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Colts Fantasy Preview

by Nick Mensio
Updated On: July 24, 2020, 5:39 pm ET

2019 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 5,238 (25th)

Offensive Touchdowns: 39 (17th)

Offensive Plays: 1,016 (18th)

Pass Attempts + Sacks: 545 (26th)

Rush Attempts: 471 (5th)

Unaccounted for Targets: 118 (13th)

Unaccounted for Carries: 58 (17th)

 

Coaching Staff

Frank Reich heads into his third year atop the helm in Indianapolis after he was essentially a consolation prize when Josh McDaniels left the Colts at the altar ahead of 2018. Everything went right for Reich in year one, as Andrew Luck was back healthy and GM Chris Ballard crushed his draft class that year. The Colts surprised many and won a road playoff game. Indy was expected to be a dark horse Super Bowl contender in 2019, but Luck dropped a bomb on the NFL world with his sudden retirement during the preseason. After Reich had the Colts No. 2 in offensive pace and No. 5 in plays per game in 2018, the Colts slowed everything down in an effort to hide Jacoby Brissett last year, checking in at 25th in pace and 17th in offensive plays. Reich did what he had to do, though, as Brissett simply couldn’t cut it as an NFL starter. In Reich’s perfect world, he likes to push the ball and call a modern-style offense with the help of OC Nick Sirianni, who is also entering his third season with the club. This is an exciting offense capable of producing splash plays and multiple fantasy assets when there’s a quarterback that can make the throws. Sirianni has shown a knack for developing wide receivers dating back to his days with the Chargers. On defense, DC Matt Eberflus and his zone scheme return. This defense has probably outplayed its talent level on the back end thanks to Eberflus’ coaching.

 

Passing Game

QB: Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Jacob Eason
WR: T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Daurice Fountain
WR: Michael Pittman, Dezmon Patmon
WR: Parris Campbell, Marcus Johnson
TE: Jack Doyle, Trey Burton, Mo Alie-Cox

 

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At 5-11, Rivers produced his second-worst win-loss record of his entire Chargers career last season. He tossed the second-most interceptions of his career with 20 and seemed to always be in throw-it-up chuck-it mode late in games. His 3.9% touchdown rate was easily a career low while his 3.4% interception clip was well above his career norm. Rivers has zero mobility and was sacked 34 times behind a leaky offensive line. However, he did top 4,000 passing yards for the 11th time in 12 years. Rivers was the QB23 in fantasy points per game. The Chargers and Rivers mutually agreed to part ways before he hit free agency in March, and the Colts quickly snapped him up on a one-year deal. Rivers presents a major upgrade on Jacoby Brissett and also gets a big boost in the offensive line department, as the Colts field one of the premier five-man blocking units. Rivers will also get to play all of his home games in a friendly dome environment for a coaching staff he’s already familiar with from his Chargers days. Rivers will turn 39 late in the season. T.Y. Hilton, rookie Michael Pittman, sophomore Parris Campbell and Zach Pascal give Rivers a deeper, more well-rounded wideout group than he had with the Bolts. He’s unlikely to sniff QB1 numbers, but Rivers has a real chance to rebound in a better system as a QB2. I tentatively expect the Colts to go back to pushing the pace with Rivers under center. While Brissett was mediocre as a starter, he is one of the more capable backups in football.

Despite Brissett being under center, T.Y. Hilton was able to post a 20-195-4 line across the Colts’ first three games, but a calf injury in late September shelved Hilton and pretty much derailed his season after that. Hilton posted career lows in targets (68), catches (45), yards (501), and touchdowns (five) while missing six games, the most of his career in a single season. Going from Brissett to Rivers should present a mammoth upgrade for Hilton, but Rivers is still no Andrew Luck. Now entering his age-31 season and coming off soft-tissue injuries, Hilton has some concerns regarding his outlook, but he is entering a contract year and should have some added juice to secure his next payday. Coming off the WR37 season in half-PPR points per game, Hilton is worth snapping up as a back-end WR2 in summer fantasy drafts.

Taken with the second pick of the second round, Michael Pittman landed in an ideal spot for year-one production and has already become one of my favorite rookies to track in this 2020 class. Big and fast enough at 6’4/223 with 4.52 speed, Pittman was a vertical beast at USC. Pro Football Focus credited over a third of his 2019 receiving yards to go routes, winning time and again on contested downfield catches. And he’s not just a deep threat. With his size and physicality, Pittman showed an ability to win with YAC as a tough-to-bring-down heavyweight in the open field. In their virtual draft setup aired after-the-fact on YouTube, the Colts couldn’t stop raving about Pittman. Everyone seemed on board with the pick at No. 34 overall, with Ballard, Reich, and the scouts all talking him up, and Ballard even tossed out a comparison to ex-Chargers WR Vincent Jackson. Jackson (6’5/230) was a 2005 second-rounder of the Chargers and averaged a robust 16.8 yards per catch across 155 career games. Jackson played seven seasons with Pittman’s new quarterback, Philip Rivers. Rivers has always loved throwing the ball downfield to those taller wideouts with long strides who aren’t afraid to go up and make a play. He had Jackson, and then it was Danario Alexander, Malcom Floyd, Tyrell Williams, and Mike Williams. That type of wideout wasn’t on the Colts’ roster prior to the selection of Pittman. Reich has already said the team views Pittman as their starting “X” receiver, which would then put Hilton outside opposite him at the “Z” and sophomore Parris Campbell in the slot, with Zach Pascal as the No. 4. With Eric Ebron now out of the picture, nearly a quarter of the Colts’ overall targets and inside-the-10 targets are available. Pittman is my favorite to lead the Colts in touchdown catches as a rookie. Target volume may not be on his side, but the big-play ability and scoring upside is there.

