Sunday, August 14, 2016

Indianapolis Colts All Career-Year Team

By John Turney

At Pro Football Journal we are trying to pick the best individual seasons in the history of each franchise, which we will continue today with the Colts. By "Career-year" we mean the best performances at each position, with the following rule: Only one season per player per position. For example, here, we cannot pick Johnny Unitas’s best two seasons and use both QB slots.

Here is the team, First-teams on left, Second-teams on right:
It was a difficult to pick the best season for Gino Marchetti. For example, 1958 would make sense, he was the AP NFL Lineman of the Year he had 43 hits of the quarterback (a combination of sacks, knockdowns and hits) and the Colts won the championship. But, in 1957 he had more sacks. He revolutionized how defensive players rushed the passer in terms of using his hands and in terms of making a counter move to the inside.

He was always developing his pass rush skills and from watching his tape he seemed to get better as he got older. We even considered 1964, his final season for all intents of purposes because he came in in great shape, ran a 4.9 forty-yard dash (which he says was his best-ever) and was a bit bigger than in previous years, approaching 250 pounds. We ended up choosing 1962 when he was a consensus All-Pro and the Colt defense gave up only 3.6 yards per carry and Marchetti had at least 12 sacks and likely 2 or so more.
Credit: Merv Corning
The other First-team choice is Bubba Smith's 1971 season when he was a consensus All-Pro had 8½ sacks and was a key player on a dominate defense. He moved to nose tackle fairly often to match up on the opposing center, a tactic developed later by Buddy Ryan for Alan Page and Dan Hampton and for others, including Howie Long.
Dwight Freeney's 2004 is a close third with a tie for the fourth spot between John Dutton and Fred Cook in 1975. It was just to difficult to separate the ends from that initial season of the Sack Pack. In 1975 Dutton had 90 tackles and 17 sacks and batted 4 passes away, Cook had74 tackles and 16½ sacks and recovered 4 fumbles.
Credit: Bruce Tatman
The honorable mentions are Robert Mathis, 2010 and  Ordell Braase, 1966 first, then a couple of 3-4 ends in Jon Hand, 1989 (62 tackles, 10 sacks, 4 PD, 4 FF; played DT in nickel), and Donnell Thompson, 1987 (45 tackles, 5.5 sacks and a scoop and score). Braase had 11½ sacks and was Second-team All-NFL.
For tackles, the First-team is Art Donovan, 1955, a Hall of Famer and Gene Lipscomb, 1958. Donovan was a consensus All-Pro and Lipscomb led the champion colts in tackles with 117, a rare feat for a defensive tackle. Donovan would usually line up in a flex of "off" position and Marchetti and Lipscomb would crowd the line. Additionally, Lipscomb, fairly regularly would line up as a linebacker in a 2-point stance giving the Colts front a 3-4 look.

Backing them up are two more members of the Sack Pack:  Mike Barnes, 1977, and Joe Ehrmann, 1976. Barnes had 8½ sacks and 51 tackles (12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage) and was voted the NFL Lineman of the Year and in 1976 Ehrmann had 67 tackles and 11 sacks from his right DT spot.

The honorable mentions are Fred Miller, 1968, who was a Second-team All-Pro and had 7½ sacks and Billy Ray Smith, 1961, who had 13½ sacks. Smith was a Second-team All-Pro later in the decade, but it appears 1961 was more productive
Mike Curtis was the 1970 AFC Defensive Player of the Year by one organization and he gets the nod as the MLB. He had 92 tackles, 5 interceptions, 7 passes deflected. Bill Pellington, 1958, gets the backup spot. As honorables we chose Jeff Herrod, 1995 (127 tackles), Gary Brackett, 2007, ILBer Barry Krauss, who made Sports Illustrated's All-Pro team in 1985 and had 123 tackles and ILBer Cliff Odom for his 1987 season of 105 tackles, 5 FF and 3 FR helping Colts to playoffs and finally Kavell Conner led NFL in 2011 with 12 stuffs as part of his 104 tackles get a mention.

