2018 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 6,179 (7th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 52 (4th)
Offensive Plays: 1,070 (3rd)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 662 (4th)
Rush Attempts: 408 (17th)
Unaccounted for Targets: Eight (31st)
Unaccounted for Carries: 105 (20th)
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The Colts’ backup plan following Josh McDaniels’ humiliating about-face, Frank Reich ended up one of 2018’s best hires. Although getting Andrew Luck back was the biggest factor, Reich led the Colts to stunning across-the-board gains, improving their points per game from 16.4 to 27 and goosing their yards per play from a league-worst 4.6 to 5.8. With Reich implementing the Chiefs and Eagles’ successful blueprint, Luck had far and away the most efficient year of his career. His 67.3 completion percentage was a new personal best by 3.8, and his 2.3 interception percentage was his lowest since 2013. Like most of the NFL’s best coaches, Reich did his best to be “multiple,” adopting opponent-specific game plans. He also put the pedal to the metal, with the Colts running the league’s fifth-most plays and placing first in Football Outsiders’ pace metric. The end result was the organization’s first playoff victory since 2014-15.
Reich was a big factor in 2018, but Luck was the factor after missing all of 2017. The early-returns were shaky. Noticeably lacking his pre-surgery arm strength, Luck averaged just 5.34 yards per attempt while posting a 5:3 TD:INT ratio over his first three starts. The Colts went 1-2. Then Luck torched the Texans in Week 4 and began the hottest stretch of his career, posting eight-straight three-touchdown performances. That’s a feat matched by only 2004 Peyton Manning and 2007 Tom Brady.
Luck’s 4,593 yards were a new career high, while his 39 touchdowns missed his 2014 mark by only one. Most encouraging of all, a player known for taking sacks absorbed just 18 in 16 contests. Luck had previously been taken down an average of 35 times across his four full seasons. After the Colts’ offense posted a horrifying — and by far league worst — 10.31 sack percentage in 2017, that number plummeted to 2.86 in 2018, easily the NFL’s best. Elite line play was obviously the main factor, but Luck also did his best to help his blockers out, getting rid of the ball in an average of 2.54 seconds (via PFF), the eighth-fastest clip amongst quarterbacks. Luck had been sixth slowest at 2.88 in 2016.
So we’ve established that the Colts’ offense is fast and efficient. Who does it have to throw to? Leading the way for the eighth-straight year is T.Y. Hilton, who showed an indomitable will as he played through a high-ankle sprain last December and January. Amazingly, that injury did not cost him any time, though an early-season hamstring issue did. Hilton sat out Weeks 5 and 6. He still cruised to the third-best yardage total of his career (1,270) and cleared 16.0 yards per catch for the fifth time in seven years. Playing more outside — his 28.0 slot percentage was his lowest since 2015 — Hilton’s 90.7 yards per game were the most of his career. Hilton did remain more of a dome soldier than road warrior, with just one of his six scores coming away from Lucas Oil Stadium. He averaged 96 yards in Indy and 84 elsewhere. 84 isn’t exactly bad, of course.
Behind Hilton on the depth chart will be a pair of new faces, free agent addition Devin Funchess and second-round rookie Parris Campbell. Although he was something of an underachiever during his four-year Panthers career, Funchess was brought in to diversify the Colts’ receiver corps, providing a huge frame to complement Hilton’s 5-foot-10 speed demonry. Reich also thinks he is an excellent route runner. "(Funchess has) good feet, good instincts and good body control and body quickness,” Reich said in March. “(That) helps separate at the top of routes. Watch the way this guy runs routes." Even as he disappointed last season, Funchess tied for 30th in targets inside the 10-yard line (eight). His problem in Indy will be all the competition for red zone looks, especially at the tight end position. Funchess is capable of playing in the slot, something he did 20-25 percent of the time in Carolina.
How often we see Funchess in the middle of the field will depend on Campbell’s progress. Coming off a big time senior year at Ohio State, Campbell was primarily a gadget-slot/flat-route receiver in the Big 10, rarely challenging downfield. Essentially a bigger Curtis Samuel, Campbell has the kind of skill-set that tends to struggle as a rookie, though his 4.31 speed will force him onto the field regardless. GM Chris Ballard has had a magic touch to this point in his career, earning the benefit of the doubt with selections like Campbell. For what it’s worth, Campbell drew positive reviews for his work in offseason practice.
