2021 Franchise Focus: Indianapolis Colts

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2021 Franchise Focus: Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have one of the NFL’s best rosters, buoyed by an excellent offensive line and a strong defense. Their offense was effective in 2020, with rookie running back Jonathan Taylor establishing himself as a young star in the NFL.

But really, there’s only one player who really matters here, and that’s QB Carson Wentz. In a horrible situation in Philly — perhaps one of his own doing — Wentz went from the would-be MVP in 2017, to solid campaigns in 2018 and 2019, to arguably the worst QB in the NFL in 2020.

Can Frank Reich, Wentz’s former OC in Philly during that 2017 season, get Wentz back to playing at even a solid level? If so, the Colts will be contenders in an easy division. If not, it’s back to the drawing board, where they’ve hung out since Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement.

Indianapolis Colts Franchise Focus Companion Podcast

The Basics

Team FuturesOdds
Season Win Total (O/U)10 (+115/-143)
AFC South+105
Playoffs (Y/N)-182/+145
AFC Championship+1200
Super Bowl+2500

Season Prop Movement

  • Win Total: 10 (+110) in late March to 10 (+115)

  • Super Bowl: +2800 in early February to +2500

Premium 2021 Betting Preview from Tom Brolley found here.

Key Offseason Moves

AdditionsDraftDepartures
Carson Wentz (QB)Kwity Paye (DE)Philip Rivers (QB, retired)
Eric Fisher (OT)Dayo Odeyingbo (DT)Jacoby Brissett (QB, Mia)
Sam Tevi (OT)Kylen Granson (TE)Anthony Castonzo (OT, retired)
Julie’n Davenport (OT)Shawn Davis (S)Trey Burton (TE)
Antwaun Woods (DT)Sam Ehlinger (QB)Denico Autry (DE, Ten)
Isaac Rochell (DT)Mike Strachan (WR)Justin Houston (OLB)
Malik Jefferson (LB)Anthony Walker (LB, Cle)
Deon Jackson (RB)Malik Hooker (S)
Tyler Vaughns (WR)Tavon Wilson (S, SF)

Scott Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule

Quarterback: 6th-easiest (+0.47)

Running Back: easiest (+1.29)

Wide Receivers: 4th-easiest (+1.24)

Tight Ends: 13th-easiest (+0.08)

Pace and Tendencies

Pace (seconds in between plays): 27.9 (19th)

Plays per game: 65.0 (10th)

When the game is within a score — Pass: 57.1% (19th) | Run: 42.9% (14th)

When the team is ahead — Pass: 48.4% (20th) | Run: 51.6% (13th)

When the team is behind — Pass: 65% (20th) | Run: 35% (13th)

HC Frank Reich’s attack was very balanced and conservative last year with his Colts ranking above-average in run rate in every gamescript. The question for 2021 is how much will that fundamentally change, if any, with Carson Wentz under center? Coming off his worst season as a pro and backed by a strong run game and defense, it’d be a shock if they reversed course and turned into a fast pace, pass-first offense. Especially after Jonathan Taylor’s breakout in the second half of last season.

Key Statistics

  • How real is Carson Wentz’s regression? Well, Wentz’s accuracy has fallen in four straight seasons when he has a clean pocket (88% in 2017; 86% in 2018; 78% in 2019; 74% in 2020).

  • Wentz’s 74% on-target throw rate last year ranked dead last out of 38 QBs.

  • On throws of 10+ yards downfield, Wentz was on-target just 52% of the time. That was, by far, the worst rate in the league. Drew Lock ranked second-worst at 56%.

  • Based on the difficulty of the throw, Wentz’s completion rate was -4.1% below expectation per Next Gen Stats. Only Dwayne Haskins (-7.1%) was worse.

  • Still, there is no denying Wentz’s situation was bottom-5 in the league. His receivers dropped 7% of his pass attempts in 2020, which was the highest rate.

  • Wentz was pressured on 37% of his dropbacks last year (sixth-highest rate).

  • Meanwhile, Philip Rivers was pressured on 23.6% of his dropbacks (second-lowest rate).

  • Per Next Gen Stats, Rivers’ average time to pass release was 2.5 seconds (fifth-fastest).

  • Wentz’s release time was 2.91 seconds (fifth-longest).

  • After getting benched for fumbling in Week 10, Jonathan Taylor came back with a vengeance over his final six games. He rushed for 119/741/7 (6.2 YPC) and averaged 24.3 fantasy points per game (making him the RB3 in this stretch).