The First-team outside 'backers are Robert Mathis, 2013, and Ted Hendricks, 1971. Mathis was the rushbacker in a 3-4 defense and Hendricks was the classic 4-3 OLBer. Mathis led the NFL in sacks with 19.5 and was a consensus All-Pro. Hendricks was a consensus All-Pro as well and had 68 tackles, 5 interceptions, 4 sacks and recovered a fumble for a touchdown, and blocked a field goal and a punt.

The Second-team choices are Stan White, 1977, and Duane Bickett, 1987. White had 89 tackles (7 for losses), 4 forced fumbles, 8 sacks and 7 INTs, a very rare feat to have so many of both on one season by an OLBer. For his efforts he was a Second-team All-AFC choice that year but how he wasn't an All-Pro is a mystery. Bickett was Second-team All-Pro had 73 tackles, 8 sacks, 4 passes deflected, 3 forced fumbles, recovered two. He was a 3-4 OLBer and like Mathis was a defensive end in nickel packages.
Credit: Merv Corning
The honorable mentions are as follows:  Dan Shinnick, 1959 (led NFL with 7 picks), Mike Curtis, 1968 (All-Pro), Vernon Maxwell, 1983 (92 tackles, 11 sacks, 6 forced fumbles), Quentin Coryatt, 1995 (109 tackles, 2.5 sacks 3 fumbles recovered, DMN All-Pro), D'Qwell Jackson, 2014, Cato June, 2005, Chip Banks, 1992 (9 sacks in his final year), Tom MacLeod, 1975 (99 tackles, All-AFC), Johnie Cooks, 1984 (54 tackles, 11.5 sacks).
Credit: George Bartell
At cornerback we have Bob Boyd, 1964, and Milt Davis, 1957. The Second-team picks are Carl Taseff, 1958, and Vontae Davis, 2014. The honorables are players who had high interception totals but didn't merit any post-season honors, Charlie Stukes, 1971, and Eugene Daniel, 1985. Boyd was an exception zone corner and an interception machine. Milt Davis and Carl Taseff were part of the NFL's best pass defense that was at or near the top in defensive passer ratings from around 1957 though 1961. Vontae Davis is an excellent man corner and 2014 he showed his skills off the best he had in a Colts uniform. Stukes and Daniel are more in the Boyd mold of zone corner.

The strong/left safeties are:  Bob Sanders, 2007, and Andy Nelson, 1958, followed by Jerry Logan, 1970, and Bruce Laird, 1980. Sanders was an easy selection as the 2007 NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year. Laird (97 tackles) was named to Dr. Z's All-Pro team in 1980 and Logan was All-AFC in 1970.

At free safety we picked Rick Volk, 1971, and Ray Buchanan, 1994 (Second-team All-AFC, 8 picks 3 returned to the house for touchdowns). Then we mention Tom Keane, 1953 (All-Pro, 11 picks), Lyle Blackwood, 1977 (Second-team All-Pro, 72 tackles, 10 picks), plus Mike Prior, 1989, Antoine Bethea, 2009, and Jason Belser, 1996. Belser's 2000 should also get a look as he had 5 sacks from safety blitzes that year, and Mike Adams, 2014, and Anthony Young, who holds the team record for forced fumbles by a safety with 6 in 1985 (he also recovered 4, returning one for a touchdown) and had 97 tackles, 1 pick in his only NFL season.

For nickel rusher we went with Robert Mathis, 2005 (54 tackles 11.5 sacks, 8 forced fumbles), then Ezra Johnson, 1989 (8.5 sacks), with honorables going to Richard Dent, 1996, and Jonathan Newsome, 2014. Mathis's 2004 and 2008 seasons also fit and could have been chosen.

At nickel back we chose Keith Taylor, 1989 no starts 7 picks for 225 yards and a score), then Ray Oldham, 1975, and  Darius Butler, 2012, Ray Buchanan, 1993.

For third-down back we choose Don McCauley, 1979 and Ahmad Bradshaw, 2014. McCauley would also be the short-yardage specialists.

