The 2008 class had a number of heavy contributors, with second-round pick Mike Pollak starting 13 games at guard, free agent defensive tackle Eric Foster starting 11 games after the release of 2007's rookie sensation Ed Johnson, and Jamey Richard starting seven games at center and guard.
It was a strong crop of first-year players, but Pollak gets the nod as having the best season, since he stepped right into the lineup and stayed there, with the other rookies in consideration needing some help through injury or release to get a starting nod.
Collie might not have an immediate impact for the Colts
Given the fact that something catastrophic would need to happen for Curtis Painter to see extended action, he is immediately taken out of consideration.
Seventh-round pick Jaimie Thomas faces long odds to make the roster, nonetheless make a significant contribution, so he is disqualified. Jerraud Powers is a bit of a project and, with the depth chart pretty well set at the cornerback position, something less damaging, but still harrowing would need to happen for him to be the impact rookie of this year's class.
Wide receivers rarely have a breakout season in their rookie campaign and the depth chart is still fairly stacked against Austin Collie at this point, so he was not included in the competition.
Pat McAfee could very well win the starting punter job — in fact, it's looking likely — and handle kickoffs. If that happens, then he would definitely get votes for Colts Rookie of the Year, but history has also shown that Indianapolis does not place an emphasis on special teams.
In all likelihood, what the following players do in the other two phases of the game will separate them from the other contenders.
The smart money would be on the player that the Colts thought enough of to draft with their first round selection, so an early advantage would need to be given to Donald Brown.
The Indianapolis running game struggled mightily in 2008 and Joseph Addai has yet to prove that he can stay healthy over the course of a 16 game season. Even if he does stay off the injury report and is active throughout 2009, he also has yet to show that he can carry the ball more than 261 times.
If the Colts are to return to a strong running game to compliment their potent passing attack, they will need to run the ball more than that in the coming season.
Dominic Rhodes signed with the Bills and is out of the picture and Mike Hart is recovering from a knee injury that placed him on injured reserve for the entire 2008, so Brown's touches should only realistically be challenged by how effectively Addai hounds his touches. Brown is a very talented player and a change of pace back that also fits into the Colts system quite well.
However, Addai was also drafted in the first round and struggled to unseat Rhodes during his rookie year. He ended up finishing with over 1,000 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry, though, so to count Brown out would be shortsighted to say the least.
The mere fact that Indianapolis used a first-round pick to take Brown means that Addai certainly does not have a stranglehold on the starting job. This will be a competition to watch through the offseason, the regular season, and, hopefully, the postseason.
Moala could have an immediate impact on the defensive line
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The ultimate winner will be the Colts, as they obviously saw the value in having two quality, fresh backs on hand late in the season in 2006.
The re-signing of Ed Johnson and the existence of Foster, Keyunta Dawson, and Raheem Brock on the roster complicates things for defensive tackles Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor. Moala has more upside as a pass rusher and disruptive force on the inside, so he has the early edge on Taylor.
But, all it will take is one more misstep by Johnson and for the Colts to give up on their tenuous confidence in Foster and Antonio Johnson for a clogger like Taylor to start logging significant snaps at nose tackle. This is still Moala's award to lose on the the defensive side of things.
All he would need to do is take advantage of his immense athletic abilities and knack for collapsing the pocket to win this competition going away. But, all it would also take would be for him to show some of the inconsistencies he showed at college for him to lose a great deal of playing time and end the season as an inactive on Sundays.
And the Winner is...
Brown. The Colts are not in the business of letting their first selection in any given draft languish on the sidelines. Although it took some time for Addai and 2007 first round selection Anthony Gonzalez to make serious contributions, the true stars in Indianapolis are always on the offensive side of the ball.
When the Colts build through the draft, they tend to build their marquee players around their biggest marquee player, Peyton Manning.
Manning and Tom Moore will find ways to get Brown the ball early in the season and the wear and tear on Addai will give Brown opportunities late.
He will most likely not finish the 2009 season with 1,000 yards rushing, but his contributions will be seen and felt on offense.