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NFL: DEC 17 Colts at Vikings

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INDIANAPOLISWith July reaching the second half, it’s time for our annual pre-training camp stories for another Colts season.

The annual debate over the most “indispensable” player always brings a good back and forth debate.

Again, the names on this list are ranked by the guys the Colts cannot afford to lose and the impact that would be felt if they were gone for an extended period of time.

Here’s the top-5 most indispensable Colts for the 2023 season:

1. Braden Smith

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The Colts might be the only team in the NFL to have a non-Pro Bowl right tackle top this list. But there’s reasons to have Smith above anyone else. First, offensive tackle, no matter what side of the line you are talking, is a very important position. And Smith brings legit experience of playing tackle at a high level. Why he ranks this high though comes from the youth behind him at the position (and at quarterback). If you look at the other tackles on the roster/depth chart, it’s a group littered with inexperience. Fellow starter Bernhard Raimman has played in the league for one year, and was only a two-year tackle in college. Rookie Blake Freeland is thought to be the third tackle, and he’s in his first NFL season as a Day 3 pick. One injury to Smith and you are starting a first and second year guys at tackle (potentially in front of a rookie QB).

2. DeForest Buckner

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Let’s slot Buckner in at No. 2, as he’s been a recent mainstay in the top-5. Buckner is a tremendous player at a position that has grown in recent years as being recognized more and more for the impact it has on a game. It’s also difficult to find a durable 3-down presence at the defensive tackle position, but Buckner is that. And, similar to Smith, you don’t have a ton of proven depth, sniffing the skillset of Buckner, in the defensive line interior. For these reasons, Buckner is a very deserving No. 2 on this list.

3. Kenny Moore

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It’s pretty wild to think arguably the most disappointing Colts player from last season now would fall on this list. But that’s the case for Moore. And, yes, so much of it has to do with the vast inexperience around Moore now in the Colts cornerbacks room. If you take Moore out of the fold, Dallis Flowers would be the only returnee from last year and he hadn’t played an NFL defensive snap until last December. Another thing to keep in mind about Moore and the youth movement at corner—there doesn’t appear to be the future slot corner on the roster. Yes, the Colts drafted three cornerbacks back in April. But none of them have the body/background of an inside corner. Whether it’s experience or desired versatility, Moore is still a key cog.

4. Michael Pittman

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Unlike many of the other names on this list, Pittman has yet to reach Pro Bowl status. But he plays a position that matters a lot in the NFL, particularly with a rookie quarterback. So, his presence is very important in 2023, while the Colts hope Alec Pierce develops more and Josh Downs establishes himself as a rookie. Despite all the recent quarterback issues, Pittman has still been pretty steady for whoever is under center.

5. Jonathan Taylor

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Having Taylor below Pittman on this list might surprise people. The reason though comes more from the question of is it easier to replace your top wideout or your top running back? Taylor is a great, great talent though and offers that rare home-run ability from the running back position. For a team lacking frontline skill talent, Taylor is certainly coveted even if Zack Moss sprinkled in a 100-yard game to end last season.

6. Others To Note

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It was hard to make a strong case for anyone else on this list. The Colts quarterbacks don’t have a ton of separation in 2023 impact, for me. Some other names I pondered though includes Zaire Franklin (importance has risen with the departure of Bobby Okereke and lingering health issues for Shaquille Leonard), Quenton Nelson (one of the best players at his position in the league, and the Colts don’t have a ton of proven depth) and Bernhard Raimann (again, look at the depth at offensive tackle).

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