2018 Fantasy Team Preview: Indianapolis Colts
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire
As a lifelong Colts fan, I reflect on the good ol’ days where our franchise quarterback didn’t suffer from a neck injury or miss an entire season due to a shoulder injury. The days when Tarik Glenn and Jeff Saturday set the edge for The Edge, Marvin Harrison blew up Champ Bailey in a route of the Broncos, and even the helicopter launching antics of Raheem Brock. Nevertheless, the Colts are three full seasons removed from their AFC Championship appearance. Fresh off a season that rewarded the team with a top five pick, I’m strapping in for similar results. Despite all this negativity and remarkable over usage of passive voice, the Colts do have an interesting roster with fantasy implications. The team has seen a complete overhaul since Andrew Luck was last healthy, and this, here, is your guide through the mess that Chris Ballard is trying to iron out.
A quick note: Players marked with an asterisk (*) are potential sleepers.
|Denico Autry||Defensive End||Rotational||Oakland Raiders|
|Eric Ebron||Tight End||Second Tight End||Detroit Lions|
|Ryan Grant||Wide Receiver||Starter||Washington Redskins|
|Matt Slauson||Guard||Rotational||Los Angeles Chargers|
|Vontae Davis||Cornerback||Buffalo Bills|
|Frank Gore||Running Back||Miami Dolphins|
|Donte Moncrief||Wide Receiver||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Rashaan Melvin||Cornerback||Oakland Raiders|
|Barkevious Mingo||Outside Linebacker||Seattle Seahawks|
2018 Draft Results
|1||6||Quinten Nelson||Guard||Notre Dame|
|2||36||Darius Leonard||Middle Linebacker||South Carolina St.|
|2||52||Kemoko Turay||Defensive End||Rutgers|
|2||64||Tyquan Lewis||Defensive End||Ohio State|
|4||104||Nyheim Hines||Running Back||NC State|
|5||159||Daurice Fountain||Wide Receiver||Northern Iowa|
|5||169||Jordan Wilkins||Running Back||Mississippi|
|6||185||Deon Cain||Wide Receiver||Clemson|
(QB1) Andrew Luck
One of the most polarizing figures in football is back. Some want to consider him nothing more than a turnover machine (106 turnovers in 70 career games). Others drool over his seventeen game-winning drives, nearly 20,000 yards and innate ability to carry the loathsome Colts. Regardless of which side you sit, it is in football’s best interest to have Andrew Luck back on the field, healthy, for the first time since the beginning of 2015. There are countless questions surrounding his ability and even more about his supporting cast. With lineman Jack Mewhort announcing his retirement, only five players remain from the Colts’ run to the AFC Championship in 2014. Nevertheless, training camp has been promising, and fans are getting restless to see one of the most exciting players back in action.
Luck’s return from injury comes with new mechanics that will hopefully quicken his motion and place less stress on his body. Regardless of most production, his optimal value will be determined by goal line performance. His 64 career touchdowns inside the opponent’s ten, compared to only 3 interceptions, total to a 95.6 passer rating (Tom Brady’s career rating inside the opponent ten is 95.0 – yes, I know, sample size, but still). On top of his passing, Luck’s bulldozing ability makes him a regular threat to score with his legs. The upside that made him an MVP candidate means he still has top 5 potential as a QB this season, but it would be safe to assume Luck will miss at least a game or two.
While everyone is excited to see Andrew Luck back on the field, Jacoby Brissett remains a name to remember in deeper leagues. Luck has missed 26 games over the past three seasons and there is a fair chance he is forced out of action yet again. If he is, the Colts’ offense hands the reigns over to a man that found occasional success last year, learning schemes and building rapport on the fly. Now with a full off-season under his belt, Brissett may find more consistency if called upon this time around.
