Indianapolis Colts Forced to Fill Glaring Hole After Shocking Khari Willis Retirement

The Indianapolis Colts defense in 2020. The unit just lost Khari Willis due to retirement.
Khari Willis #37 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 20, 2020. | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Is there such a thing as an offseason without a shocking retirement for the Indianapolis Colts?

Indy’s franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, surprisingly retired at just 29 years old before the 2019 season. The team then saw starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo hang up the cleats following the 2020 campaign.

Now, as the Colts head into a big year in which they hope to contend for the AFC, their starting safety, Khari Willis, is calling it quits after three NFL seasons.

So, how will Indianapolis fill its now glaring hole with training camp right around the corner?

Khari Willis leaves the Colts with a glaring hole at safety

Former Indianapolis Colts safety Khari Willis, who recently announced his retirement.
Indianapolis Colts safety Khari Willis during a game against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 4, 2020. | Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Khari Willis had become a nice player for the Colts after they selected him in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. During his three seasons in the pros, Willis started in 33 of the 39 games he played in, and he racked up 219 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and four interceptions.

The Michigan State product is deciding to close the football chapter of his life and focus on ministry.

“With much prayer and deliberation, I have elected to officially retire from the NFL as I endeavor to devote the remainder of my life to the further advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Willis wrote on Instagram (h/t ESPN). “I thank all of my family, friends, and those who have supported me on this journey thus far and I look forward to your continued support through the next phase of my life.”

In 2020, Pro Football Focus gave Willis a 73.2 player grade, which is solid considering the site gave Pro Bowler Antoine Winfield Jr. an 89.5 in 2021.

Willis proved his worth as a starting safety throughout his three years in Indianapolis, helping the team rank third in interceptions during the 2021 season. His strong tackling ability also played a major role in Indy ranking in the top 10 in the fewest rushing yards allowed last year.

So, considering his value to Indy’s defense, who will fill his spot at starting safety?

How will the Colts fill their hole at starting safety?

Filling Willis’ production will be a challenge for the Colts, no matter how you view it. But luckily for them, they addressed the position this offseason.

The team signed veteran Rodney McLeod, who has started in 123 of 139 games throughout his 10-year career. It also selected Nick Cross in the 2022 NFL Draft. Cross had 66 total tackles, three sacks, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles at Maryland in 2021. Stephen Holder of The Athletic reported, “the Colts are particularly excited about Cross and his impressive speed and coverage ability.” It appears both McLeod and Cross will have opportunities to start with Willis now gone.

What really helps the team, though, is that Julian Blackmon will also be returning from an Achilles injury. Blackmon started in 14 of 15 games as a rookie for Indy in 2020, racking up 42 total tackles and two interceptions. He was then having an excellent 2021 campaign, recording 34 total tackles in just six games before going down with a season-ending injury.

The Colts, who have a defense that can make noise this season with guys like DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore II, and Stephon Gilmore, will certainly miss Khari Willis and his ability to tackle from the safety position. He leaves them with a glaring hole, but their depth in the defensive backfield should help them overcome it for the most part.

Now, let’s just hope these surprise retirements come to an end for the Colts in their upcoming offseasons.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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