Secret Superstars: Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts 2014 season started off on a painful note with Robert Mathis tearing his Achilles and missing the entire season. In 2013 Mathis led the NFL with 19.5 sacks and ranked seventh out of all 3-4 outside linebackers with a 11.2 Pass Rush Productivity Rating. The Colts tried to replace his production with Bjoern Werner and Erik Walden (and even brought in free agent Shaun Phillips later in the season) but even with Walden’s improved play, Mathis’ shoes proved to be too large to fill.
One bright spot for the Colts was rookie fifth-round draft pick Jonathan Newsome. Newsome gave the Colts’ edge rush a nice boost as he finished the season with 25 total pressures and seven sacks. He made enough of an impact to be named our 2015 Colts’ PFF Secret Superstar.
Newsome began his college career at Ohio State and played a limited number of snaps during his freshman and sophomore years there. After transferring to Ball State, his college career took off. He started 11 games at defensive end in 2012 and notched 52 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks. He started another 11 games in 2013 and tallied 64 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and eight sacks. At 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds coming out of college, many scouts thought he would be too small to set the edge in the NFL, but his ability to flash speed and leverage off the edge enticed the Colts to take him with the 166th overall pick in the 2014 draft.
During the preseason Newsome generated seven pressures on his 35 pass rush snaps and his Pass Rush Productivity Rating of 7.7 ranked 16th overall. He made enough of an impact in the preseason to make the Colts’ regular season active roster. As expected for a rookie, he struggled at times throughout the season and had some very inconsistent stretches, with games graded as high as +4.2 and games as low as -2.4.
Despite those ups and downs he was still able to finish the regular season with a positive overall mark and his +pass rushing grade ended up ranked 22nd out of all 3-4 outside linebackers. To see a few stand out games from Newsome, you can take a look at his production in Week 9 against the Giants, Week 13 against the Redskins, and Week 17 against the Titans. In the Giants game he finished with a +3.7 overall grade generated four total pressures and five stops. He produced four more pressures against the Redskins to go along with two stops, and finished the regular season strong with a +4.2 overall grade against the Titans due to his seven total pressures and six stops.
Our signature stats show even more of his potential upside. He ranked 12th out of all 3-4 outside linebackers in Pass Rush Productivity with a 10.8 rating, and his PRP rating of 11.8 from the right side ranked ninth overall. His 10.8 overall PRP rating even topped those of his more experienced teammates as Walden finished with a 10.0 and Werner at 6.0. Newsome was also more effective in the run game out of the gate than many thought. He racked up 11 total run stops and his 7.4 Run Stop Percentage ranked ninth at his positon.
Jonathan Newsome’s surprising rookie season should get him some starter level snaps this coming season, but he could face tough competition for those snaps. This offseason the Colts have been busy re-tooling with several big name free agent additions including; Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, and edge rusher Trent Cole. Cole ranked 12th out of all 3-4 OLB’s in pass rushing grade (+11.3) and 16th in Pass Rush Productivity with a 10.3 mark.
The Cole addition makes it a very crowded depth chart at the outside linebacker position. Cole will join Mathis (as soon as he regains his full health) and 2014 starters Werner, Walden, and Newsome. Even with the addition of Cole and the return of Mathis, we still think Newsome flashed too much potential in 2014 to keep him off the field this coming season.