Forget about judging the Indianapolis Colts' 2013 draft and offseason personnel moves on the reactions of coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson.
The next NFL coach or general manager who says he's not thrilled with his team's draft picks will be the first. And then he'd be the ex-coach or ex-general manager next.
“I just look at the numbers that we brought in in free agency, the quality of the players, the quality of people,” Pagano said, “and then adding the guys that we just added over the last three days of the draft, our locker room is really strong. Our team got way better, and we know what the expectations are coming down the pipe. It's exactly where we want to be.”
Pagano's enthusiasm is genuine. I have no doubt. If the Colts' acquisitions live up to expectations, we're looking at a markedly better team in 2013. But free agency and draft picks are a calculated gamble.
Teams don't know if an underachiever elsewhere will thrive in a new environment, as the Colts hope is the case with wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. Teams don't know if college studs can bring their production to the NFL without a hitch, as the Colts hope is the case with rookie outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, the team's first-round pick.
Coaches, GMs and scouts do their homework. They make their moves. Whether they admit to praying they are right doesn't mean they aren't, indeed, praying.
“We took guys that were 'above the line,' and guys that are above the line are guys we feel are NFL starters,” Grigson said. “That's always the goal of any draft.”
At least half the free agents and three or four of the Colts' draft picks need to compete for starting jobs.
Looking at the Colts' starters from last season, the offense has six players who should be locks to start again: quarterback Andrew Luck, wide receiver Reggie Wayne, left tackle Anthony Castonzo, tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, and running back Vick Ballard. You can add center Samson Satele to the probable starters list, but A.Q. Shipley and rookie Khaled Holmes will challenge him.
Veteran free agent Gosder Cherilus will start at right tackle. I can see rookie guard Hugh Thornton and veterans Donald Thomas (guard) and Heyward-Bey competing for starting roles, too.
On defense, who are the locks as returning starters? I'm saying outside linebacker Robert Mathis, linebacker Jerrell Freeman, defensive end Cory Redding, free safety Antoine Bethea and cornerback Vontae Davis.
Free agent signee LaRon Landry will be at strong safety. Other free agent signees who could start include cornerback Greg Toler, defensive end Erik Walden, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois and defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin. Werner and defensive tackle Montori Hughes are rookies who should challenge. Josh Chapman enters his delayed “rookie” season as a possible starter, too.
Of the Colts' seven draft picks, only the final pick, tight end (and new “Mr. Irrelevant) Justice Cunningham doesn't have a shot at significant playing time.
It's possible that 10 or 12 of the Colts' 22 offensive and defensive starters could be different from last year.
That's probably why the Colts adopted the slogan, “Building the Monster,” last year rather than “Completing the Monster.”
If all of these new players live up to their billing, and the gushing praise of Pagano and Grigson, the Colts could be Super Bowl contenders.
But that remains an “if.”
“We've got a group of guys coming in here that are Colts,” Pagano said. “They're Colts through and through and they can't wait to get here and get rolling, and we can't wait to get them in here to get rolling.”
Pagano referenced expectations in regards to the offseason acquisitions. When a team goes 11-5 and makes the playoffs, as the Colts did last season, expectations blossom.
Give the Colts credit. They didn't stand pat. They've shaken up their roster. Most new players look like upgrades.
Pagano and Grigson are gushing about the new players. If people not drawing paycheck from the Colts are doing the same come December, there's no limit to how far Indy can go in Year 2 of the Luck era.