KRAVITZ: ESPN says the Colts are the worst team in football, and they’re not far from being right

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich, center, poses with owner Jim Irsay, left, and general manager Chris Ballard after he was introduced at the team's new had football coach during a press conference in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. (AP Phot
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Bob Kravitz

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - ESPN.com just came out with its way-too-early power rankings for the upcoming NFL season, and guess what?

The Indianapolis Colts were ranked 32nd. Dead last. Worse, even, than the eternally decrepit Cleveland Browns who took the wrong quarterback at No. 1 and passed on pass rusher Bradley Chubb with the fourth pick because, well, they’re the Browns. This ranking was released after the free agency grab bag and after the NFL Draft, so suffice to say, the 80 ESPN folks who had input on the list were not impressed – and I can't blame them.

Now, I'm going to go out on a shaky limb here and suggest the Colts will, in fact, be better than the Browns next year, at least assuming that Andrew Luck will be full-go by August 1 and will remain fully healthy for the entirety of the season. His presence alone should – emphasis on should – mean at least five or six victories. When healthy, and he hasn't been for what seems like an eternity, Luck patches over flaws throughout the roster, something we saw his first three seasons when the Colts went 11-5 all three years. But this roster right now? Blecccch.

So what I'm saying is, while the Colts won't be worse than the Browns, who will not win five or six games, they won't leave the Browns in the dust, either. For all the hopeful patter about the new coaches and new schemes and new players, the truth of the matter is, this isn't a particularly good team, and it's one that will surely finish last in the AFC South.

Look, I hate going negative on you a full three months before the Colts show up to training camp in Grand Park, but unless this is the greatest draft class in history, the Colts will be hard-pressed to sniff anything close to .500 next year. I'm not a huge proponent of spending silly money on big-name free agents, but if the idea is to take a step forward after last year's debacle, it's hard to imagine how this group is going to make some kind of a significant difference. General manager Chris Ballard has talked about fiscal discipline, about waiting until the home-grown Colts come of age before dipping deeply into the free-agent market, but the Colts did next to nothing.

Seriously, Eric Ebron is the biggest name the Colts added, and he’s a guy who was so loathed in Detroit because of his granite hands, fans there booed him when he dropped the ball and gave him the Bronx cheer when he caught it. Last month, he told the local media he was looking forward to working with Luck, a quarterback who could get him the football, which raised this question: When did Matt Stafford turn into a slug?

Are you excited about defensive end Denico Autry? Wide receiver Ryan Grant? Cornerback Kenneth Acker? Offensive lineman Matt Slauson? Outside linebacker Najee Goode?

I didn't think so.

Now, maybe they’ll be like the Indiana Pacers, who were supposed to win 30 games this past year and ended up winning 48 and taking the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

Naaah.

The Colts trotted out a handful of players Tuesday for media availability – Grant, Nate Hairston, Chester Rogers and T.J. Green – and they all talked about the new coaches and the new scheme. It scares me when we start talking about coaches and schemes because it fails to acknowledge the most important element in a good football team: Players. The Colts don't have enough of them. Ballard talked before the Draft about wanting to add players who opposing coaches lose sleep over, guys who demand that you game plan to stop them.

Who do the Colts have?

They have Luck.

They have T.Y. Hilton.

They have... welp, that's about it.

They had one of the league's worst offenses and defenses last year, and they've done very little to improve on either side of the football.

People continually ask me, "So what did you think of the Draft?" And I have to be honest: I like the fact they chose two offensive linemen near the top of the draft. By taking Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith, the Colts became just the third team in the past 20 years to select two O-linemen in the top 37 picks. But unless you're a draftnik who grinds on tape your every waking hour, it's impossible to know how a small-school linebacker like Darius Leonard is going to play at the next level, or whether the second of three second-round picks, Kemoko Turay of Rutgers, will grow after a college career that was notable for its lack of production. It's difficult for the experts to know how these players will present at the next level, so how does a guy who watches IU or Purdue every Saturday have a chance?

Three months out from camp, the Colts still don't have much to offer in the linebacking group, especially now that John Simon and Jabaal Sheard have been moved up to the defensive line. We still have no earthly clue who will be the Colts' featured running back; a year ago, Marlon Mack was feast or famine, a 25-yard gain or a 2-yard loss. We still don't know where the pass rush is going to come from, and don't tell me they'll scheme their way into a pass rush because that's another way of saying, "We don't have the horses, so we'll think of something." We still don't know which, if any, receiver is going to step up and become the second or third wide receiver opposite Hilton who, as we have seen, can be taken out of a game when he doesn't have any support.

All of this makes me wonder exactly what Ballard was doing last season in what clearly now looks like a complete throwaway year. Why did he keep Chuck Pagano and his staff when he could have started over with someone new? Why did he make moves to bolster the 3-4 defensive scheme, adding players like Johnathan Hankins and others to the defense? What purpose did the entire season serve, except to put the rebuilding process on hold for an additional year?

So yes, they will be better than the Cleveland Browns (assuming Luck stays healthy).

But not by a whole lot.

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