NFL offseason power rankings: No. 17 Indianapolis Colts need Anthony Richardson to be healthy

Preview focus: Colts came close to AFC South title last season with a backup QB

The Colts are looking for better health and big plays from quarterback Anthony Richardson. (Amy Monks/Yahoo Sports)
The Colts are looking for better health and big plays from quarterback Anthony Richardson. (Amy Monks/Yahoo Sports)

Quarterback Anthony Richardson played 173 snaps as a rookie for the Indianapolis Colts, a little more than 15% of their offensive plays last season.

And that was enough to get the Colts excited for the future. Maybe Richardson will get exposed playing a full season — playing more than four games without suffering a major injury will be positive news in itself — but what he did in his short time on the field was electrifying. Richardson had 577 yards passing, three touchdowns, one interception, 136 rushing yards and four touchdowns in what amounts to about two and a half games worth of action. Richardson was knocked out early in three of his four games due to injury, and that's a big concern, but his entire package of skills was on full display as a rookie.

Go back and watch him calmly lead the Colts to a game-tying score in the final minutes of regulation against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 4. The Colts lost that game in overtime, but Richardson was smooth under pressure in the fourth quarter, which was a promising sign. The Colts were thrilled to land Richardson, a physical marvel with limited college experience but an immense upside, with the fourth pick of the 2023 NFL Draft. Aside from the injuries, they had to feel good about the pick.

It's funny though. The reason Richardson was a divisive prospect was he had just 13 starts in college, a remarkably low number for a top-five pick. Relatively speaking, there wasn't enough tape to know what Richardson really was as a player. But the highlights and physical skills were so marvelous, it was easy to dream about his amazing ceiling. And now that's Richardson's NFL narrative too.

Richardson's season ended early due to a shoulder injury that needed surgery. Before that, he left the Colts' first game early due to what turned out to be minor ankle/knee injuries and then was done after a little more than a quarter of the Colts' second game due to a concussion. Being knocked out early in three of your four NFL games is worrisome, to say the least. It leaves an incomplete picture of what he is as a pro quarterback.

But Richardson played well when he was on the field, and the Colts were also pretty good without him. Indianapolis entered the final game of the season with a 9-7 record and a win over the Houston Texans would have resulted in an AFC South championship. They lost to the Texans and missed the playoffs, with a controversial fourth-down call and poor execution on the play keeping them from winning a close game, but still posted a winning record with Gardner Minshew II starting most of the season at quarterback. The season included wins at the Texans, at the Ravens and against the Buccaneers. All three of those teams won division titles.

It can be foolish to take a small sample and extrapolate it, but the Colts had to go into the offseason believing that if Richardson is healthy and the rest of the roster maintains its 2023 level, they could easily add a few wins onto that 9-8 record.

The Colts had a pretty good offensive season with rookie head coach Shane Steichen. Steichen looked like a really good hire, managing most of a winning season with a backup quarterback. Jonathan Taylor should be healthy and happy with a nice contract extension, Michael Pittman Jr. is a good No. 1 receiver and the Colts got one of the potential steals of the draft with exciting receiver Adonai Mitchell in the second round. The defense wasn't quite as good last season, but if the cornerbacks play better, then there should be better results. Adding Laiatu Latu, the first defensive player off the board in the NFL Draft with the No. 15 overall pick, could give an instant boost to the pass rush.

One of the biggest questions of the NFL season might be if Richardson can just stay healthy. There's a scenario in which Richardson is a star by the end of the season and the Colts are hosting a playoff game in January. We just have to see it happen.

The Colts were fairly quiet in free agency. The two big additions were defensive tackle Raekwon Davis to a two-year, $14 million deal and backup quarterback Joe Flacco for $4.5 million for one year. The Colts lost quarterback Gardner Minshew II and running back Zack Moss, the latter of which is a concern because the Colts don't have much behind Jonathan Taylor. In the draft, the Colts got two very good values. They took UCLA pass rusher Laiatu Latu, the first defensive player off the board, at No. 15 overall. There are some medical concerns with Latu, but he has undeniable talent and is a worthwhile gamble. In the second round, the Colts took Texas receiver Adonai Mitchell, a big-play threat who was a first-round talent to many but fell, perhaps due to off-field concerns (a notion Colts GM Chris Ballard fought back against with some expletives). Maybe the Colts could have done more to add a cornerback or two or invest in a more reliable backup running back, but it was a solid offseason.

Grade: B

The issue with Anthony Richardson's multiple injuries over a short period last season is complicated. Was it just bad luck? Or is there something in Richardson's style that leads him to be more susceptible to getting injured? Can he fix anything, or is it just a matter of hoping that he doesn't take a hit in the wrong spot?

The Colts have said this offseason that they want Richardson to pick his spots as a runner, and perhaps slide more often when that's more prudent than pushing ahead for an extra yard or two. While Richardson has agreed that he needs to be "smarter for the team" and know when to get down, he also is realistic about injuries being a part of the game.

"Changing my game and my play style, I don't feel like there's anything wrong with my play style," Richardson said, via the team's site. "People see me, I'm a big quarterback, so they always think, 'Oh, he wants to run the ball all the time, he wants to be physical and that's what's going to get him hurt'. And that's not the case.

"It just happened because we play a dangerous game. It's nothing I can do about that."