The third WR spots are manned by Brandon Stokley, 2004, and T.Y. Hilton, 2012. The honorable mentions are Torrance Small, 1998, and Anthony Gonzalez, 2008.

Credit: Merv Corning

Credit: Bruce Tatman
The starting WRs are Marvin Harrison, 2002, and  Raymond Berry, 1960. The Second-teamers are Roger Carr, 1976 (43 catches, 1112 yards 25.9 average and 11 touchdowns and a great habit of dunking the ball over crossbar on long touchdowns), and Reggie Wayne, 2007. The special mentions are Jimmy Orr, 1965, T.Y. Hilton, 2014, and Willie Richardson, 1967.
Credit: Merv Corning
We list the tight ends in this order: John Mackey, 1966, Dallas Clark, 2009, Raymond Chester, 1977, Ken Dilger, 2001, and Coby Fleener, 2014.

The Colts tradition of guard-in-the-backfield is a bit different in that their recent fullbacks carry the ball more than most other teams. We chose Roosevelt Potts, 1995, Zack Crockett, 1997, and gave an honorable mention to Albert Bentley, 1989.

Credit: Bruce Tatman

Credit: Merv Corning
For the running backs, we went with Lenny Moore, 1964 (1964 NFL MVP) and Edgerin James, 2000.  Moore spent a lot of time as a flanker, but in 1964 he was in the backfield more than in previous years and was a touchdown machine. James narrowly edges Faulk and Dickerson. Team success, in this case, was the deciding factor.

A couple of players who made bones with the Rams are on the Second-team:  Marshall Faulk, 1998, and Eric Dickerson, 1988. For honorable mention we choose Alan Ameche, 1955, and Tom Matte, 1969 (both All-Pros) and Lydell Mitchell, 1975, and Norm Bulaich,1971, Joe Washington, 1979,

Credit: Merv Corning

Credit: Bruce Tatman

Johnny Unitas, 1959, is first, followed by Peyton Manning, 2004. Bert Jones, 1976, Earl Morrall, 1968,  Jim Harbaugh, 1995 and Andrew Luck, 2014, get honorable mention, Luck is the only one of those not the be voted an MVP or Player of the Year in the season in question but his 41 touchdown passes got him on the list. As far as Unitas over Manning, we are not sure exactly what the inflation rate is but to us 32 TD passes in 1959 is a bit greater than 49 in 2004 so Unitas gets the top slot.

Credit: Merv Corning

Credit: Chuck Ren
Jeff Saturday, 2005, Jim Parker, 1965, Chris Hinton, 1983, George Kunz, 1975, Jim Parker, 1960, is the line. Yes, Parker gets two slots, he was that dominant at both positions. Hinton was being talked about as the second coming of Parker when he had a dominant season as a guard in 1983, as a rookie. He was moved to tackle and performed well over the years, but his 1983 was graded very high by Proscout, Inc. Kunz was solid year-in and year-out. In 1975 he was the NFLPA AFC Offensive Lineman of the Year, as voted by his peers and for that reason 1975 gets the nod over 1976 and 1977.

The Second-team line is Ray Donaldson, 1987, Ron Solt, 1987, Art Spinney, 1959, Tarik Glenn, 2006, Bob Vogel, 1968.  All were either First- or Second-team All-Pros or Pro Bowlers. Glenn retired after 2006, a year he gave up just 3½ sacks. In 2006 he cut down his penalties (he had an issue with false starts) so we went with that final year over a few others.

The honorables are centers  Bill Curry, 1971, Dick Szymanski, 1964, guards Dan Sullivan, 1968, and Alex Sandusky, 1964. We also gave honorable mentions to guards Ken Huff, 1980, John Williams, 1970, Robert Pratt, 1976, none of whom got any post-season honors as did Sullivan and Sandusky, but they performed well and scouts partiularly praised them for those seasons. The honorable mention tackles are Chris Hinton, 1988, and Will Wolford, 1995.

