By Cole Hoopingarner (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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The wheels can’t come off if they were never on. That sums up the Indianapolis Colts’ season last year. No Andrew Luck produced a lowered win total and lower fantasy production across the board. Things weren’t as bad as they could have been, though. It’s safe to say no one put much stock into quarterback Jacoby Brissett, but he actually performed quite admirably. In fact, Brissett outscored Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston (although Winston missed three games with a shoulder injury). Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton understandably didn’t produce as much without Luck behind center but still posted very respectable numbers, finishing with 175.2 points, good enough for a WR25 finish. And how can we forget about the ageless wonder Frank Gore, who at 34 years old churned out 1,206 total yards and four total touchdowns en route to a very respectable RB22 finish. Brissett connected often with tight end Jack Doyle who racked up 80 catches for 690 yards and four touchdowns, good enough for a TE8 finish. Running back Marlon Mack was at times brilliant and at others baffling.
In 2017, winning fantasy football owners relied on Colts players during their fantasy starters’ bye weeks and when Indy had a favorable matchup. Those who missed the playoffs probably relied on Colts players as their starters throughout the season. But all that should change this year with the return of quarterback Andrew Luck…
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|RB3||(R) Nyheim Hines||N/A||N/A|
|RB4||(R) Jordan Wilkins||N/A||N/A|
|WR2||Ryan Grant (w/ WAS)||122.00||WR49|
|WR4||(R) Daurice Fountain||N/A||N/A|
|WR5||(R) Deon Cain||N/A||N/A|
|TE2||Eric Ebron (w/ DET)||130.50||TE11|
Rookies and Undrafted Free Agents to watch: Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Daurice Fountain, & Deon Cain.
Last year we thought Andrew Luck would play an abridged season. He didn’t even touch the field. Now the Colts assure us he’ll be the starting QB in week 1. I’m going to write the rest of this preview under the assumption that Luck will be healthy at the start of the season.
Improved offensive line? Check. Key weapons returning? Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle are there. New weapons to play with? Tight end Eric Ebron and wide receiver Ryan Grant have arrived. The biggest improvement for Luck may be the new head coach, Frank Reich. Reich is coming off a two year stint as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator. You may have heard about some guy named Carson Wentz producing insane numbers in his first two years as a quarterback. If Reich can do that with Wentz, aren’t the possibilities endless with the guy many argue is the smartest quarterback to ever come out of college?
There’s not much to say about the Colts’ signal caller that hasn’t been said, so I’m not gonna waste your time. If he’s healthy, he’s easily a top 5 QB. So let’s focus instead on when to draft him. Look, you don’t have to reach for QBs in this draft. The depth at the position is outstanding this year. In several early mocks, the first quarterback didn’t go off the board until the 4th round. That means you can probably wait to get Luck until the late 5th to mid 6th rounds. At that point, if you’re confident in your first 4-5 picks, it’s worth the gamble on Luck’s health. Getting a top 5 guy at his position in the 4th or 5th round is huge. Take him if you can.
With Frank Gore taking his talents to South Beach, only one word describes Indy’s current backfield situation: unpredictable. Second-year man Marlon Mack figures to be the leading candidate for the starting job, but don’t write that in ink. The Colts drafted two running backs this year: North Carolina State’s Nyheim Hines and Mississippi’s Jordan Wilkins, and if Mack doesn’t quickly improve in between the tackles, he could face stiff competition early and often.
Mack showed flashes of brilliance outside the tackles last year, but he doesn’t appear to be built for a 3-down workload, and neither does Hines. Wilkins is starting to get some buzz as a potential workhorse (mostly from ESPN’s Mike Clay) but at this point, how can you put your faith in Wilkins, Hines, or Mack as anything more than sleeper picks? Mack’s probably the back you want early in the season as a potential FLEX play. Unfortunately, it’s a guessing game at this point, and none of these guys are worth anything more than late picks in deep leagues.
Winning in fantasy football requires minimizing risk. Trust me, I know how good it feels to draft a sleeper you love. But be honest with yourself: how often does that sleeper wake up? If you really like any of these guys to break out, by all means, take them. Just don’t do it before the 10th round.