  • Taylor’s weekly finishes during his hot streak from Week 11-17 were: RB12 > RB5 > RB2 > RB15 > RB10 > RB1.

  • During this span, Taylor (0.27) was second to only Nick Chubb (0.35) in missed tackles forced per touch.

  • T.Y. Hilton had a nice little run to close out the season, but he’s still not been as remotely productive without Andrew Luck under center in his career. With Luck, Hilton averages 79.3 yards and 15.5 fantasy points per game and just 56.1 yards and 11.4 FP per game with all other quarterbacks.

  • Hilton out-targeted Michael Pittman 61 to 51 once Pittman returned from injury in Week 8.

Huber’s Scheme Notes

Offensive

The Philip Rivers experiment fell far short of its expected life expectancy. But the Colts already learned their lesson with Andrew Luck, wasting no time in trading for Carson Wentz. And it could prove to be a masterful move from fifth-year GM Chris Ballard. In a worst case scenario, they sacrifice a first- and third-round pick to reunite Wentz with HC Frank Reich, the man responsible for his best season in Philadelphia. However, if Wentz doesn’t play at least 75% of the snaps or play at least 70% of the snaps and the Colts don’t make the playoffs, the first becomes a second-rounder. Yes, they could potentially surrender their 2022 first, but you can be sure that Indy will only allow Wentz to surpass these thresholds if they feel his play proves the issues last season were due to the situation rather than based on his health (physical or mental) and/or ability. If he underwhelms, we could see Jacob Eason and/or Sam Ehlinger take the field.

Another lesson the Colts learned is that their defense is of such a high quality that it can nearly single-handedly propel this team into the playoffs. If the offense were forced to concentrate its focus to greatly featuring its ground game, the top-five Indianapolis O-line will have zero issues opening up lanes for Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. Wentz, however, does deserve the benefit of the doubt until it’s proven that his problems with the Eagles were due to his own inadequacies. The Philly WR room was decimated by injuries and underperformance, and their sieve-like O-line couldn’t protect their own mothers from opposing pass rush threats. While T.Y. Hilton’s return does likely signal a return to the WR1 role in the offense, make no mistake that Michael Pittman Jr. will have every opportunity to unseat him throughout the year.

Even with both Hilton and Pittman at his disposal, Wentz will desperately need a third WR to emerge. Last season, former OC Nick Sirianni had already made efforts to incorporate the trendy components of the Air Raid. And we can expect a continuation in that direction under new OC Marcus Brady after serving under Sirianni as his QB coach. No, we likely won’t see many four-wide sets, but this offense went from ranking 21st in spread rate (three-wide detached) in 2019 up to 10th-highest last season. Everyone seated in the Indiana Farm Bureau headquarters will have their fingers crossed that that guy will be Parris Campbell. Never lacking in the athleticism department, it would seem Campbell only needs to keep his body off the trainer’s table to become a successful NFL wideout. Color me unconvinced that Zach Pascal is suited for anything more than a situational role. The wildcard of the bunch could be DeMichael Harris. All Harris did with his opportunities last season is act as an efficiency machine.

Since four-wide sets are unlikely to play a significant role in the attack, that will continue to leave plenty of work for the TEs playing a role in the passing game. Despite some big games playing with Andrew Luck’s previous offenses, Jack Doyle has already shown us his stripes as one of the top run blocking TEs in the league. Excelling whenever called upon, we could one day view Mo Alie-Cox as a fantasy monster at the position. And the Colts also added Kylen Granson, a true athletic specimen, in the fourth round of the most recent draft to develop as Cox’s understudy.

It would seem much of the fantasy community believes that Taylor will definitively replicate his ‘20 fantasy success considering his ADP falls within the top-10 overall. Make no mistake, JT is a stud RB. We just need to understand that Wentz simply does not utilize his RBs in the passing game like Rivers, and it’s not even close. However, the RB position overall is in such disarray overall that, with nearly every team incorporating split backfield timeshares — especially thanks to the upcoming schedule expansion, much of the Taylor love is certainly justified. Just don’t get too carried away into thinking Taylor’s value is in any way more significant than either J.K. Dobbins, D’Andre Swift, or Antonio Gibson. And, don’t forget, when Wentz does look to target his backfield, Hines easily offers one of the most gifted receiving backs in the entire game.

