The 2023 season ended in disappointing fashion for the Indianapolis Colts, but there are plenty of reasons to be excited for the future given what they showed throughout the campaign.
Considering where the Colts were just one year ago at this time, the outlook of the franchise is far more positive. They have a strong leader in Shane Steichen, a young quarterback in Anthony Richardson who shows promise, and some solid pieces to work off of this offseason.
But before we get into the thick of the offseason plans and predictions, it’s time to take a look back at the 2023 season and hand out some awards.
From MVP to the biggest disappointment, here are the Colts’ year-end awards from the 2023 campaign:
Most Valuable Player
DT DeForest Buckner
There were a few players worthy of this nod, but Buckner’s presence made a huge difference for the entire team. Though the pass rush was stagnant at times, the Colts had four players with at least 8.0 sacks. Buckner was one of them while leading the team in quarterback hits (21) and total pressures (52) while seeing the fourth-highest double-team rate among all NFL interior defensive linemen (66%). This defense was shaky, but it’s a nightmare to imagine what it would be like without Buckner.
Other nominees: Zaire Franklin, Michael Pittman Jr., Quenton Nelson
Offensive Player of the Year
WR Michael Pittman Jr.
There are a handful of worthy players, but Pittman is the selection here. All we have to do is look back at the brutal loss against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16. Pittman was out for that game due to a concussion, and the entire unit looked lost. The fourth-year wideout posted career-high marks with 109 receptions for 1,152 yards. As a pending free agent, re-signing Pittman should be of the utmost importance for Indy this offseason.
Other Nominees: Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Braden Smith
Defensive Player of the Year
LB Zaire Franklin
Yes, DeForest Buckner was our MVP so it would make sense he should be the Defensive Player of the Year as well. But for diversity’s sake, we’re going with a different option. Franklin broke the single-season franchise record for tackles, a record he set just one season ago. He’s come a long way as a former seventh-round pick, and his evolution into a high-quality MIKE should not be overlooked.
Other Nominees: Kenny Moore II, Samson Ebukam, Julian Blackmon
Special Teams Player of the Year
S Trevor Denbow
Before the season, my guess would have been Matt Gay. However, he missed enough kicks this season to be taken out of the conversation. Denbow was third on the team with 325 special teams snaps, but he led the team with 12 special teams tackles (nine solo) while recording just one missed tackle, according to Pro Football Focus. He may not be a factor on defense, but he’s turned into a quality special teamer that the Colts can lean on.
Other Nominees: Grant Stuard, Luke Rhodes, Segun Olubi
Comeback Player of the Year
DE Tyquan Lewis
Though Lewis isn’t the first, second or even third name mentioned when discussing the defensive line, what he did in 2023 should be talked about more. Coming off his second patellar tendon tear, which he eerily suffered on nearly the same day one year apart, Lewis posted career-high marks in total pressures (44), quarterback hits (13) and tackles for loss (nine), all of which ranked fourth-best on the Colts defense.
Other Nominees: Kenny Moore II, Ryan Kelly, Rigoberto Sanchez
Most Improved Player of the Year
LB E.J. Speed
We went with Dayo Odeyingbo last year, and he certainly made a case for it again. But we’re going with Speed here. Stepping into a starting role with the decline of Shaquille Leonard (more on him below), Speed led the team with 12 tackles for loss while posting career-high marks with 102 tackles (78 solo), three forced fumbles and four passes defended. He also ranked second on the team with 50 defensive stops and posted a solid 86.4 passer rating in coverage, which ranked 11th-best among qualified linebackers, per PFF.
Other Nominees: Dayo Odeyingbo, Nick Cross, Bernhard Raimann, Will Fries
Rookie of the Year
WR Josh Downs
Through the first half of the season, it appeared Downs was trending toward a massive rookie campaign. Through the first eight games, he averaged five receptions and 59.1 yards per game. He was on pace for 1,005 yards. The second half of the season wasn’t as kind. From Weeks 9-18, he averaged just 3.1 receptions and 33.1 yards per game. How much the lingering knee injury had an impact isn’t all that clear considering he wasn’t on the injury report, and he played his typical allotment of snaps coming out of the Week 11 bye. Regardless, his 68 receptions set a single-season franchise record for a rookie campaign, and his future is still extremely bright given what he showed.
Other Nominees: Julius Brents, Jaylon Jones, Will Mallory
LB Shaquille Leonard
We also could talk about the season-ending injury to Anthony Richardson. I won’t argue there. But the decline of Leonard was simply sad. He was on a Hall of Fame trajectory with the Colts before his back/nerve/calf injury came about. He simply wasn’t the same player on the field, and it led to the Colts just cutting ties halfway through the season. Leonard meant a lot to the locker room, the community and to the fanbase, but the Colts seemingly made the right call in parting ways. Hopefully, he bounces back. If anyone has the mentality to do it, it’s Leonard. But it was just disappointing to see his career unfold this way.
Other Nominees: Anthony Richardson (injury), Week 18 finale
Assistant Coach of the Year
OL coach Tony Sparano Jr.
This one is pretty easy. While the defensive coaching staff remained on hand, Sparano was one of the many new additions on the offensive side of the ball under Shane Steichen. Sparano played a heavy part in getting this offensive line back to being a dominant unit despite the starting five dealing with injuries throughout the entire campaign.