As we move out wide we find the electric and often underappreciated T.Y. Hilton. Hilton set the world on fire in 2016, catching 91 passes for 1448 yards and six touchdowns. Those are WR1 numbers, folks, and I believe he’ll post similar numbers this year with a healthy Luck and Reich’s offensive brilliance. Also, Hilton’s apparently in the best shape of his life under the guidance of the Colts’ new director of sports performance Rusty Jones.
What I’m about to type may get me accused of being lazy, but I really don’t care. Last year’s Colts preview included my thoughts about Hilton with Luck under center. Nothing’s changed my mind about Hilton and his potential, so I’m gonna go with my prediction from last year: 90 catches, 1350 yards, seven touchdowns. He’s a number one wide receiver that you can snag in the second round behind a top-flight RB in the first. Do it.
The only thing that may prevent Indy’s number one wide receiver from hitting those numbers is the horrible depth behind him at the position. You may have heard of Ryan Grant, but if you told me that you knew who Chester Rogers and KJ Brent were, I’d call you a liar and I’d probably be right. Grant’s the only receiver besides Hilton worth considering simply because Luck doesn’t have anyone else out wide that has proven themselves yet. If you decide to take a leap of faith on Grant, wait until the 12th round or so—but be prepared to drop him quickly if he doesn’t produce in the first few weeks.
If Indy’s wide receiver picture is crystal clear (it’s Hilton or bust), the tight end picture is quite muddled. Let’s start with Jack Doyle. In 2016, Luck targeted Doyle 75 times and Doyle hauled in 59 of those passes. In 2017, Brissett threw Doyle the ball 108 times and Doyle caught 80 of them. I believe Doyle will regress significantly and put up lower numbers than he did in 2016 for a couple of reasons. First, Luck is obviously better and more experienced than Brissett and doesn’t need a tight end safety valve.
The second reason? Well, this offseason, the Colts signed Eric Ebron. You know Mr. Ebron: a former 10th overall selection with top 3 athleticism at his position who creates matchup nightmares for linebackers. He’s also a perennial underachiever who drops the ball way too much. Fantasy owners (myself included) invested critical draft picks in Ebron over the last few years and have gotten burned. As we’ve discussed at length, however, the climate in Indy has improved dramatically since last year, and there’s no questioning that Ebron will enjoy a greater opportunity for targets than he did with talent-rich Detroit. Reich’s got to be salivating at his potential. Could this be Ebron’s year to shine? Can he be the Indy version of Zach Ertz?
Honestly, this is a tough one to call. Behind Hilton, Indy’s tight ends have the greatest potential to produce for you. If the rest of your team is stacked, you can afford to take a chance with either of these guys as your starters. They’re low-risk, high reward. If you’ve got to choose between them, go with Ebron, if only because he dwarfs Doyle athletically.
Rookie to Watch
The 6’5’’ 325 pound behemoth from the University of Notre Dame can freaking block. He is quick off the line of scrimmage and is rarely beaten power against power. Nelson is a future All-Pro who is going to improve the Colts offensive line and help Marlon Mack become a household name. – Chris Tyler
Ryan Grant was supposed to be a Baltimore Raven this season but a failed physical led him to the Indianapolis Colts. Don’t let that scare you though, as he played in every single game in his first four seasons with the Washington Redskins. He was never a true starter in Washington but started the most games in his career last season at 7. He now goes to Indy who gets Andrew Luck back and slates him at the number 2 position behind T.Y Hilton. This takes pressure off Hilton to get open and gives Grant yet another good, young QB. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
One of the most underappreciated components of fantasy football is schedule difficulty in the fantasy playoffs (typically weeks 14-16). Indy’s opponents in weeks 14-16 this year, with their 2017 defensive rankings in parentheses, are Houston (20th), Dallas (8th), and the New York Giants (31st). Houston and New York should improve on those numbers, so it won’t be as easy as it looks. But you know what’s nice? The Colts avoid Jacksonville during this critical time. You won’t have to worry about T.Y. Hilton ghosting in the playoffs.
|5||10/4 (Thurs)||@ NE|
|9||** BYE WEEK **|