Defensive

It’s truly frightening how good the Indianapolis defense has become. DC Matt Eberflus has built himself a literal juggernaut that is, for the most part, greater than any of its individual parts. That said, as with every elite defense, several of the names on the roster easily slot in among the very best at their respective positions. That list is headlined by WILL ‘backer Darius Leonard. Truly one of the most athletic players in all of football, make sure you check him out showcasing his absurd explosion on this elbow dunk while at South Carolina State. “The Maniac” may only stand 6-foot-2, but Leonard boasts an 82 ⅛ inch wingspan that not only falls within the top two percentile of those to play the LB position, but that should be attached to a person standing 6-foot-10!

You might be wondering why a massive wingspan makes such a difference? During his Rookie All Pro season of 2018, Leonard’s long arms protected him from being bodied up on the monstrously bigger O-linemen while playing at a weight between 216-225 pounds! Did I mention he led the NFL as a rookie with 163 total tackles!?! Leonard has only blossomed into one of the best inside LBs in the business, as well as a truly elite coverage defender, settling in at 230 pounds. But his job is supported by another of the very best in the NFL with 3-tech DeForest Buckner. Most thought the Colts would look to select a 3-technique DT during the 2020 draft to fill that extremely important role within Eberflus’ 4-3 front. But GM Chris Ballard sent the 13th pick in the ‘20 draft to the 49ers — subsequently selecting Javon Kinlaw — to acquire Buckner. It did not take Buckner long to justify the move, taking a massive step forward as a pass rusher to place his name among the very best interior defenders in the game (i.e., Aaron Donald and Chris Jones).

Within Indy’s CB room, Eberflus brought in a player who would return to being top-ten talent prior to the ‘20 season after shockingly being handed a red slip from the franchise that drafted him. Xavier Rhodes was awarded with a five-year contract extension with the Minnesota Vikings worth $70.1 million, $32.8 guaranteed back in 2018. Three seasons into that contract, Rhodes was tossed to the curb. And Ballard, Eberflus wasted no time swooping in to scoop up Rhodes on a one-year, $5 million contract. In return, Xavier immediately proved his worth defending the right side, ranking inside the top-10 CBs in yards permitted/coverage snap (0.88), FPs allowed/coverage snap (0.20), and FPs allowed/game (6.91). He combined with talented nickel Kenny Moore II to generate elite results within Eberflus’ zone-heavy scheme.

Should 2019 second-round LCB Rock Ya-Sin take a step forward this season, this defense could reach truly frightening heights. And the Ballard-Eberflus tandem can thank themselves for drafting strong safety Khari Willis in the fourth round of the ‘19 draft, and free safety Julian Blackman in the third round of the ‘20 draft for sending them down this path. In every coverage metric that matters, this home-grown safety combo slots their names within the top-15 safeties in the NFL. With each position group locked down with difference makers, Indianapolis’ defense entered the 2021 draft from a position of strength, yet they still added 1-technique Kwity Paye and do-it-all Dayo Odeyingbo with their first two picks. The pair will combine to push its D-line square into the nightmares of opposing OCs. And we can expect to see the Colts continue its top-five zone coverage rate, featuring the ingenious schematic rotation of Cover 2, Cover 3, Cover 6, and confusing QBs everywhere with the league’s highest Cover 3-Seam rate during the upcoming season.

Backed by a defense that’s only improving by the day, do not count out Indianapolis making a serious playoff push should Carson Wentz’s play benefit from reestablishing his relationship with Frank Reich that made him an MVP candidate back in 2017.

Projected Fantasy Contributors

Carson Wentz (Proj: QB18 | ADP: 136 | Pos ADP: QB17)

