This year will mark the fourth straight that the Indianapolis Colts have begun their season with a new starting quarterback. Ever since Andrew Luck abruptly retired during the preseason of 2019, the Colts have searched for a new franchise QB. After 2020 free-agent signee Phillip Rivers retired, deciding he could now field a starting offense at home with his wife and nine kids, Indy reached an agreement to trade for former Eagles starting QB Carson Wentz.
GM Chris Ballard is clearly hoping Wentz’s relationship with HC Frank Reich, dating back to their days together in Philadelphia, will help fix what ails him. The Colts are in a position to compete (and win) the AFC South, and a course-corrected Wentz increases their odds. But what of his supporting cast? Let’s dive deeper with A Look Inside.
Note: You can follow the entire Look Inside series with this link and you can watch the full No Punt Intended episode on Youtube below with special guest Drew Metcalfe, one of Club Fantasy’s own writers!
Carson Wentz was B-A-D in 2020. Like, R-E-A-L B-A-D. But hey, 2021 is a new year, and he’s now in the system with his former OC that made him an MVP candidate before a torn ACL in 2017. That’s good news for Colts fans. The bad news comes in the form of Bad Carson. If Wentz can’t be fixed and resembles 2020 Wentz, the Colts are left with 2nd-year player Jacob Eason (who didn’t play a down in 2020) and 6th round rookie Sam Ehlinger. The Colts’ eggs are in Wentz’s basket.
So let’s break it down. Behind a shoddy offensive line in Philadelphia last year that was ravaged by injuries, Wentz was sacked 50 times in 12 games. For you math whizzes out there, that’s 4.2 per game. The Colts have allowed only 71 sacks the last three seasons. Again, for you math whizzes, that’s less than 1.5 sacks per game the last three years. When you have a QB who has looked skittish the last couple of years because of a lack of trust in his supporting cast, protecting him is a great first start.
Wentz never had a true number one receiver in Philadelphia. (Say what you will about Alshon Jeffery, but one decent season in Philadelphia does not a number one receiver make.) Going to Indianapolis, he once again won’t have a true number one receiver. He did, however, have ELITE TE play in Philadelphia. In Indianapolis, he– um, well, yeah not so much. Jack Doyle seems to block more than catch passes, and a 4th round rookie doesn’t scream “safety net.” But he will have some damn good running backs.
The Colts have run the ball 29.4 and 28.7 times per game the last two seasons, respectively. Aside from protection, what else takes the pressure off a QB? A consistent running game. For once in his career, Wentz won’t have to play hero ball. The game can come to him. That will take a huge psychological load off of him, making 2021 more promising, on paper.
One thing that has plagued Wentz throughout his career is drops by his receiving corps. He was tops among QBs in 2020 in drop percentage, per PFF (10.7%). 62 of his passes have been dropped the last two years. No one on the Colts in 2020 had more than four.
Only once in five seasons have Wentz eclipsed 4,000 passing yards. Twice he has thrown for 27 or more touchdowns — and averages 26.6 TD passes per 16 game season. A 39-year old Phillip Rivers threw only 24 for Indy last year.
So yes, Wentz should be better in 2021 simply because his situation is better. How much better remains to be seen. I would view him as a top-15 option who will likely be one of Ryan Weisse’s top Stream of the Week options throughout the season. (Keep in mind, the Colts will play the Texans, Jaguars, and Titans six times; all are ELITE matchups.)
I’m just going to get this out of the way right now — Jonathan Taylor is good at football. After a slow start to the year that saw Frank Reich refuse to unleash him, Taylor went on a tear to close out 2020, compiling 126 attempts for 753 yards (6.0 YPC!) and seven touchdowns in the last six games. He was RB4 over this stretch and finished the season as the RB6.
Don’t look now, but heading into his second season, he still faces the Texans, Jaguars, and Titans six times. The Texans and Jaguars were two of the three worst teams in rushing yards allowed in 2020 and didn’t get much better this offseason. Taylor will be in a position to replicate his top-6 performance in 2021, even as top backs like Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley return from injury.