We got a decent preview of what Richardson will be as a player. He completed less than 60% of his passes, which followed the scouting reports and isn't that unusual for a rookie. But he was effective as a passer despite some accuracy issues. And he ran just like you'd expect from a 244-pound man who clocked a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. Fantasy football success doesn't always translate to the real game, but it's telling that Yahoo Sports' Dalton Del Don believes Richardson should be the first quarterback selected in fantasy this year. We should get some exhilarating games from Richardson, whether that's for a handful of healthy games or a full season.

The Colts are third in BetMGM's odds to win the AFC South at +340, behind the favored Texans (+100) and Jaguars (+260). You can make an argument the Colts should be much closer to the Texans. The Colts' win total of 8.5 is right in the middle. Oddsmakers don't seem quite sure what to make of the Colts, possibly because of the health concerns with their quarterback.

From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "Jonathan Taylor has been a mild fantasy disappointment for two years, but last season was mostly about bad luck. A holdout and some PUP time held him back at the start, and he also dealt with a thumb injury during the year. But Taylor was sizzling in the second half of the season, picking up 704 rushing yards and eight touchdowns over the final two months. He put up 188 yards and a score on Houston in the 2023 finale.

"Taylor has a setup that could return him to superstardom for his age-25 season. The Colts have a top 10 offensive line and head coach Shane Steichen is one of the smartest offensive designers around. Sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson is far from a finished product, but he certainly carries more upside than departed QB Gardner Minshew; the octane of the offense should improve. I'll sign off on Taylor at his current ADP — late-first round in most leagues — and if you can snag him early in the second round, you've committed highway robbery."

Jonathan Taylor has played four NFL seasons, and his first two seasons were a lot more productive than the last two:

First two seasons: 32 games, 564 carries, 2,980 rushing yards, 5.3 average, 29 TD

Third and fourth seasons: 21 games, 361 carries, 1,602 rushing yards, 4.4 average, 11 TD

Taylor's last two seasons have included a bad ankle injury in 2022 and a recovery that lasted into the 2023 season, and a contract dispute that ate into last season as well. The situation wasn't great for him either: Indianapolis' offensive line struggled in 2022 and there was uneven quarterback play around him both seasons. Taylor is just 25 years old and has a good track record that includes a great college career at Wisconsin. The Colts have just Trey Sermon and Evan Hull behind Taylor for now, so they're all in on Taylor playing more like he did as a rookie or his second season when he was first-team All-Pro. He finished last season strong, with a 188-yard game in a loss to the Texans with a division title on the line.

“I will tell you, and I kind of felt this all year,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said, via the Indianapolis Star. “I would be shocked if we’re not about to see real greatness out of him here going forward.”

From the outside, it seemed like the Colts needed help at outside cornerback. Last season they gave up some huge games to receivers, including a 195-yard performance by Nico Collins in a must-win Week 18 game. The week before, they gave up a 13-126-2 line to Davante Adams of the Raiders. But the Colts stuck it out. They added only a couple of Day 3 draft picks at cornerback. They brought back top slot cornerback Kenny Moore II on a $30 million deal over three years and are hoping for better health and production from young perimeter corners JuJu Brents, Dallis Flowers and Jaylon Jones. Flowers in particular is an X-factor. The team was excited about his play early last season before he tore his Achilles. That's a tough injury for a cornerback to rebound from.

The rest of the Colts' defense, especially with the addition of first-round pick Laiatu Latu and dominant veteran lineman DeForest Buckner, should be good enough to keep the team competitive. The cornerback position is the biggest question and there's no turning back now. This is the group that will make or break the defense.

"We had the growth — we got the guys in the room," Moore said, according to the team's site. "The only thing we lacked last season was being durable, being available."

The Colts have a lot of blue-chip players and coach Shane Steichen looked like a good hire in his first season. Between Anthony Richardson, Jonathan Taylor, Michael Pittman Jr., Adonai Mitchell, Josh Downs and a good offensive line led by guard Quenton Nelson, the offense has enough talent. The defense wasn't great last season but perhaps it can rebound. The Colts might have won the AFC South last season with a better play on a late fourth down in the season finale against the Texans, and they did all of that with Richardson finishing just one game the entire season. If Richardson is as good over a full season as he flashed as a rookie, he can put up some big numbers. The Texans are the favorites after last season and the Jaguars might have won the AFC South in 2023 if Trevor Lawrence didn't get injured, so the division isn't easy. But the Colts could win the AFC South and be a team nobody wants to face in the playoffs.

Anthony Richardson staying healthy is the narrative of the offseason, but we can't be sure he's a good NFL quarterback. For a player entering his second NFL season, Richardson has barely played, and that includes a short college resume. It seems Richardson is good, but we need to see it over a full season. And yes, we need to see Richardson simply stay on the field as well. The Colts were a little lucky last season, with a 6-3 record in one-score games, and maybe they are just the third-best team in the division. If Richardson proves to either be a sporadic and inaccurate passer or truly injury-prone, the Colts would be disheartened going into the 2025 offseason.

It can be dangerous to extrapolate a small sample into something bigger, to assume the best outcome from one factor while everything else stays at the same level. So it might not be fair to project Anthony Richardson's short rookie season to 17 games and imagine the impact he can have on a Colts team that almost won the division without him. But why can't that happen? The Colts have consistently had a pretty good team around the quarterback position since Andrew Luck retired, and Richardson offers a shot at elite quarterback play. What Richardson did in a few games was so exciting, it's easy to jump on board and imagine him having a career that mirrors Cam Newton. The Texans deserve to be the favorite and listed higher in the offseason power rankings, but by September I might be picking the Colts to win the AFC South. There are plenty of reasons they can be a surprise team this season.