After a 10-6 finish to the 2010 regular season, some may say the Colts are slipping. After all, Peyton Manning wasn't quite as perfect as fans have been accustomed to as the Colts dropped close games to Dallas, New England, and Philadelphia as well as being blown out by San Diego. Not to say Peyton Manning is in decline, because by all means he is still one of the best two quarterbacks in the game today. Most of the blame for Indianapolis' problems can be placed at the foot of their stagnant running game (92.7 rush yards/game, ranked 29th in the league), a weak defensive front (allowed 127 rush yards/game), and the injury bug. The Colts face another dilemma with running back Joseph Addai, tackle Charlie Johnson, safeties Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt, linebacker Clint Session, and kicker Adam Vinatieri all set to reach free agency. If I were running the Colts I'd make retaining Bullitt, Session, and Bethea the biggest priorities, because while Johnson, Addai, and Vinatieri are all solid players, they are not irreplaceable. Below are the team's biggest areas of need.
After yet another injury plagued season, the Colts decided to cut ties with Bob Sanders, which leaves the team with a pretty big hole to fill at strong safety. The Colts should be set with Jacob Lacey and Kelvin Hayden at cornerback and Antoine Bethea starting at free safety, but last season the Colts' passing defense was simply middle-of-the-road. They can live with this assuming Lacey continues to improve, but if they want to keep their secondary from becoming liability they must use an early draft pick on nabbing a safety. Rahim Moore could be a target late in round one, but with the 22nd overall pick it's not prime value and the Colts tend to use their first rounders on offensive linemen and pass rushers anyways. They'll have virtually no chance of obtaining Moore in the second round without a trade, so I mocked the Colts Oklahoma's Quinton Carter in the second round of my 2011 NFL mock draft.
After allowing the eighth-highest game average for rushing yards on defense (127), 14 rushing touchdowns, and over 2,000 total rushing yards (only seven other teams did this, none of them made the playoffs), the Colts need to get tougher up the middle of their front seven. Assuming they keep Robert Mathis, the Colts will have one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the league, but that won't be able to cover up the miserable performance they've had at defensive tackle. 3-year pro Fili Moala has impressed coaches and shown some progression, but they could still use an upgrade over Daniel Muir.
Not as urgent of a need as other areas of the roster, but nonetheless a hole that will present itself in the near future. Reggie Wayne is playing as well as ever but the 32-year old won't be around forever. Pierre Garcon has established himself as a viable option for Peyton Manning, but Austin Collie is a concussion magnet and if he were to go down again in 2012 Manning's next best target is Blair White. It may have worked out well last year, but the Colts do need to find a guy they can groom as the next No. 1 wideout in Indy.
The Colts had the best pass-blocking offensive line in the league last season, giving up a league-best 16 sacks. However, Charlie Johnson could possibly leave through free agency and they could stand to improve at the guard position. Because pass blocking is a big strength for this unit, I'd expect their biggest targets in this draft to be good run-blockers who can create holes and open lanes for Joseph Addai. Even though the Colts are a passing team, it doesn't mean they can neglect the ground game. Finally, center Jeff Saturday is 35, and while his on-field play certainly doesn't merit a replacement, the Colts need depth at the position. Saturday won't be around much longer, but more importantly the Colts don't even have somebody behind him on the depth chart. If not an eventual successor, Indy at least needs to find a capable backup in the draft this year as an insurance policy.