2020 Fantasy Preview: Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts

 

After their first playoff appearance since 2014, the 2019 Colts were riding high coming off a 10-6 record. Things took a quick turn when quarterback Andrew Luck announced his retirement just before their season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers, shocking both fans and the organization. Just as optimism started to creep into the fan base, something would turn that into the feeling where you can only laugh and throw up their hands. Indianapolis felt fortunate to have who they felt was a starting-caliber back-up in Jacoby Brissett to help them weather waves that the Luck retirement storm had created. Just as Brissett looked like he may help keep the team competitive headed into the Week 6 bye, Indianapolis started to see cracks in other areas that are usually part of a solid foundation, namely the kicking game and the decline of Adam Vinatieri.  It also became evident as injuries began to pile up (T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbel, Eric Ebron, Devin Funchess all missed time) that the Colts were lacking in big playmakers, especially at wide receiver.

The silver lining of the eventual disappointing outcome of the 2019 season was that the wheels came off all at once. GM Chris Ballard and Head Coach Frank Reich had their most aggressive offseason in free agency to sure things up at quarterback and on the defensive front. Then they made a big splash by making two offensive picks in the second round (moving up for only the third time in the Ballard tenure) to draft players that the organization felt could be the playmakers that they so sorely lacked in 2019. On paper, the 2020 season looks to be a much-improved offense. The 2020 Indianapolis Colts will be generating fantasy-relevant players, the question is, who will they be?

 

Quarterback

 

Philip Rivers

ADP: 160, QB22

What will the Colts get with the aging gunslinger in Philip Rivers? Over the last three seasons, he has averaged 4479 yards 28 TD and 14 INT as a Charger and that is with what was an admittedly down season in 2019. Prior to 2019, Rivers was a top 10 quarterback in passing yards perennially. So what happened in 2019 and what can that tell us about 2020?

Interceptions plagued Rivers season in 2019. He tied for the second-highest mark in his career with 20 picks. He finished second to the 30/30 man Jameis Winston with 36 total throws considered interceptable according to FantasyData. Surprisingly, we cannot blame the historically porous offensive line either. While Pro Football Focus ranked the Los Angeles Chargers offensive line 29th in the NFL in 2019, Rivers still benefited from a protection rate of 85.4% which was good for 8th in the league. Even when Rivers did see pressure, his completion percentage was top 12, completing 37.6% of passes under duress. He also struggled to throw the ball deep with accuracy. He connected on only 30.7% of his 75 deep ball attempts which was good for 25th in the NFL, a stark contrast to his 6th place finish in deep-ball accuracy just the year before in 2018.

Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Siriani no doubt know this. They will create a scheme to maximize Rivers’ current strengths and help minimize the risk within the offensive scheme. Rivers is still an effective passer within the short and intermediate routes. He has also been very good with the play-action pass, having top 10 finishes in play-action completion percentage the last two seasons. As a result, the Colts offense should look more like the up-tempo, timing-based passing attack with deep shots downfield off of play-action like we saw with Andrew Luck in 2018.

 

Best Case Scenario

Rivers have a bounce-back season in 2020. Reich and Siriani will scheme to take away the high-risk throws, particularly downfield. Rivers can be a high-end QB2.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Rivers really is shot. He pulls a repeat of his 2019 season.

 

2020 Projection: 409 completions, 628 attempts, 65% completion percentage, 4340 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, 13 interceptions

 

Running Backs

 

Jonathan Taylor

ADP: 39.5, RB22

Ballard has been conservative when it comes to making moves up the draft board in his tenure in Indianapolis. However, he made a big splash when the Colts moved up in the second round to take Jonathan Taylor from Wisconsin after already choosing wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. from USC earlier in the round.

On paper, Taylor looks to be the right guy with the right team. Taylor left Wisconsin with over 6200 total yards and 53 touchdowns. While he did have some issues holding onto the football with a fumble rate of 1.9% in college, this is something that he will continue to work on. Taylor only showed that he could be a part of the passing offense in his final year at Wisconsin, the only year he reached a 10% target share of the passing offense while in college.

Despite the few drawbacks, there is no doubt Taylor is explosive, with 4.39 speed at 226 lbs. His adjusted Speed Score is in the 99th percentile according to Player Profiler. With a top run-blocking offensive line, Taylor should be able to break off some big runs this season, which is exactly why Ballard moved up to draft him.

Expect Marlon Mack to retain the title of “starter” as he plays the first snap of the opening drive, but the Colts are going to get Taylor on the field as much as they can if Taylor proves to be a home run hitter. I expect Taylor and Mack’s role to be game script dependent. Expect Taylor to have the ball more when Indianapolis in behind or in need of a big play. Expect Mack to have more touches when the Colts are in the lead and want to grind out a win and eat clock, especially if Taylor’s ball security issues reemerge at the NFL level.