The Colts are hoping that old, timeless adage — “he needs a change of scenery” — comes into play with Wentz, who was part of a collapse in Philly that saw a promising Super Bowl title team in 2017 devolve into nonfunctional spare parts by 2020. Indeed, there are plenty of excuses for Wentz’s abominable 2020 campaign that saw him benched in Week 13 for Jalen Hurts. The scheme, under Doug Pederson, was stale. Wentz had injury issues at OL and WR, and tons of drops from his receivers. The roster was bad. But the tape also showed a QB who had regressed into oblivion, and the stats aren’t much kinder… if at all. Wentz’s accuracy has fallen in now four straight seasons when he has a clean pocket (88% in 2017; 86% in 2018; 78% in 2019; 74% in 2020). Wentz’s 74% on-target throw rate last year ranked dead last out of 38 QBs. On throws of 10+ yards downfield, Wentz was on-target just 52% of the time. That was, by far, the worst rate in the league. Drew Lock ranked second-worst at 56%. Based on the difficulty of the throw, Wentz’s completion rate was -4.1% below expectation per Next Gen Stats. Only Dwayne Haskins (-7.1%) was worse. But, again, the numbers also describe how bad Wentz’s situation in Philly was. His receivers dropped 7% of his pass attempts in 2020, which was the highest rate. Wentz was pressured on 37% of his dropbacks last year (sixth-highest rate). Meanwhile, Philip Rivers, in Indy, was pressured on 23.6% of his dropbacks (second-lowest rate). Wentz’s receiving corps in Indy isn’t exactly what we’d consider one of the league’s best, but the offensive line is a different story — presuming they can effectively replace retired LT Anthony Castonzo. And we’re burying the lede here, as Wentz’s reunion with coach Frank Reich — his offensive coordinator during his would-be MVP season in 2017 — is the biggest reason to be bullish on his ability to rebound. Very clearly, Reich is going to have to redesign his attack for Wentz, who is much more aggressive and holds onto the ball much longer than did Rivers — per Next Gen Stats, Rivers’ average time to pass release was 2.5 seconds (fifth-fastest). Wentz’s release time was 2.91 seconds (fifth-longest). Wentz’s 8.9 aDOT on throws ranked 4th among QBs with 400 or more pass attempts in 2020, while Rivers’ 7.3 aDOT ranked 19th (of 22). The Colts clearly believe in Wentz, sending two premium picks to Philly for him (a conditional 1st and a 3rd). But the conditions on the first-round pick also incentivize the Colts benching Wentz if things aren’t going well, as if Wentz plays 75% of the offensive snaps or 70% of the snaps and the Colts make the playoffs, the 2022 first-round pick conveys (it’s a second otherwise).

Jonathan Taylor (Proj: RB7 | ADP: 5 | Pos ADP: RB5)

It took some time to get going, but Taylor was spectacular as a rookie, posting 232/1169/11 rushing (5.04 YPC) and 36/299/1 receiving on 39 targets (8.3 YPR, 92.3%) to finish as the overall RB6 in total PPR FP and the RB8 in FPG (16.9). But again, if we were judging merely on the first half of the season, Taylor was a disappointment on his third-round ADP. Through nine games, Taylor averaged just 3.8 YPC, had just 4 TD, and ranked 19th in total fantasy points, this despite Marlon Mack tearing his Achilles in Week 1. Everything came to a head in Week 10, when Taylor was benched for fumbling after seeing just 7 carries for 12 yards. But things changed after that. Taylor took his benching to heart and dominated down the stretch. From Weeks 11-17, Taylor was behind only Derrick Henry and David Montgomery in total fantasy points, despite missing one game on the COVID-19 list. Over this six-game stretch, Taylor averaged 6.2 YPC and scored 8 of his 12 total TD. In total, Taylor’s weekly finishes during his hot streak from Week 11-17 were: RB12 > RB5 > RB2 > RB15 > RB10 > RB1. During this span, Taylor (0.27) was second to only Nick Chubb (0.35) in missed tackles forced per touch. So five of Taylor’s six weekly top-12 RB finishes came over that stretch, including all three of his top-five RB finishes. If you managed to weather the storm with Taylor, he may have brought a championship home to you. The question for 2021, of course, is how the Colt offense will change with a more aggressive — and more erratic — QB in Carson Wentz under center. Our belief is that HC Frank Reich is a traditionalist who wants to run the ball, and he has one of the most talented backs in the league behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. He’s going to continue to do that. But how much will Nyheim Hines work in, with a QB who is less likely to check it down than Philip Rivers? How much will Mack play in his return from an Achilles injury? The chance that Taylor becomes a Chubb or Henry type who doesn’t contribute in the passing game (though he’s more than capable of doing so, as his numbers show) might limit his ceiling, but his talent and situation have him going in the middle of the first round of most drafts. We understand the drawbacks, but we can sign off on that pick given his youth and ability. Occam’s razor suggests he’ll get the ball often.