If Campbell hasn’t proved up to the challenge by Week 1, RFA returnee Chester Rogers should see the majority of the snaps in the slot. That’s where he ran over 90 percent of his routes in 2018. Rogers did not make the role fantasy profitable, finishing as the WR87 by average PPR points.
For a pure dart throw, there is Deon Cain. The No. 185 overall pick of last year’s draft missed his entire rookie season with a torn ACL. Standing in at 6-foot-2, Cain is long with 4.43 speed. “You guys know we were very excited about what Deon showed, how quickly he picked things up and the playmaking ability that he showed," Reich said in June. Ballard did admit that Cain may not be all the way back to 100 percent effectiveness until November, rendering him a blindfold pick in even the deepest of leagues.
Unusually, the Colts boast three legitimate playmakers at tight end. Eric Ebron is the headliner after his out-of-nowhere 13-touchdown performance last season, but he is an understandably popular fade at his early-July ADP of TE6/7. One reason Ebron exploded last year was the limited availability of Luck BFF Jack Doyle, who made only six appearances because of a lingering hip issue. Doyle is expected to be 100 percent for training camp. When both players were active last season, Ebron’s production was far more modest, with Doyle out-snapping Ebron 331-164 and out-targeting him 33-22. Despite his 13 scores, Ebron’s six targets inside the 10-yard line were just 46th in the NFL, suggesting a strong degree of luck. With Doyle healthy and Funchess added, there is every reason to expect Ebron’s touchdown percentage to crash back to earth.
Which brings us to Mo Alie-Cox, a former basketball player who found himself a staple of offseason puff pieces. The Athletic’s Stephen Holder reported in June that Alie-Cox had generated "unbridled excitement at Colts headquarters,” while the Indy Star praised his “remarkable development.” Ebron himself predicted a “huge role” for his fellow tight end. A No. 3 tight end is a No. 3 tight end — Alie-Cox is unlikely to be more than a matchup-based dart throw in fantasy — but his negative effects on Ebron and Doyle could prove very real. Ebron is a mid-range TE1, Doyle a floor-based TE2.
The Colts’ backfield entered 2018 unsettled but is now straightforward. Marlon Mack is the man on early downs, while Nyheim Hines is the primary pass catcher. Hines’ 63 rookie receptions were third on the Colts, as well as the ninth most ever by a first-year runner. He was not efficient, however, as his 6.75 yards per grab was 42-of-53 amongst backs to catch at least 20 passes. Hines was a liability on the ground, turning 85 carries into just 314 yards (3.7 YPC). Reich has warned that Campbell’s addition could effect Hines’ production.
Mack’s 2018 numbers were enhanced by running behind an elite offensive line. Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating, which measures a runner’s shiftiness independent of his blocking, rated Mack 25th out of 27 qualified backs in 2018. He was likewise middle of the pack in PlayerProfiler.com’s “yards created” metric, which charts yards gained after the first “evaded tackle.” PFF’s Scott Barrett pointed out that 70 percent of Mack’s 2018 fantasy points came in games the Colts won by at least two touchdowns.
So Mack was aided by his blocking and game flow. The good news is, neither should be going anywhere for 2019, locking Mack in as a high-floor RB2 who will have plenty of RB1 weeks. Were Mack to go down, second-year pro Jordan Wilkins would be the favorite to lead in carries, though veteran Spencer Ware could take the reins in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
The Colts’ over/under is generally placed at 9.5 following last year’s 10-win campaign. Although the AFC South looks like a potentially four-deep division on paper, Warren Sharp actually charts the Colts as having one of the league’s 10 easiest schedules against the spread. Compared to 2018 winning percentage, it’s one of the 10 toughest. It certainly “looks” difficult, with road trips to Los Angeles (Chargers), Tennessee and Kansas City before a Week 6 bye. The Week 3 home opener is against what should be an improved Falcons team. Ballard had a quiet free agency, but once again appeared to find immense value in the draft. The under is tempting, but I ultimately think the Colts still have room to grow in the efficiency department on offense. On defense, they played shutdown ball down the stretch in 2018, albeit against a tissue-soft schedule. Again, I am not the world’s savviest gambler, but I expect this to be a 10-12 win team, and would have you bet the over were I standing beside you in Vegas right now.