 

Best Case Scenario

Taylor takes over the backfield in something like a 60/30/10 split. As the bigger back, Taylor gets the goal line work ahead of Mack, and is an RB1 down the stretch.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Taylor does not break off the big plays early in the season and Mack is successful. Mack’s touches increase and Taylor is stuck in too much of a timeshare to be a fantasy difference-maker.

 

2020 Projection:  207 rushing attempts, 952 rushing yards, 4.6 YPC, 8 touchdowns; 35 targets, 21 receptions, 116 receiving yards

 

Marlon Mack

ADP: 85.6, RB38

Marlon Mack finished 2019 as a fringe RB2 in PPR scoring leagues. His upside has always been capped by his lack of usage in the passing game despite his 10.9% target share in college. He has proven himself a capable runner behind one of the best lines in football but is now a running back with a good portion of his opportunities siphoned off to pass-catching back Nyheim Hines and the explosive rookie Taylor.

With all the excitement over Taylor’s big-play ability, do not forget that Mack was behind only Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry with 13 breakaway runs, runs of 15 yards or more, last season. He was also 10th in yards created, which takes into account his ability to create rushing yards beyond what is blocked for him. Long story short, don’t expect Mack to just disappear. When Reich described the backfield as a “1-1 punch” as opposed to a 1-2, it makes sense. The Colts have two backs that can be used in specific game script situations. As I stated in the Taylor preview, Indianapolis will most likely try to use Taylor and Mack equally in neutral game scripts or wherever there is an edge against the opposing defense. Taylor and Hines will split the backfield while the Colts are in negative game scripts. Mack will see most of his carries in positive game scripts to ensure ball security and setup play-action passing. It is also important to note that the Colts currently have the easiest strength of schedule according to Sharp Football Analysis. The Colts should be leading a lot this season if this scenario I presented is true, in turn making Mack an extreme value at his current ADP.

 

Best Case Scenario

Mack gets the majority of the touches and Taylor doesn’t get off to a hot start. With Rivers under center, he finally sees more looks in the passing game as he did while in college, and puts together a solid season despite the increased competition. Mack is able to take advantage of any injury/fumbling issues that arise with Taylor.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Taylor takes the majority of the touches and gets the goal line work. Mack is not used in the passing game and continues to hover around his 5% target share from the last two seasons. Mack owners are left waiting for an injury to Taylor.

 

2020 Projection: 180 rushing attempts, 810 rushing yards, 4.5 YPC, 7 touchdowns; 41 targets, 31 receptions, 202 yards

 

Nyheim Hines

ADP: 137.7, RB54

Nyheim Hines has shown that he does two things well, return punts and catch passes out of the backfield. Hines has not been great running with the ball past what the line blocks. He was only able to create 54 yards on his own which was near the bottom of the league according to FantasyData. Hines should continue to be the receiving back that caps the volume of the other more talented backs on the roster. He is worth drafting late or streaming off the waiver wire, but remember that the Colts have the weakest strength of schedule in football this season, so there should be less throwing from behind which is when Hines gets the majority of his snaps.

 

Best Case Scenario

Hines gets lots and lots of dump-offs from Rivers and increases his target share to a career-high 13%+. The team plays from behind more than expected, and Hines provides a nice weekly floor play at running back.

 

Worst Case Scenario

The Colts attempt to use Mack more in the passing game as he did in college and also work Parris Campbell into the backfield for some snaps. Taylor is an explosive talent, and Hines becomes no more than a complementary passing game running back in a run-heavy offense.

 

2020 Projection: 45 rushing attempts, 176 rushing yards, 3.9 YPC, 2 touchdowns; 69 targets, 55 receptions, 440 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns

 

Wide Receivers

 

T.Y. Hilton

ADP: 53, WR22

Injuries ruined T.Y. Hilton‘s 2019 season. Hilton came out of the gates strong, scoring four touchdowns in the first three games, but he only scored one more for the rest of the season. He never topped 90 yards receiving in 2019. His best performance was in Week 1 for 87 yards. He battled two soft tissue injuries, including a calf tear that caused him to miss five games. As a result, Hilton did not lead the Colts receivers in fantasy points; the projected fourth wide receiver on the 2020 depth chart Zach Pascal did.

When Hilton was on the field he produced a respectable 2.24 yards per route run. Over the last three seasons Hilton’s average depth of target has started to steadily decrease from 12.7 in 2017 to 11.2 in 2018, and 10.5 in 2019. Hilton’s role as a splash play receiver on the outside may start to shift to the intermediate and underneath routes where he can rely more on his route running ability to create separation as opposed to his speed. The good news is, Philip Rivers excelled throwing to the likes of Kenan Allen (although Allen is a better route runner), so the blueprint is there.