Taken 59th overall last year, Campbell’s rookie season was destroyed by a laundry list of injuries, ranging from hamstring issues to a sports-hernia operation to a broken hand and broken foot. He appeared in seven games but was unable to finish some of those and turned 24 targets into a forgettable 18-127-1 line. Prior to the draft, Campbell tested extremely well with a 4.31 forty and 94th-percentile SPARQ score. He just needs health on his side this year. Campbell should be the favorite for slot duties, but Pascal could really push Campbell for reps in three-wide sets when Hilton gets some looks out of the slot. Campbell declared himself 100% healthy back in May and said he’d been running routes at full speed since March. The regime obviously thinks highly of Campbell, so expect him to be given every opportunity to see the field.

Pascal led all Colts wideouts with his 72 targets last season, appearing in all 16 games that included 13 starts. He was basically the No. 1 receiver by default due to all the injuries in the wideout group. Pascal is a quality No. 4 who can play all over the field in a pinch.

A favorite of Andrew Luck’s, especially in the red zone, Jack Doyle took a major step back, like everyone else in this offense, with Brissett’s insertion under center. Doyle finished as the TE26 in half-PPR points per game with a 43-448-4 line. It was nice to see him appear in all 16 games after missing 10 the previous season. Doyle isn’t a flashy player sort of in the current Jason Witten mold, but his floor is higher than others in the TE2 mix. He’s established himself as a near full-time player in an offense that has kept tight ends involved for years and now gets an even bigger boost from Philip Rivers, who has loved throwing to tight ends in his career. Doyle should return mid-range TE2 value during his age-30 season. Just don’t expect many spiked weeks with Hilton and a group of young receivers competing for targets.

Trey Burton and Mo Alie-Cox will compete for No. 2 tight end duties. Burton was a mega-bust as a free-agent signing with the Bears and was cut earlier in the offseason before latching on with Reich, who knows Burton from their time together in Philadelphia. Alie-Cox has been a project with this staff for years as a former basketball player. Alie-Cox is a powerful player at 6’5/267 and is expected to get a crack at the old Eric Ebron role. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Alie-Cox beat our Burton for playing time. This offense has shown an ability to support two tight ends.

 

Running Game

RB: Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins

OL (L-R): Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski, Braden Smith

 

Running behind one of the league’s best run-blocking lines, Marlon Mack was merely ordinary despite posting his first 1,000-yard season. The third-year pro erupted for 174 yards in Week 1, which wound up as 15.9% of his season total. He had only two other 100-yard days on the ground, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Mack missed two games with a broken hand, but that was not the reason he caught only 14 passes. He is simply not an asset in the passing game. Many have written off Mack following the Colts’ selection of Jonathan Taylor with the No. 41 overall pick in April. The coaching staff has constantly talked up Mack’s position as the returning starter, and perhaps the odd nature of this COVID-destroyed offseason will help Mack’s chances of keeping the No. 1 job. Taylor will definitely be involved as an early draft pick, but there’s a chance they somewhat cancel each other out a bit as back-end RB2 options at the start.

The most accomplished running back in this year's draft class, Jonathan Taylor (5’10”/226) eclipsed 1,975 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns each of his three seasons at Wisconsin. He was a first-down machine in 2019, racking up a nation-leading 97 of them while churning out 10-plus yards on a ridiculous 61-of-320 carries. In only three years, Taylor produced as the NCAA’s No. 6 all-time rusher (6,174 yards). Taylor’s 96th-percentile SPARQ score pops on tape. Taylor breaks arm tackles and leverages his 4.39 wheels to explode by defenders. On the other hand, his cement mitts are on notice after he tied for the FBS lead in fumbles (six), while also dropping an abysmal 8-of-50 career targets. Taylor committed to becoming a better receiving back last offseason, tripling his reception total between his sophomore (eight) and junior campaigns (26). Taylor's three-down potential hinges on continued pass-catching growth. His early-down role isn’t even set, either, as the coaches have constantly talked up Mack and Taylor as a “1-1 punch,” whatever that means. Mack isn’t just going to disappear. It’s tough to love Taylor’s RB30 ADP, but the upside is there if he somehow usurps Mack behind this elite line.

After Castonzo opted against retirement and re-upped with the Colts, this line is one of the two or three very best in all of football. Nelson is the premier left guard in the sport. Indy was 12th in adjusted line yards created in the ground game and No. 7 in adjusted sack rate as pass protectors. The fact that all five starters are returning can’t be understated in this weird offseason. Jacoby Brissett didn’t do the line any favors by holding onto the ball too long.

 

Win Total

The Colts’ win total is set at nine at BetOnline with the heavy juice set on the over at -135. Warren Sharp rates the Colts’ schedule as by far the easiest in the league this season. Indy gets two dates in the division with the lowly Jaguars and some out-of-division on-paper cake walks with the Jets, Bears, Bengals, Browns, and Lions. After a 7-9 season with Brissett, it’s easy to see how the Colts could flirt with double-digit wins with the signing of Philip Rivers.

Nick Mensio

Nick Mensio has been covering the NFL for Rotoworld since 2012. He can be found on Twitter at @NickMensio.