(RB3) Marlon Mack
Marlon Mack looks to be the lead back in Indianapolis. Take that as you will because the Colts have not offered a top 16 rushing offense since 2013 – even that is based on YPC as they ranked 20th in total yards. Optimists will find plenty of nuggets to support a positive view of the “feature” back coming into the year. The rookie would have scored on his first touch as a professional if Chuck Pagano was not the head coach. He ranked fifth among all backs in rushing attempt rate of 15+ yards. Some believe the fact that he played through a shoulder injury all season bodes for even more success – but honestly, he’s not a linebacker, he is almost all legs outside of this:
One of the benefits of Mack’s speed is that he holds the ability to break plays open down the sideline. On 25 rushes outside the hash marks last season, the rookie posted a stellar 6.76 YPC. The counter to this point is that he has demonstrated minimal ability to run between the tackles in the Indianapolis offense. His 57 carries amount to a lowly 2.63 yards per rush, though all three of his rushing touchdowns came in the middle of the field. He demonstrated the same trends at South Florida, making it difficult to believe he will demonstrate a complete turnaround. With additional competition in the backfield, Mack will likely never reach more than an RB2 ceiling this season, though owners should find some security in his receiving for PPR leagues.
Indianapolis’ fourth-round pick Nyheim Hines could be a massive hit, or a complete bust, in his first year within the Colts’ new offense. The team is assuredly going to implement more quick plays, and Hines is the most versatile weapon in the offense in that regard. The rookie collected 89 receptions in college while running for more than 5 YPC in two of his three years at NC State. Predicting his role will be nothing more than conjecture at this point, making his preseason games more interesting than they should be. Hines will likely cast into FLEX plays for much of this season, making him less of a priority early in the year.
Jordan Wilkins is among the most unheralded backs coming out of the draft. So many big names went through the first two days, that few paid much attention to the fifth round back out of Mississippi. It is exciting to see one of the two backs to rush for 100 yards against Alabama’s stout defense – Wilkins (12 rushes, 101 yards) and second-round pick Kerryon Johnson (30 rushes, 104 yards). Especially one who found increasing success over the second half of the season (7 games: 102 carries, 742 yards, 7 touchdowns). His role remains fairly uncertain, but the suspension of Robert Turbin for the first four games of the season could mean early reps for Wilkins. Per a source earlier in the week, “[I] would not be surprised if Jordan Wilkins ended up our starting RB at some point this season.”
Frank Reich has since lauded over the rookie and the hype train is gaining speed. Many realize the Colts will not feature a three-down back, but if they were able to, it would likely be Wilkins. His cuts seem effortless and there is less wasted motion compared to the laterally-motivated playstyles of Hines and Mack. A valuable name to watch down the stretch, his value is likely going to be overstated at the draft, and owners may be frustrated early in the season. However, a few goal line touches can shift perspective, and the team remains without its short-yardage option.
Indianapolis’ supreme goal line back vultured seven touchdowns away from Frank Gore in 2016, all within the ten-yard line. However, he was sidelined for the majority of 2017 and produced only one touchdown as Marlon Mack became a fairly regular part of the offense. Now suspended for the first four games of the year due to a PED violation, Turbin should not creep into anyone’s thoughts for a couple months, and by then he may be completely pushed out of the offense.
(WR1/2) T.Y. Hilton
Admittedly, I have a slight vendetta against T.Y. Hilton, but everything in this brief summary will be in fact…if you want a more unbiased opinion, he ranks 11th in our wide receiver rankings. Hilton suffered greatly without his All-Pro quarterback in 2017 posting his first sub-1,000 yard season since his rookie year. Even worse for fantasy owners was that his touchdown total (4) was the lowest of his career. His high points rivaled the best in the league:
- Week 3 – 7 receptions, 153 yards, 1 TD
- Week 5 – 7 receptions, 177 yards
- Week 9 – 5 receptions, 175 yards, 2 TD
But the inconsistency prevented him from being a reliable option week in and week out. A similar tale was told in 2016 where nearly half of Hilton’s 1,448 yards came in only 5 games. Nevertheless, T.Y. has the ability to blow the top off any secondary, and the return of Luck should lead to a higher floor for performance on a regular basis. Top 10 potential stems from Hilton’s ability to post extreme weeks, but owners will be more comfortable with Hilton being a low-end WR1 in larger leagues, or consistently a WR2 in most leagues.