Credit: Merv Corning
The Colts have had four consensus All-Pro kickers:  Cary Blanchard, 1996, Adam Vinatieri, 2014 Mike Vanderjagt, 2003, and Dean Biasucci, 1987. We could cop out and tie two for the First-team and two for the Second-team because it is THAT close. Vanderjagt didn't miss a kick all season, but since he only attempted one from over 50 yards we dinged him for that. Biasucci was better but since Vinateri was 3 for 3 over 50 and Blanchard had the best long-distance season we ordered them (1) Blanchard, (2) Vinatieri, (3) Vanderjagt and (4) Biasucci. Additional honorable mentions were
Raul Allegre,  1983 (maybe should be considered with top four since he made Dr. Z's All-pro team and won four games with late kicks), Toni Linhart, 1976 (Pro Bowl). The Colts had three other performances that were above what good kickers did in their particular era:  Steve Myhra, 1961,  Jim Martin 1963, and Jim O'Brien 1971.

The punters were exactly as close as the kickers. The four consensus All-Pros were: Chris Gardocki, 1996,  Pat McAfee, 2014, David Lee, 1969, and Ron Stark, 1983. We also had to consider David Lee's rookie season of 1966, but in that era there were not a lot of punters on All-Pro teams.

We checked for net, for conditions, and so on. We dinged McAfee and Gardocki for kicking indoors. But, remember pre-1974 players could cover punts (if they chose) before the ball was punted, after that only the gunners and center could go. In 2014 McAfee set Colts single-season records with a 42.8 net punting average (46.7 gross average), 30 punts pinned inside the 20-yard line.

In 1966 Lee had a 45.6 yards gross and had only three touchbacks for a net of 41.7 yards per punt (and had none blocked). In 1969 he had a gross of 45.3 and a net of 40.0.

We dinged Gardocki and Stark for giving up quite a lot of return yards. Did they outkick coverage too often? Perhaps, perhaps not, but the possibility exists that they did. That left Garcocki and Stark to the honorable mention list. Lee's coverage teams did an excellent job for him, as did McAfee's.

However, we also had to look at McAfee's extra roles as the holder for All-Pro Vinatieri and also as one of the best kickers in NFL in terms of kickoffs. In 2014 he led NFL in touchbacks and touchback percentage as he and the Colts allowed only 26 kicks to be returned for 587 yards. As a holder his kicker only missed one kick, so it followed he had to have done reasonably well.

In the end, McAfee emerged as #1, then Lee followed by Stark and Gardocki. 

Clarence Verdin, in 1992, returned two punts for scores, he's First-team. T.Y. Hilton, 2012, edges Robbie Martin 1985, Terrence Wilkins, 1999, Ron Gardin, 1970, and Alvin Haymond, 1965, for the Second-team nod. Martin, Wilkins, Gardin and Haymond are honorable mentions.

Preston Pearson, 1968, also had two returns for touchdowns and he's followed by Jim Duncan and his gaudy 35.4 yards per return average. The honorables are Johnny Sample, 1960, Joe Washington, 1978, and  Dominic Rhodes 2004.

For special teamers we went with Captain Who? Alex Hawkins, 1964, then Alvin Haymond, 1966, Honorable mention is Robert Mathis, 2005, when he had 20 tackles and a forced fumble on special teams. Another honorable mention is Preston Pearson's 1968 as a coverage man. According to Colts coaches he was in on tackles on kicks "about 80% of the time". Additionally, in 1976 Sanders Shiver had 23 special teams tackles. Dave Ahrens, in 1985, had 29 and in 1988 Jeff Herrod had 30 so we include them has special mentions, too.

Agree of disagree? let us know our errors in the comments section below.

1 comment:

  1. I read where Bert Rechichar had some big play years at safety for the Colts and could hit as well, but it must have been for some poor Colt teams, when Weeb was still assembling the champion pieces. At least he enjoyed the longest FG kicked for a number of years. He was a character that every NFL football fan should know about.

    Many fans today believe Manning made Harrison's career, which I believe was the opposite, but Harrison's ability and respect from opposing players reminded me alot of Paul Warfield, who I believe was the greatest WR weapon in NFL History.