the end of the year. He’s a polished pass protector and took many steps forward as a run blocker last season. The Colts could have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, which could pave the way for Richardson delivering a breakout season of his own.

Best-case scenario: Richardson stays healthy

Richardson played only four games last season and struggled to finish games due to multiple injuries. The Colts have a tricky dilemma because they need to find a balance for utilizing Richardson’s athleticism while also keeping him healthy. Perhaps limiting the designed runs and allowing Richardson to grow as a pocket passer could benefit the team in the long run.

The Colts would be thrilled to see Richardson completing downfield passes to Pittman, Josh Downs, Alec Pierce and Mitchell, along with star running back Jonathan Taylor handling the ground game. Steichen showed last season he’s a coach on the rise and a creative play-caller, so he wouldn’t be handcuffed if Richardson was utilized less in the running game during his second season. Do Richardson and Steichen have what it takes to turn the Colts’ offense into a high-scoring machine en route to a postseason appearance? They have the offensive line and skill players to do it.

Worst-case scenario: Colts have mediocre season with QB rotation 

The Colts do have many playmakers, but they might be missing a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver. There could be a case made for Pittman, but what if he and Richardson struggle to get on the same page after getting so few reps together last season? Richardson will need to improve as a passer to get all of his receivers involved and that, obviously, requires him to stay healthy. The Colts protected themselves by signing Joe Flacco, who saved the Browns’ season in 2023 after a wave of injuries to their quarterbacks.

But maybe the Colts get the Flacco who struggled with the Jets and Denver Broncos. It’s not a guarantee the 39-year-old catches lighting in a bottle again. And if Richardson deals with injuries again, the organization might begin to wonder whether it was the right decision to select him No. 4 in the 2023 draft.

Head coach-quarterback tandem ranking

No. 26: Steichen (21) and Richardson (25)

Steichen was a win away from winning the AFC South despite only four starts from Richardson. The big question is whether Richardson can stay healthy and benefit from a solid supporting cast including receivers Pittman and Downs, along with Taylor at running back. —Matt Verderame

Fantasy pick: Richardson

Richardson will be on almost every fantasy analyst’s breakout list. He was on his way to busting out last year, averaging more than 22 points in his first three games. Unfortunately, he missed the remainder of the season with an injured shoulder. He is expected to be fine for the start of training camp (fingers crossed), so his breakout season is on the horizon. —Michael Fabiano

Best bet: Pittman over 950.5 receiving yards (-110) at DraftKings

Pittman has exceeded this mark in two of four seasons, including last season when he was catching passes mostly from Gardner Minshew. He was the alpha in this offense with a 33% air yard share and 30% target share in 2023. There’s no reason to think that changes with a healthy Richardson, who targeted him an average of nine times per game in his four healthy starts last season. —Jennifer Piacenti

Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.

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This article was originally published on www.si.com as 32 NFL Teams in 32 Days: Colts Need a Healthy Anthony Richardson.

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