Zach Carter is a first-year Journalism major and writes for The Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
Since the shock retirement of Andrew Luck, the Indianapolis Colts have had five different quarterbacks. Most of these quarterbacks were "bandaids,” but that rarely works in the NFL. There was hope in the beginning of the 2022 season as Indianapolis traded for 2016 NFL Most Valuable Player Matt Ryan.
But after a tumultuous first seven games of the season that sees the Colts sit one spot back in the NFC South Division with three wins, three losses and a bewildering tie.
At the beginning of week eight, the organization announced that Sam Ehlinger, a sixth-round draft pick out of Texas in 2021, will start the rest of the season.
When the news came out, there were fans on both sides of the aisle. For myself, I was pumped. I was one of the guys who hoped that the Colts would just use Ehlinger and give him a chance. No offense to the last three quarterbacks, but the whole “quarterback for one season” is getting old.
At the end of the day, this is not just about a new quarterback. This could be a sign that Colts fans have wanted for a while. There are two main outcomes that come out of this season-defining decision from the Indianapolis Colts and the future of their franchise quarterback.
What if he does well?
Against the Washington Commanders, Sam Ehlinger will make his first career start in a regular season. Not to mention this will be his first time taking the field as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Ehlinger shared the quarterback role with veteran Nick Foles in the pre-season. In three games, he had 24 completions in 29 attempts, 289 yards, and 4 touchdowns. He averaged 96.3 yards per game and had a rating of 147.8.
He also showed something that Matt Ryan never had this year: the ability to escape the pocket and run. Ehlinger only ran the ball six times in those three games but had 71-rushing yards. A big chunk of those yards came from a 45-yard touchdown run against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With how inconsistent the Indy offensive line has been this season, this might help.
One he was drafted, I watched some of his college highlights. With him being named starter, I watched them again. Like I said above, he can extend plays with his mobility and can get around defenders easily. But he also checks before just deciding to run and is smart when he does it, going out of bounds instead of trying to level a defender.
The highlights also prove that he is an accurate passer and has a good rating. He left Texas with a career pass rating of 145.0, with his junior season being the best at 151.8. His stats also show that he can pick up yards and is no stranger to the endzone. He finished his college career with 11,436 passing yards and 94 touchdowns.
If he can prove that he is the guy, then the Colts can focus on building around him. The fans have been begging for a franchise quarterback since Luck’s departure from the team; this could be the time they find the man for the job.
What if he can’t handle the pressure?
When Ehlinger was praised for his efforts in the pre-season, some Colts fans had one thought. He is doing this against backups and third-stringers, not starters. So yes, this will be his first test with the top players.
There are a few things that I am worried about. Most of his Texas career highlights show that his offensive line gave him enough time to make decisions. With the Colts offensive line struggles, he will need to make decisions faster. That is where I agree with some doubters, this is the NFL. One second early or one second late can decide your fate.
Another thing that has me worried are his receivers. Even though the receiver core has exceeded my expectations, switching quarterbacks eight weeks in is no easy process. That means that they will need to get used to him just like he will them. But if the Colts really want success this year, I fear it is too late. But even if he struggles and the Colts finish with a bad record, it’s a win.
Indianapolis’ two best quarterbacks in the last twenty years have been Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. Some might say that those two were generational quarterbacks, and, in my opinion, they definitely were. But did they give up draft picks for them? Did they get them because they knew the coach? Did they sign them on an overpriced contract? No. They drafted them.
Yes, seeing those types of quarterbacks can be a rare thing, but there’s at least the opportunity to do what the Colts’ front office has prided themselves on in recent years, drafting well. Moreover, look at the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers.
Patrick Mahomes was selected with the tenth pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He already has led Kansas City to two Super Bowl appearances including a Super Bowl 54 championship. He also was named the 2018 Most Valuable Player.
Justin Herbert was selected with the sixth pick in the 2020 NFL draft. He won the 2020 Rookie of the Year award. In that year, he had the most completions by a rookie, the most touchdown passes by a rookie and the most 300-yard passing games as a rookie.
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of cases of quarterbacks drafted in the first round that went on to be busted in the league. But the names above, as well as many more that were not listed, have shown that the quarterbacks selected throughout the first round can be franchise stars.
Even if the Colts struggle under Ehlinger, they could walk out with their future quarterback. Some names that could be options are Tennessee's Hendon Hooker, Alabama’s Bryce Young, and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud.
This Sunday will be the first and maybe the only game that I attend this season. Whatever the outcome, I am excited to see Ehlinger take the reins of the offense and to witness what this means for the future of the Indianapolis Colts.