A year ago, the Colts were ending the Peyton Manning era. There were tears and hugs, and a commemorative banner. And then quickly, there was the matter of moving on.
Such is the cycle of NFL life, with the time for mourning over those lost restricted to, oh, a few hours. With injuries, there’s the next man up mentality, but when a major asset like Manning is lost, there’s a far more pressing task: finding out who will be that next man.
Of course, the Colts didn’t need to start a search, as part of their motivation to move on from Manning was the opportunity to draft Andrew Luck with the first overall pick. Then the rest of their draft was primarily focused on replenishing what was at the time a depleted offense, and putting a rookie quarterback in the best possible position to succeed. This year, with the exception of a wide receiver likely selected early, sophomore general manager Ryan Grigson’s focus will move to the other side of the ball.
Dwight Freeney is gone. Sure, he was aging, struggling, and often injured, but his pass-rushing presence will still be missed. He still had a solid if far from spectacular 13.5 sacks over the past two years, and although there’s optimism around Jerry Hughes’ growth, the quarterback pressuring responsibilities now fall primarily to Robert Mathis. He’s also aging and struggling, yet Mathis and Freeney combined for 13 of the Colts’ 32 sacks in 2012.
A wide receiver will also be targeted after the departure of Donnie Avery, who was one of those weapons brought in to support Luck last year. So which hole will draw Grigson’s attention first? Brad Wells from Stampede Blue thinks there could be both intrigue and confusion at Colts’ 24th overall perch in the first round, with some of the high-end names at both of those positions possibly off the board.