Nyheim Hines (Proj: RB39 | ADP: 117 | Pos ADP: RB44)

Despite Jonathan Taylor having a spectacular rookie season (or, at least, half of one), Hines was very productive in 2020, ranking as the overall RB16 in total fantasy points thanks to 63 receptions, which ranked 3rd at the RB position behind just Alvin Kamara and JD McKissic. Hines turned in three top-5 RB weeks, one more top-12 RB week, and three more top-24 RB weeks, so he paid off as an excellent best-ball value and even was a fantastic weekly FLEX play with both a high ceiling and floor, unusual for receiving specialist RBs (Hines’ 89 carries in 16 games in 2020 were a career high). The problem with projecting Hines this season is the transition from the retired Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz at QB. We already know Rivers is a more precise passer than Wentz, but the biggest issue is how prolifically Rivers targeted his RBs vis-a-vis Wentz. Over the last two seasons, no QB has targeted RBs more than Rivers’ 312 total attempts to the position (Wentz has 185). Rivers also targeted RBs on a whopping 27.5% of throws over that span, significantly higher than Wentz’s 17.7%. And word from Colt OTAs is how much Wentz’s big arm will expand Indy’s downfield passing game. Hines is obviously a useful player and will have a role, but he’s obviously not being drafted like he performed last year, with an ADP in the 10th/11th rounds and as an RB4 on depth charts. That’s fair given his talent, but Rivers was a checkdown god and Wentz — often to his detriment — aggressively pushes the ball downfield. Add in the return of Marlon Mack and Hines might not have what was already a shaky handcuff appeal.

Marlon Mack (Proj: RB72 | ADP: 207 | Pos ADP: RB63)

Mack suffered arguably the worst injury a running back can suffer in Week 1 of the 2020 season, tearing his Achilles and missing the whole campaign. It sidelined a talented young player in a contract year, derailed the Colts’ plans for a three-headed backfield, and led to breakouts for both Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. With his market disappearing, Mack decided to re-sign in Indy on a one-year deal to attempt to rebuild some of his value, but he’s obviously got a ways to go to see the field. He didn’t participate in team drills in OTAs, and though he’s expected to be ready for training camp, he’s a long shot to be a major contributor. He’s respected in the Colts’ locker room, but for fantasy, he’s a low-end handcuff in a deep backfield. The hope is he manages to show some of the elite vertical burst that helped him gain 1999 rushing yards over 2018 and 2019.

Michael Pittman (Proj: WR39 | ADP: 104 | Pos ADP: WR44)

A big, explosive receiver, Pittman had some flashes of greatness as a rookie but ultimately just left a solid foundation to build on more than he contributed in the boxscore. In 13 games, Pittman posted 40/503/1 receiving on 61 targets (12.6 YPR, 65.6%). Only twice in 13 games did Pittman finish as a top-24 WR, so he was better served being on the Waiver Wire than on fantasy rosters. However, a midseason surgery for compartment syndrome cost Pittman three games, and he was pretty good in his return. Including playoffs, Pittman put up a respectable 35/514/1 line in his final 10 games (Pittman’s 90-yard performance in the playoffs was his second-best of the season). Again, Pittman is a big man who can run, and the Colts loved his YAC ability (he averaged just 8.9 aDOT, over three yards lower than TY Hilton). The expected development for Pittman, plus Hilton being another year older, is a reason he’s being drafted ahead of Hilton. That said, we know how erratic Carson Wentz can be, and if Pittman’s target share doesn’t increase dramatically, he might have trouble truly breaking out statistically — when he came back from injury, Hilton out-targeted him 61 to 51. Still, a 9th/10th-round ADP of WR44 is not overly difficult for him to pay off, even if he’s not a preferred target of ours.

TY Hilton (Proj: WR50 | ADP: 133 | Pos ADP: WR55)

There was a point deep into the 2020 NFL season where it looked like Hilton’s days as a contributor — and not just as a serious contributor — were over. Despite solid QB play from Philip Rivers, Hilton posted just 29/327/0 receiving on 50 targets (11.3 YPC, 58%) through his first nine games of the season, missing one of those games with a groin injury. Over that span, he was the WR84 in total PPR fantasy points, one spot behind teammate Michael Pittman, who wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire. Hilton’s aDOT over that span was an uncharacteristic 11.2, even with the popgun-armed Rivers at QB. And then… something clicked. Over the final six games of the 2020 season, Hilton posted 27/435/5 on 43 targets (16.1 YPC, 62.8%) and ranked as the overall WR11 in fantasy points, finishing as a top-12 WR three times over this span (he had, obviously, zero such finishes in his first nine games). He went from someone who deserved to be on Waiver Wires to a WR1 overnight, coinciding with Rivers being more aggressive downfield (a 14.6 aDOT over that six-game span). His strong closeout to the season led to the Colts re-signing him to a one-year deal worth up to $10 million, after it looked like it’d be time for both sides to part ways. And Hilton has been singing the praises of new QB Carson Wentz this spring and summer, noting that Wentz’s aggressive ways and big arm have been obvious in team workouts. (Wentz’s 8.9 aDOT on throws ranked 4th among QBs with 400 or more pass attempts in 2020, while Rivers’ 7.3 aDOT ranked 19th, of 22.) That said, drafters are skeptical, letting Hilton fall into the 12th round of drafts, in WR5 territory, whether that’s because of concerns on the now 31-year-old Hilton, Wentz’s inability to rebound from a terrible season, or both. Keep in mind that Hilton still obviously misses Andrew Luck — with Luck, Hilton averages 79.3 yards and 15.5 fantasy points per game and just 56.1 yards and 11.4 FP per game with all other quarterbacks. It’s fair to be skeptical, but Hilton is so cheap that it’s worthwhile betting on the off-chance his nice run to close 2020 was real.