Behind Taylor is one of the league’s better receiving backs — Nyheim Hines. Hines has the sixth most targets among RBs since 2018 (215) and the only one in the Top 20 in targets to not miss a game due to injury. With no real receiving threat at TE for the Colts, I fully expect Carson Wentz to pepper Hines with plenty of targets in 2021, giving him upside as an RB2 in PPR leagues.
The Colts starting running back heading into 2020 was Marlon Mack. In the first game, Mack suffered a torn Achilles and was lost for the season. There are few success stories of RBs returning from Achilles injuries and picking up where they left off, so I don’t have a ton of hope for Mack (although I’m absolutely rooting for him). That said, reports this offseason suggest he’s ahead of schedule and looking great. Take that for what you will.
Frank Reich has never had an issue using multiple backs in his rotation. While I don’t see this being a full-blown committee, I do believe that Mack (if healthy) and 4th stringer Jordan Wilkins, will receive a fair amount of carries. It is all designed to keep Wentz upright and confident, and not overuse Taylor. There are 17 game seasons now. No need to give him 350 carries when he’s equally effective with 250-265.
If you’re wondering what to do with the Colts receiving corps, you’re not alone. I can’t wait for Ballard to swing a trade for a disgruntled superstar or finally spend a high enough draft pick on one. Wentz deserves it. But until then, we’re left with the ghost of T.Y. Hilton’s past, a once-again-recovering Parris Campbell, and 2nd-year man Michael Pittman Jr.
Let’s start with my favorite receiver from this group — Michael Pittman Jr. The former 2nd-round pick dealt with some injuries early in the season but came on strong for the Colts down the stretch — 48 targets, 31 receptions, 430 yards, and one touchdown from Week 8 on. He’s 6’4″ 223 pounds and has 4.5 speed. Remember back in 2017 when Wentz was throwing to a guy who was 6’3″ 216 pounds with 4.5 speed? 120 targets found Alshon Jeffery that season, and Frank Reich was the OC in Philadelphia that year. I’m not saying there’s any correlation to read from this, but I’m also not NOT saying there’s any correlation to read from this.
Parris Campbell works largely out of the slot — when he’s healthy. He has played a total of nine games out of 32 since being drafted in 2019. Is the third time the charm? Or three strikes and you’re out? What I do know is that Wentz loves his slot receivers. Greg Ward, who led the Eagles in percentage of routes run from the slot in 2020, led the Eagles in targets a year ago (79). If Campbell can play a large portion of the season, expect him to return plenty of dividends at his current WR72 draft price, per FantasyPros.
T.Y. Hilton is the grizzled vet on this team, returning on a one-year deal. He’s a shell of his former self, falling short of 100 targets each of the past two seasons. Maybe he has one good season left for Indy, or maybe he’ll cede to the young bucks. What I do know is, that even at his current WR54 price tag, there are other receivers I’d be more excited about. Sorry T.Y. Your time has come.
Man, Carson is going to be bummed that he doesn’t have a reliable TE to throw to in 2021. Two years ago, Jack Doyle tied for the team-lead in targets (72). Last year, Doyle had his highest percentage of run blocking snaps since 2015 (54%). Instead, Frank Reich chose to run Trey Burton and Mo Alie-Cox as the move TE in the offense. Doyle’s numbers took a hit as a result, seeing only 33 targets last year. With the recent retirement of long-time LT Anthony Costanzo — and his replacement, Eric Fisher, coming off a torn Achilles during last year’s AFC Championship game with the Chiefs — is anyone sure we won’t see more of the same?
Alie-Cox has been on a slow trajectory to begin his career. He’s 6’5″ 267 pounds, and for the first time in his three-year career, saw more than 13 targets in a season (39). He was also the only Colts TE to score a TD inside the 5-yard line last year. His size and ability down the field — he averages 13.5 yards per reception (YPR) in his career and led Cots TEs last year with 2.07 yards per route run (YPRR) — could help him fill the move TE role for Reich.
Don’t sleep on rookie 4th rounder Kylen Granson out of SMU. In his last two years in college, he ran 62.6% and 60.9% of his routes from the slot, averaged over 15.3 and 16.8 YPR each season, and sported a 1.68 and 1.74 YPRR in those seasons, respectively. He’s a name to know as waiver wire activity picks up during the season.