Perhaps the biggest variable in Hilton’s results this season will be red zone production. Both in terms of volume and efficiency. The undersized receiver saw a grand total of ten targets in the opponent’s red zone, and three targets inside the opponents 10-yard line last season. Both of these represented his lowest totals since 2012 (Hilton’s rookie season). In addition to the lack of opportunity, Hilton posted an uncharacteristic 20% catch rate inside the red zone, and he failed to record a catch inside the 10. Note: Please refer to the importance of Andrew Luck performing on the goal line in the above section. Despite the wealth of options Luck has been offered, he and Hilton offer a rapport unmatched by any other Colts, and this is where both players will see their ceilings determined.
(WR4) Ryan Grant
A string of questionable events with the Baltimore Ravens pushed Ryan Grant on to Indianapolis where he is expected to be the number two option opposite of Hilton. The bright side for the Colts is that Grant’s delivered a solid 69.2% catch rate on 65 targets. The downside is that he’s never had much of a nose for the end zone, though that can also be attributed to his typically limited role in Washington’s offense. He demonstrated an ability to work on short and intermediate routes last season, something Indianapolis has long desired. His 41 catches within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage should complement the tight ends well and help offer more balance to the team’s offense. Grant lands on our Top 80 Receivers ranking with WR3 potential, but he will have ample competition for that spot.
Many expected Chester Rogers to be the next weapon in the Colts’ arsenal after Andrew Luck made so many receivers before him. However, the absence of Luck over the past two years has shown why Rogers went undrafted in the first place. He’s shown explosiveness and an ability to reach the second level, but he lacks the consistency needed to even be a 40-reception guy in this offense. Is there still potential for him to break into that role? Sure. But now Rogers is fighting off two rookie receivers and an expected increase in targets for the tight end position. Don’t expect Rogers to offer much outside of the occasional long touchdown:
His value will either come from Reich offering him a new role which better suits him, or an injury ahead of him on the depth chart which grants him more opportunity. Rogers should not be on draft boards, and will likely only be a waiver wire thought once or twice during the year.
Failure to meet extreme expectations going into his junior season left Deon Cain sliding down draft boards, additional questions about his mental commitment left him available at Pick 185 for the Colts. Like many training camp reports, Cain has only shown positives and is leaving fans with a promising outlook. His 4.43 forty time at the combine had many comparing Cain to effective deep threats in the league, but he lacked the consistent performance many expected to see on the field. The Colts have a number of players that can simply run past corners, but his 6’2 frame gives him a chance to add more tools to his arsenal. Preseason games will give more evidence as to how he performs against the highest level of competition, and from there, expectations can be formed.
For what it’s worth, I think Cain has the most complete toolset on the team to exclusively run on the outside.
One of the biggest questions regarding Indianapolis’ 2017 draft class was a lack of commitment heading into their first season. Fifth-round pick Daurice Fountain was selected at 220-pounds and has already worked his way below the 210 mark. A small piece of trivia, but a promising nugget nonetheless. Fountain went unnoticed by many after spending four years at Northern Iowa. However, it’s hard to sleep on any player who hauls in a dozen receptions, especially on only 66 receptions. Like many small school prospects, Fountain will need to show ability in live reps, making preseason games important. Similar to Cain and other rookies, he likely will not be worth a look until a few weeks into the season.
(TE2) Jack Doyle
An extremely valuable weapon for the Colts, Jack Doyle loses a lot of his value in terms of fantasy. His career high in touchdown came during his breakout campaign in 2016, but that was capped at five. Optimal value comes in PPR leagues where his 80 receptions ranked second for the position behind only Travis Kelce. The addition of Eric Ebron will certainly take some of Doyle’s 107 targets, especially in the red zone. However, Doyle’s strong hands keep him as a viable option in PPR leagues. Owners may be able to steal him in a draft where many focus on the more established names, but should also be wary of over-drafting a player lacking the big-play ability.