Parris Campbell (Proj: WR62 | ADP: 169 | Pos ADP: WR64)

Campbell now has just nine games in two seasons to his name, as he managed to play just two games in 2020 before tears of his MCL and PCL cost him the remainder of the campaign and put him under the knife yet again — he had a broken hand, a broken foot, a sports hernia, and a hamstring injury in his 2019 rookie season. Campbell asserts that he is 100% recovered from the surgery on his knee, and there is ample opportunity to take over a role here in Indianapolis, with TY Hilton a year older and Michael Pittman still unproven. The Colts did have big plans for him last year, as he caught 6 passes for 71 yards on 9 targets (all from the slot) in Week 1 on an 82% snap share — he went down with the knee injury just two snaps into Week 2. Despite playing, effectively, one game during the season, Campbell’s 9 targets tied him for third-most in any individual game by a Colt WR in 2020, behind two games from Hilton. His 6 receptions tied him for third-most in a single game, behind Hilton and Pittman. His 71 yards in that game tied him for 7th. Campbell has explosiveness and versatility, and his dirt-cheap ADP is probably worth a few best-ball dart throws in the event he can stay on the field and he develops a rapport with Carson Wentz. Colts GM Chris Ballard reiterated this off-season how much the organization likes him.

Zach Pascal (Proj: WR99 | ADP: 414 | Pos ADP: WR139)

Taking over as the Colts’ primary slot receiver in 2020 following the Week 2 knee injury to Parris Campbell, Pascal posted 44/629/5 receiving on 71 targets (14.3 YPR, 62.0%). His 350 slot routes, per SIS, ranked him 14th among all players. He finished second among Colts WRs in total fantasy points (behind only TY Hilton, following Hilton’s late surge), and now has over 600 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons. Moreover, his Weeks as a top-5 fantasy receiver (1) and top-24 WR (3) tied Hilton in each of those categories. Pascal didn’t fall below 60% of the offensive snaps in any game during the 2020 season, which speaks to how the Colts view him in contrast to the general public. Still, it’s hard to imagine Pascal’s contributions would have been anywhere near that level if Campbell were healthy the whole season, and while he’s an overall underrated player, he’s merely someone to watch on the Waiver Wire in the event Campbell can’t stay on the field again.

Jack Doyle (Proj: TE24 | ADP: 382 | Pos ADP: TE52)

A Colts fan favorite, Doyle played in 14 games in 2020 but didn’t do much in the way of fantasy, posting just 23/251/3 on 33 targets in those games. Doyle’s 1.6 receptions per game were his lowest since 2015, and it signaled a new low in a steady decline from 2017, when he averaged a career-high 5.3 receptions per game. Why were Doyle’s numbers so low? Well, that’s in part because the Colts used so many different tight ends — the Colts TEs, as a group, scored the 10th-most fantasy points of any team’s TEs, but no individual Colt TE finished higher than TE27 overall (Trey Burton). The other factor was Doyle’s run-blocking, which Indy considers a strength of his game. Per SIS, Doyle was a run blocker on 251 snaps, 12th-most among any TE (teammate Mo Alie-Cox had 242 such snaps). So the question for Doyle is if he’ll block less this year — some beat writers don’t think so — and if Carson Wentz, who has targeted TEs prolifically in his career, takes a liking to Doyle. Keep in mind the Colts do have to replace LT Anthony Castonzo (retired), and their trust in Doyle as a blocker could at least be a major factor in that department early in the season. When the Colts have a problem, they call Jack Doyle. We think Wentz’s tendency to target TEs in the short to intermediate area means Doyle is significantly underpriced, though it’s possible Alie-Cox or rookie Kylen Granson takes the bigger chunk of those TE targets.