Hilton is still the best receiver in Indianapolis. Nagging injuries and the fact that he is 30 years old may force him to adapt his game this season, but the talent is still there.

 

Best Case Scenario

A healthy Hilton is still a high-end WR2 on your fantasy team. He establishes a veteran connection with Rivers and continues his solid red zone role to provide solid weekly production.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Injuries continue to rob his opportunities to contribute. He becomes a low-end WR3 and best used in best ball when you don’t have to guess when he will be in the lineup and healthy.

 

2020 Projection: 126 targets, 79 receptions, 1066 yards, 8 touchdowns

 

Michael Pittman Jr.

ADP: 144.5, WR55

The Colts have been looking for a WR2 to lineup across from Hilton since Reggie Wayne retired. The current regime of Ballard and Reich seem to want that receiver to be a big, long receiver as evidenced by their investments on receivers fitting that prototype as Devin Funchess, Deon Cain, and Marcus Johnson. The Colts have moved onto a new receiver and none of the prior investments have cost as much capital as Michael Pittman Jr., which would excite fans about what Indianapolis thinks about his prospects.

Pittman does not have any elite testing measurables. He has solid Speed Score and Catch Radius scores according to Player Profiler. His College YPR and Breakout Age are just above average, but the Colts scouts loved what they saw. The Colts see Pittman as a big-bodied receiver that can go up and win contest catches with reliable hands.

 

Best Case Scenario

Pittman maintains somewhere near his healthy 74% catch rate from his senior year at USC. He becomes a red zone and deep-ball threat as Philip Rivers develops trust with him to win contested catches.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Pittman shows more of his mid-to-high 50% catch rate and doesn’t earn the trust of Rivers. This could impact the number of targets he gets downfield and in the red zone where fantasy points are highly correlated.

 

2020 Projection: 100 targets, 60 receptions, 780 yards, 7 touchdowns

 

Parris Campbell

ADP: 177, WR72

After missing the majority of his rookie season due to three different injuries, it is rookie season 2.0 for Parris Campbell. Coming into his rookie year, Reich was excited to be able to move Campbell around to utilize his speed to create mismatches. In 2019 he ran 39.3% of his snaps from the slot position according to Player Profiler. Although he will be listed as the slot receiver, look for Reich and Sirianni to find ways to get him the ball from all over the field.

 

Best Case Scenario

Campbell is what the Colts thought he was and can be a WR3 with WR2 upside. The Colts find creative ways to get him the ball, and he makes explosive plays.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Campbell has lost some explosiveness from his broken foot and has to start from scratch in his second year with a new quarterback. He fails to make a difference in fantasy football.

 

2020 Projection: 75 targets, 48 receptions, 552 yards, 4 touchdowns; 9 rushing attempts, 90 rushing yards

 

Zach Pascal

ADP: 268, WR131

The Colt receiver with the most fantasy points in 2019 should be on your waiver wire to start the season. Zach Pascal showed that he is talented and should get snaps, but will need an injury to a fellow receiver to get the volume to be fantasy relevant in 2020. Keep him on your radar.

 

Best Case Scenario

Pascal finds his way onto the field in passing opportunities. Pascal is a great blocker, so he should be used in running plays, but he has shown himself to be a capable option in the passing game. He could be an interesting flex option if the Colts give him snaps on passing plays.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Pascal cannot find the field enough to have the opportunity to score you fantasy points.

 

2020 Projection: 19 targets, 11 receptions, 148 yards, 1 touchdown

 

Tight Ends

 

Jack Doyle

ADP: 158.5, TE18

Mr. Reliable. Jack Doyle is anything but flashy, but he gets the job done. He will continue to be a TE2 this season although he may see a slight uptick in targets if he develops a rapport with Rivers since the quarterback loves throwing to his tight ends. Doyle did finish seventh in red zone targets for tight ends last season with 14 according to FantasyData. When they get in close, the Colts are looking at the tight end, and with Eric Ebron gone to Pittsburgh, there are red zone opportunities available.

 

Best Case Scenario

Doyle returns to fringe TE1 glory as Rivers pumps him full of targets.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Doyle continues as a TE2 or fringe TE3 as the Indianapolis passing game starts to proliferate to the other new weapons within the offense.

 

2020 Projection: 88 targets, 57 receptions, 542 yards, 5 touchdowns

 

 

Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Kenny Hyttenhove

Kenny loves the underdog. He's spent his entire football watching life making arguments about the teams and players he loves most. My namesake Ken "The Snake" Stabler (HOF), Emmitt Smith (Better than Barry), Colts (Peyton v. Brady) and so on. A self-described data nerd. He lives with his wife and daughter in Columbus, Ohio and his day job is an elementary school teacher.

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