(TE3) Eric Ebron*
For those of you who have forgotten, Eric Ebron was selected ahead of Taylor Lewan, Odell Beckham, Aaron Donald, Zack Martin, C.J. Mosley, Brandin Cooks, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, and Jarvis Landry. Inconsistent hands and that missing “it” factor have prevented Ebron from ever reaching the potential Detroit saw in 2014. Despite the concerns, he is coming off of his most complete season as a professional and enters an offense led by one of the masterminds behind Philadelphia’s tight end-heavy system. Ebron finished 2017 with 53 receptions, 574 yards, and four touchdowns.
Andrew Luck is unlikely to target in on just Ebron too often, but he fits the mold the Eagle’s scheme surrounding Zach Ertz. Doyle will command plenty of targets; however, Ebron’s athleticism is a closer comparison the Philadelphia’s star tight end. Ertz collected 47 receptions within ten yards of the line of scrimmage last season, with 14 more coming shy of the 20-yard mark. Ebron actually averaged more yards per completion for that latter category. Even if the Ebron/Doyle split the closer routes, the former Lion could overplay expectations as a slightly deeper route runner. Granted, this is all if Ebron lives up to his potential, something he’s failed to do his entire career. Don’t look for Ebron to consistently deliver right away, but he may carve out a role in the offense as the year progresses.
Summary: The Colts are young with occasional talent, but do not expect them to be more than a streaming option this season.
General manager Chris Ballard has placed a heavy emphasis on rebuilding the Colts’ defense from the inside out during his first year and a half with the Colts. The team is transitioning to a 4-3 defense this season under new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. Centerpieces Al Woods and Hassan Ridgeway will be surrounded by a wealth of new players offering exceptional speed. Per one source, “Our front 7 is young and inexperienced, but they’re quick and explosive.” Jabaal Sheard proved to be among the most effective pass rushers of 2017, and he’ll be joined by new defensive end additions Denico Autry (Oakland), Kemoko Turay (Rutgers) and Tyquan Lewis (Ohio St.). The rookies will be projects, but they’ll show up to make plays on occasion.
The linebacking group in Indianapolis is my biggest concern. Antonio Morrison found his way onto the stat sheet often last season with 108 tackles on the year. He’s surrounded by John Simon on the strong side and second-year linebacker Anthony Walker as the WILL. Second-round pick Darius Leonard offers enough speed to potentially move across the defense when called upon, but he begins the year backing up Morrison. Fellow rookie Zaire Franklin is an exceptional tackler, enough so to warrant a draft pick. However, his coverage skills make him a liability on the back side, an area where the Colts have been hit hard in recent years.
Injuries have plagued the Colts’ secondary and an outright lack of talent will be an even greater detriment. In line with pre-draft concerns, Malik Hooker fell to an ACL injury last season, playing only seven games of his rookie campaign. Running mate Clayton Geathers continues his return from surgery, pushing Matthias Farley into the starting position. The loss of Rashaan Melvin and Vontae Davis means the Colts lack any true number one. Quincy Wilson and Pierre Desir are expected to be starters, a combination which played 16 total games last year. Names like Nate Hairston and Kenny Moore have a chance to work into playing time, but it will likely not matter for a defense whose primary goal will simply be buying Luck and the offense enough time to rest as they’ll need to put up 30+ points for most wins.
Future Hall-of-Famer Adam Vinatieri is just 57 points shy of all-time NFL scoring leader Morten Andersen. He returns for his 23rd season and 13th year with the Indianapolis Colts. After a remarkable revival in 2014 and 2015, Vinatieri has regressed to a sub-90% accuracy mark for the past two years. Despite this, he’s averaged 117 points per year and has made 66 of his last 68 extra points. Indianapolis’ offense stalled out frequently last year, granting Vinatieri the second most attempts between 20 and 29 yards. A reliable option for consistent points, he is a guaranteed name in larger leagues, but is likely a second option to weekly streaming unless the Colts’ offense proves it can return to old form.