Mo Alie-Cox (Proj: TE30 | ADP: 307 | Pos ADP: TE44)

The new poster boy for the “HE USED TO PLAY BASKETBALL!!!” breed of tight ends, Alie-Cox’s value to the Colts is more significant than his value to fantasy teams. Alie-Cox played in 15 games in 2020 and posted 31/394/2 receiving on 39 targets (12.7 YPR, 79.5%). He scored the second-most fantasy points among Colt TEs (behind Trey Burton), though his upside remains tantalizing, as he’s flashed when given the opportunity — he posted 5/111 receiving on 6 targets on a season-high 67% snap share when filling in for an injured Burton and Jack Doyle. But like Doyle, Alie-Cox was apparently most useful to the Colts as a blocker — he was used as a run blocker on 242 snaps, per SIS, 14th-most among TEs. New QB Carson Wentz loves throwing to TEs, but despite Burton being gone, rookie TE Kylen Granson could fit that role like a glove, which has us wondering if Doyle and Alie-Cox will yet again be deployed as glorified offensive linemen, especially with LT Anthony Castonzo retired. Alie-Cox’s athleticism is tantalizing, but the Colts have to use him more for that to pay off for fantasy.

Kylen Granson (Proj: TE38 | ADP: 261 | Pos ADP: TE32)

Undersized for his position at 6’2” and 242 pounds, the Colts nonetheless made Granson a fourth-round pick with designs on replacing the oft-injured Trey Burton. But at least the Colts seem to have the right plan. Per our Greg Cosell’s scouting report, “Granson is not a prototypical TE prospect as you project and transition him to the NFL. His height/weight profile does not lend itself to conventional TE deployment, so NFL teams will not evaluate him in that way (or, at least, shouldn't) … Granson has intermediate/vertical ability as a receiver and showed straight-line explosive, run-after-catch traits and those attributes/dimensions fit the NFL game in which every offensive coordinator is looking for ways to create explosive plays in the pass game”. Granson made noise with his athleticism in spring practices, and it now remains to be seen if he can get on the field early and often. It’s also necessary to point out that the Colts TEs, as a group, scored the 10th-most fantasy points of any team’s TEs, but no individual Colt TE finished higher than TE27 overall (which was Burton). So even if Granson has a role, it’s not guaranteed to be fantasy-relevant. He’s someone to keep an eye on for dynasty leagues.

Hansen’s Final Points

We can write about Carson Wentz until our fingers fall off, and we almost have, but it’s not going to get us very far because there are so many moving parts to Wentz’ collapse the last few seasons, and also to his possible rebound in Indy. Wentz has plenty of critics, and deservedly so, but it’s worth noting that, in a terrible 2020 season, Wentz finished as a top-12 fantasy QB in five of his 11 full games, and he went from a bottom-5 situation in Philly last year to a top-5 situation in Indy this year. His ADP of QB17 suggests people believe he’s going to bounce back, but that doesn’t mean he’s a player to actively target. I am willing to draft Wentz as my QB2, but I see no reason to be proactive about it, since there are many comparable options going off the board a round or two later than his 135 ADP. For example, I’d rather roll with the upside of Justin Fields at 150 overall than Wentz at 135 overall. In deeper or 2-QB leagues, the best course of action with Wentz is to consider him only if he slips a bit and stands out as a value.

I was probably higher on Jonathan Taylor last year than any other fantasy analyst out there. If not, I probably stuck with him longer than anyone else did when it looked like his rookie season was a bust. It was certainly uneven, but the final results were obviously fantastic. Usually, a player who fits Taylor’s profile is a locked in top-5 pick overall, but that is not the case with Taylor, who could slip as far as 7-9 overall in many leagues. Maybe owners are still dismayed by his poor showing in the first two months of his career (it wasn’t that poor, anyway). More likely, people are concerned about Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack, but I’m not letting their presence preclude me from using even a top-5 pick on Taylor. The guy’s been durable as hell dating back to his three seasons at Wisconsin with over 1200 touches his last four seasons with nary an injury scare. He also silenced critics who questioned his ball security and receiving prowess with only one fumble on the season and a stellar 92.3% catch rate. Hines’ role is shaky with Wentz at QB, since Wentz is not a checkdown QB, and Mack has a lot to prove coming off his Achilles. If healthy, Taylor is going to deliver due to high-end talent, opportunity, and environment.

