INDIANAPOLIS – One of the harshest dates on the NFL calendar looms.
Cut day. That’s Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Rosters that sit at 90 players for the preseason must be trimmed – yeah, that’s a polite term – to 53.
Do that math. That means nearly 1,200 roster moves must be made league-wide. Some dreams will be temporarily crushed as many of those castoffs will land elsewhere, either as waiver claims – remember Jack Doyle in 2013? Kenny Moore II in ’17? – or as part of a team’s 16-player practice squad.
Some dreams will simply and painfully end.
We’ve always considered the cruel nature of Cut Day.
A newbie/fringe player who’s worked his butt off since the offseason program began in April survives the cut to 53. He immediately calls home and shares the incredible news with his wife, mom and dad.
Then, after his team scours the waiver wire and finds a better option, he’s called into the general manager’s office and told he’s being replaced.
Cruel to the nth degree. But that’s life in the NFL.
That’s our way of bracing a few Indianapolis Colts to enjoy the moment Tuesday afternoon, but never feel too secure. Rosters are fluid throughout the season.
By virtue of the chaotic 2022 – 4-12-1, remember? – the Colts sit No. 4 in the waiver wire claim process. And they have reliable depth concerns at several positions: offensive line, cornerback, safety. And running back depending on how the Jonathan Taylor mess plays out.
Don’t be surprised if there are three, maybe even four players added via waivers.
Keeping all of that in mind, here’s our semi-educated projection on the cut to 53 (* denotes rookie). We looked back at our projection and have – gulp – nine rookies making it. At least initially.
Quarterbacks (3): Anthony Richardson*, Gardner Minshew II, Sam Ehlinger
- The only question is whether Ballard and Shane Steichen keep three. We vote ‘Yes.’ The new rule allowing teams to dress three QBs on game day without taking up an active roster spot works in Ehlinger’s favor. While it’s often problematic to take up a spot on the 53 with a third QB, Ballard is adept at dipping into the practice squad from week to week to address position deficiencies.
- It’s going to be fun watching Richardson evolve.
Running backs (4): Jonathan Taylor (PUP), Deon Jackson, Zack Moss, Evan Hull*
- Kenyan Drake
- Jason Huntley
- Jake Funk
- Obviously, Taylor’s situation mucks things up. From our viewpoint, he’s here until he’s not here. And for the record, we find it difficult to believe he’ll be here. Taylor has been given permission to seek a trade before the Tuesday cut deadline, and there’s interest. No one should question his position as one of the top 5 backs in the NFL. Maybe higher.
- But it’s possible his relationship with the Colts is fractured beyond repair. Everything points to Taylor simply not wanting to be here anymore. Period. We wonder how this unfolds if a trade doesn’t materialize and he’s back for a fourth season. That must begin with him passing a physical.
- If Taylor is elsewhere this season, we wouldn’t be against finding a better option than the existing group on waivers.
- Hey, Kareem Hunt’s still out there, right?
Wide receivers (5): Michael Pittman, Jr., Alec Pierce, Josh Downs*, Isaiah McKenzie, James Washington
- Tyler Adams*,
- Amari Rodgers,
- Juwann Winfree,
- Breshard Perriman,
- D.J. Montgomery,
- Vyncint Smith,
- Mike Strachan,
- Kody Case
- We’re very comfortable with the top four. No. 5? Not so much. We’re hitching our wagon to Washington. The 2018 second-round pick had four productive seasons with the Steelers before dealing with an injury last year. Washington was signed Aug. 18, so he hasn’t had much of an opportunity to get his bearings. We can be talked into Perriman, Rodgers or Winfree.
Tight ends (5): Mo Alie-Cox, Jelani Woods, Drew Ogletree, Kylen Granson, Will Mallory*
- Pharaoh Brown,
- Nick Eubanks,
- Ricky Seals-Jones,
- Michael Jacobson
- Tough position to gauge. Five seems too many. We kept Mallory because we believe the fifth-round pick won’t make it through waivers. Injuries have made it difficult for Steichen and his staff to adequately evaluate the position. Granson quickly has become one of Richardson’s favorite targets.
Offensive linemen (9): Ryan Kelly, Quenton Nelson, Braden Smith, Bernhard Raimann, Will Fries, Danny Pinter, Blake Freeland*, Arlington Hambright, Carter O’Donnell
- Wesley French,
- Emil Ekiyor*,
- Matthew Vanderslice*,
- Dakota Shipley,
- Dan Skipper
- The injury to Pinter (left ankle) probably forces a decision by Ballard. If it’s not a long-term issue, he could keep him on the 53, then place Pinter on IR. That means missing at least four games. Fries, the projected starting right guard, has missed time with an injury, giving invaluable first-team game reps to O’Donnell and Hambright. The key to the backup group will be each player’s ability to play different positions.
D-Linemen (9): DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart, Kwity Paye, Dayo Odeyingbo, Tyquan Lewis, Samson Ekubam, Adetomiwa Adebawore*, Taven Bryan, Eric Johnson II
- Khalid Kareem,
- Al-Quadin Muhammad,
- McTelvin Agim,
- Titus Leo*,
- Caleb Sampson*
- Eight? Nine? Ballard always prefers more, not less. We’re not confident on the bottom spots, but the Colts signed Bryan to a one-year deal that includes $3.25 million in guarantees. We’ve always been a Tyquan Lewis guy and are pulling for him to stay on the field. His versatility is important to the D-line rotation. Maybe Ballard wants more outside depth and opts to keep Muhammad or Kareem.
Linebackers (5): Shaquille Leonard, Zaire Franklin, E.J. Speed, Grant Stuard, Segun Olubi
- JoJo Domann,
- Liam Anderson*,
- Donovan Mutin*,
- Cameron McGrone.
- You can talk us into Domann over Olubi, with Olubi returning to the practice squad. That player must be a special teams contributor; same with Stuard.
- We’re not raising any red flags, but we’re watching Leonard’s situation. Not so much his return from a second back surgery, but the concussion he suffered in the joint work with the Bears. Leonard is in the NFL’s concussion protocol for a third time in his career, the second time in 11 months. He suffered a concussion – and fractured nose – in his first game back Oct. 2 against Tennessee. A concussion also forced Leonard to miss three games in 2019, including the Colts’ 19-13 upset of the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
Cornerback (6): Kenny Moore II, Dallis Flowers, Darrell Baker Jr., JuJu Brents*, Darius Rush*, Jaylon Jones*
- Tony Brown,
- Kevin Tolliver II,
- Chris Lammons,
- Isaac Taylor-Stuart
- Marcel Dabo has an international exemption and does not count against the 53.
- Lammons is an NFL-mandated move. He’s been suspended for the first three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Depending on decisions elsewhere, maybe coordinator Gus Bradley or special teams coordinator Brian Mason talk Ballard into keeping the aggressive Brown.
Safety (4): Julian Blackmon, Rodney Thomas II, Nick Cross, Trevor Denbow
- Henry Black,
- Ronnie Harrison Jr.,
- Teez Tabor
- Blackmon and Thomas are a developing tandem. Cross, a 2022 third-round pick, is coming off a strong preseason.
Special teams (3)
- Kicker (1):
- Matt Gay
- Punter (1):
- Rigoberto Sanchez
- Longsnapper (1):
- Luke Rhodes
- Lucas Havrisik
- One of the best scenes of camp was Sanchez unleashing a moonshot on his first punt, and the entire team cheering. He missed last season with a torn Achilles suffered while running sprints after a camp practice.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.