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INDIANAPOLIS Who are the guys the Colts cannot afford to lose this season?

Early on in training camp last year, the Colts had several very important guys sidelined due to injury. The Colts avoided the big-time injury though to one of their key players.

Let’s take a look at my top-5 most indispensable Colts for 2022:

1. Michael Pittman: I will probably get some push back on this. But I’m going with Michael Pittman as the most indispensable Colt this season. Look at the drop off from Pittman to the No. 2 wideout for the Colts. Pittman is easily the most polished and reliable receiver the Colts have, and we know full well what that position means in today’s NFL. Without Pittman, the Colts would have the worst wideout room in the NFL. When a 1,000-yard receiver also blocks as well as Pittman does, his loss would be immense.

2. Matt Ryan: My argument in not having Matt Ryan No. 1 on this list is because I think the fall from starter to backup is much more substantial at wideout than quarterback. Yes, QB means more, but WR still carries a lot of importance. Now, before the signing of Nick Foles (pushing Sam Ehlinger down to No. 3 on the depth chart), I probably would have had Ryan atop this list. Putting Pittman or Ryan at No. 1 was a tough debate, and there’s a noticeable drop to the rest of the names on this list.

3. Darius Leonard: After a quieter 2020 season in the takeaway department, Darius Leonard was back up to his old tricks last year (4 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries and 1 forced fumble). Even though Leonard had 0 sacks last season, his playmaking is still so rare for a linebacker. The Colts continue to have nice depth at linebacker, but no one brings what Leonard does in the turnover department. That’s why attention to his weird back/ankle injury situation this offseason was worth monitoring so closely.

4. Jonathan Taylor: You won’t find many running backs on a team’s ‘indispensable’ list. Although to some, it would be odd to put last year’s NFL leading rusher (by more than 500 yards) this far down. It has more to do with what running back means in the NFL, especially behind an above average offensive line, like the Colts. Nyheim Hines and Philip Lindsay could form a duo that should keep the Colts afloat if Taylor were to miss time. That sounds like a knock on Taylor, but it’s more to do with how impactful the running back position is right now.

5. DeForest Buckner: We considered some others (see below) to round out the top-5, but DeForest Buckner is a very worthy choice. In prior years, Buckner has been higher on this list. But the arrival of Yannick Ngakoue lessens a bit of what the Colts need from Buckner. Still though, Buckner’s availability and consistency are pretty rare for a defensive tackle.

Others Considered: Five names who were also considered for the top-5: Julian Blackmon is needed even more with the Khari Willis retirement. If Ryan Kelly were to go down, wouldn’t that mean the Colts have holes to fill at two offensive line spots (assuming Danny Pinter would have to slide over from right guard)? Kenny Moore is still vital given his cornerback versatility. I’d put Mo Alie-Cox in consideration given how incredibly young the tight end group is behind him. Lastly, Yannick Ngakoue was such a key offseason offseason addition for a defensive line needing a higher percentage of consistent four-man pass rush.