He’s been underrated for a couple of seasons, but coming off a breakout campaign in 2020, Nyheim Hines is arguably overrated, with an ADP of RB39 and 117 overall. As mentioned above, over the last two seasons, no QB has targeted RBs more than Philip Rivers’ 312 total attempts to the position. In that same span, Wentz has only 185. Hines is a good player and an excellent receiver, but Jonathan Taylor’s catch rate, yards per reception, and yards per target were all better than Hines’ so perhaps Taylor is the bigger threat to Hines than vice versa? Regardless, it's tough to get excited about Hines, even as the RB39 at around 115 overall.

Unless something changes in training camp and leading up to the season, I don’t think Marlon Mack is a priority add for those who draft Jonathan Taylor, since RBs coming back from an Achilles usually don’t do much. Mack is expected to be ready for training camp, but his returning was mostly about convenience and affordability, since the Colts like him and he knows the offense, plus he was cheap to retain. But the Colts aren’t likely counting on Mack, and for now neither should you.

I can’t say I’m completely convinced that Michael Pittman is going to break out his second season this year, but I do like the player a lot. The game was not too big for him as a rookie dealing with a pandemic, and he steadily improved once he got healthy, so there’s definite appeal here because he’s obviously still ascending. The problem with Pittman is he’s got a new QB in Carson Wentz who can be erratic, and Pittman’s target share won’t likely be great because they love to spread the ball around in this offense. I’d like to draft Pittman a round or so later than his ADP of 105 overall (WR39), but if I’m looking for some upside and for a player whose career and production could surge in 2021, he’s on my short list. My final opinion on Pittman will be determined in August, so stay tuned.

The benefit of watching every game during the season is you can pick up some things that the boxscore analysts miss, and that was the case with TY Hilton last year. When everyone thought he was dead, I noticed around mid-season that Hilton was gaining separation on downfield throws, but Philip Rivers was missing him. A few weeks later, the duo started hooking up for bigger plays. Our guy Greg Cosell, in mid-July, did a deep dive on Hilton’s tape and Cosell’s conclusions were similar to mine: he looked like T.Y. And over the final six games of the 2020 season, Hilton posted was the overall WR11. That stat alone makes him intriguing, since he’s only the WR55 off the board this year/summer. I’m all about upside usually, but it’s not going to be difficult for Hilton to return a nice ROI on the minimal investment.

I’ve been a big fan of Parris Campbell dating back to 2019, when I watched his tape and interviewed him at the combine, but this is a big season for him. Obviously, the guy’s gotta find a way to stay on the field, and while his upside may not be through the roof in this offense, Campbell’s cost is so low at 165 overall and WR62, that his upside clearly outweighs his downside. Keep in mind this guy caught 90 balls in 2018 at Ohio State playing with Terry McLaurin, who hauled in over 35 balls. Their roles were different, but that’s a huge discrepancy, and we know McLaurin is great. If the vibes are good in August, Campbell will likely be one of my favorite WR targets 150+ picks into a draft.

No one’s going to draft him for fantasy, but it’s nice for the Colts to have Zach Pascal around, since he’s good at football. The guy runs good routes, gets open, and he catches the ball when it’s thrown to him. He’s merely someone to watch on the Waiver Wire in the event Parris Campbell can’t stay on the field again or if TY Hilton tests positive for Geritol.

We will see if the Colts make a move for veteran TE Zach Ertz. If they don’t, then Doyle is a very good bet to decimate his ADP in terms of production. Of course, his ADP is insanely low at TE52 with a 300+ ADP. They do spread the ball around, but I could absolutely see Doyle being what Ertz has been for Wentz, which is a safe and steady checkdown option underneath and 10 yards and in. Doyle will have to block at times, and Mo Alie-Cox is in the mix, plus the rookie Kylen Granson is intriguing. But Wentz will love Doyle’s reliability and steadiness, so if Ertz is not added, I think Doyle will surprise with 50+ catches.

The Colts do like Mo Alie-Cox, who like Pascal is more of a pest for fantasy than anything, but he’s also pretty darn good. For example, he posted 5/111 receiving on 6 targets on a season-high 67% snap share when filling in for an injured Trey Burton and Jack Doyle last year. Doyle is a good blocker, but so is MAC, and the Colts will likely lean on Doyle a little more in the passing game if Ertz isn’t added and/or the rookie Granson doesn't blow up.

He made some waves in the off-season workouts and Kylen Granson is interesting in that he’s not a prototypical TE. But HC Frank Reich loves those types, just like he loved Trey Burton. Granson has an appealing skill set, but these hybrid types almost never pan out, and it’s a crowded TE room this year in Indy. Granson should have a small role as a rookie, but it’s unlikely to merit serious fantasy consideration. He’s merely someone we’ll be watching out for as a possible WW add.

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