Consider this: The Indianapolis Colts are 12-0 without the benefit of having the projected four starters in their secondary together for even a single snap.
The Colts' rookie cornerbacks have started 17 games between them. Perhaps most remarkable is that one of the first-year corners, Jacob Lacey, is an undrafted free agent who has registered six starts.
"Yeah, sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if it's all real," Lacey said. "It's a little crazy to be a rookie starting in the NFL and to be playing for an undefeated team. But I'm sure trying to make the most of it."
In Week 13, the NFL had eight former undrafted free agents who started at cornerback. But Lacey, who has partnered with third-round draft choice Jerraud Powers in the starting lineup the past five games (and six overall), is the only rookie in that undrafted bunch, a fact of which he was unaware.
Season-ending injuries to cornerback Marlin Jackson and strong safety Bob Sanders, along with those to cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Tim Jennings, have shuffled the Indianapolis secondary throughout the season. A former Auburn standout, Powers has logged 11 starts. Safety Melvin Bullitt, cited by Lacey as having been very helpful to him, has started 11 times. In all, the Colts have started five different secondary combinations and have used seven starters.
Although the Colts statistically rank 19th in pass defense, they have surrendered only 11 touchdown passes (fourth-fewest), an opponent passer rating of 76.6 (eighth-best), and a league-best 22 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Credit first-year coach Jim Caldwell for being resourceful, and president/general manager Bill Polian for creating the necessary depth.
In 12 appearances, Lacey has 60 tackles, two interceptions and 11 passes defensed.
Lacey, 22, is the latest in a long line of undrafted free agents to earn a spot on the Indianapolis roster. There are currently 15 players on the roster who started their professional careers as undrafted free agents. That includes eight starters, six of them on defense.
When Lacey, a three-year starter at Oklahoma State, wasn't drafted, several teams offered him the opportunity to sign as a free agent. He chose the Colts because of their track record for granting free agents a legitimate opportunity, and because three-year veteran Bullitt, who attended the same high school (Naaman Forest in Garland, Texas), sold him on the team.
"He told me I'd get snaps [in camp], and that I'd have a chance to either cut myself or make the team," Lacey said. "A lot of teams tell you the same thing, but the Colts really do it. They treat every [rookie] the same."
A quarterback, running back and wide receiver in high school, Lacey was recruited for those positions by schools like SMU, Wisconsin and Iowa. But he felt his best position was cornerback, and it certainly helped that he played in the Big 12, a conference that in recent seasons has featured some of the college game's top quarterbacks.
"I got tested a lot [in college], and it made me a better player," Lacy said. "But to say I thought this was going to happen would be [an overstatement]. It's a challenge, that's for sure, but I don't feel like a rookie anymore."
And he's certainly not playing like one.