2022 Franchise Focus: Indianapolis Colts

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2022 Franchise Focus: Indianapolis Colts

The Colts got almost all of what a reasonable person could expect of the 2021 version of Carson Wentz, but it still wasn’t enough, as a horrific choke job over the final two games of the season — including an inexplicable loss to Jacksonville in Week 18 — cost the Colts a near lock of a playoff spot, wasting a historic year from RB Jonathan Taylor.

The Colts decided employing Wentz the player (or, like Philadelphia, Wentz the teammate) was not conducive to the team’s success, and GM Chris Ballard somehow found a willing taker in Washington for Wentz… actually getting valuable draft picks in return, including a 2022 third-rounder. Then, taking advantage of a bit of serendipity, Indianapolis traded their own 2022 third-rounder — made expendable by the Wentz trade — for Matt Ryan, upgrading the QB spot in the process.

Taylor is still here, and while the receiving corps remains thin, Ryan should help this offense operate more effectively, and with a veteran coach Frank Reich trusts in crunch time. The Colts are in what is inarguably the league’s worst division on paper, and the expectation is that Ryan will lead them to a division championship. If he beats Jacksonville on the road, it’ll be an improvement from both Wentz and Philip Rivers.

Indianapolis Colts Franchise Focus Companion Podcast with 107.5 The Fan’s Kevin Bowen

The Basics

Team FuturesOdds
Season Win Total (O/U)10 (-105/-115)
AFC South-125
Playoffs (Y/N)-175/+140
AFC Championship+1200
Super Bowl+2200

Season Prop Movement

Win Total: 9.5 (-110) in late March to 10 (-105) in mid-July

Super Bowl: +2400 in mid-February to +2200 in mid-July

Premium subscribers get Tom Brolley’s betting preview here.

Key Offseason Moves
AdditionsDraftDepartures
QB Matt RyanWR Alec PierceQB Carson Wentz (Was)
EDGE Yannick NgakoueTE Jelani WoodsWR Zach Pascal (Phi)
CB Stephen GilmoreOT Bernhard RaimannTE Jack Doyle (retired)
CB Brandon FacysonS Nick CrossOG Mark Glowinski (NYG)
QB Nick FolesEDGE Al-Quadin Muhammad (Chi)
RB Phillip LindsayCB Rock Ya-Sin (LV)
S George Odum (SF)
RB Jordan Wilkins (Ten)
WR T. Y. Hilton
OT Eric Fisher
CB Xavier Rhodes

Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule

Quarterback: 14th-softest (+0.10)

Running Backs: 10th-toughest (-0.15)

Wide Receivers: 4th-softest (+0.71)

Tight Ends: 9th-toughest (-0.46)

Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies

Pace splits by score (2021)

When within a score – 30.8 (31st)

When trailing – 28.8 (30th)

When leading – 31.0 (31st)

Play volume (2021)

Passes per game – 34.8 (28th)

Runs per game – 30.3 (6th)

Total plays per game – 18th (65.1)

Pass/Run splits by score/situation (2021)

When within a score (1st-3rd quarters) – 19th pass rate (57%) / 14th run rate (43%)

When trailing – 28th pass rate (62%) / 5th run rate (38%)

When leading – 21st pass rate (50%) / 12th run rate (50%)

On early-downs – 20th pass rate (53%) / 13th run rate (47%)

Summary

The Colts were among the league’s slowest-paced, run-heavy offenses last year – which begs two questions. How much of that was a function of the scheme? And, how much of that was because HC Frank Reich had to scale back the passing game because he didn’t trust his quarterback?

When you have a runner as talented as Jonathan Taylor, you’re naturally going to skew more run-heavy. However, I wonder how much the Colts will scale up their passing attack now that Matt Ryan is under center. By his own admission, Reich made a mistake vouching for Wentz.

Regardless, the likeliest outcome is that the Colts remain slightly run-heavy compared to average. Over the last three years, they’ve ranked 13th, 14th, and 4th in early-down run rate. The true upside of this offense relies upon Matt Ryan elevating everyone, regardless of their pass/run splits.

Data Points

The Colts run a vast majority of their offensive plays from 11 personnel (62.9% of snaps) and 12p (20.8%), but also use 21p (6.5%) and 13p (5.3%) a fair amount. They pass from 11p at the third lowest rate in the NFL with a mark of nearly 63 percent.

In the run gam the Colts feature a healthy diet of zone runs, accounting for nearly 60 percent of all their rush attempts. While the Colts don’t really struggle generating production with any particular run concept it is worth noting they averaged nearly a full yard more on zone carries (5.34 yards per attempt) vs. man run concepts (~4.45). They utilized inside zone at the fifth highest rate in the NFL and seldomly used pullers in the run game, just 9.5 percent of rush attempts (29th).

To no one's surprise, in 2021 the offense ran through two players, running back Jonathan Taylor and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. The only down-and-distance scenario on which another player besides those two led the team in looks was 2nd and extra long (11+ yards) — Zach Pascal, who is no longer with the team, led the Colts with 10 such targets.

Projected Fantasy Contributors

Matt Ryan (Proj: QB20 | ADP: 159 | Pos ADP: QB20)

The Colts probably got the best version of Carson Wentz anyone could reasonably expect in 2021 — 27 TD, 7 INT — but it still wasn’t enough to get them into the playoffs following two atrocious late-season performances. So GM Chris Ballard cut his losses and managed to take advantage of dominoes falling the way they did. The Falcons’ pursuit of Deshaun Watson (which ultimately failed) put Ryan on the market, and the Colts found themselves a QB upgrade. Ryan is likely on his last legs, especially as a fantasy asset. Despite starting all 17 games for the Falcons last year, he finished just twice as a top-12 weekly QB. That, of course, is owing to a depleted receiving corps that traded away Julio Jones and lost Calvin Ridley for personal reasons early in the season. Ryan threw just 20 TD in 17 games, with 12 INT, so on the tippy top of the surface, he isn’t a statistical upgrade on Wentz. But it’s clear the Colts would benefit from an adult in the room, and at points late in the season — for good reason — it appeared coach Frank Reich simply did not trust Wentz. Make no mistake, we’re not particularly excited about Ryan for fantasy, as he’s in the twilight of his career (37 years old) and the Colts’ receiving corps lacks a whole lot of depth beyond Michael Pittman. But he’s someone who should be able to stabilize things for Jonathan Taylor and Pittman, and hopefully prevent them from going off the rails. The Colts also made a really strong move bringing in Nick Foles to back up Ryan — Foles obviously knows Reich’s system. We like this move for the Colts’ offense more than we like it for Ryan himself, if that makes sense.

Jonathan Taylor (Proj: RB1 | ADP: 1 | Pos ADP: RB1)

The Colts’ best player and the best player for fantasy in 2021, Taylor is as good a choice as we’ve had at the overall #1 pick in some time. Taylor won the rushing triple crown in 2021, leading the NFL in carries, rush yards, and rushing TDs (332/1811/18). His 2171 yards from scrimmage and 20 total TDs also led all players. He played in all 17 games, was a top-5 RB in seven of them, and was a top-12 RB in five more. He’s been remarkably durable dating back to his time in high school. Oh, and he’s 23 years old. While the Colts’ offensive line is not the dominant force it once was, it’s at worst average, so that’s not a drawback either. QB Matt Ryan should help keep this offense on track at least as well as Carson Wentz did last year, if not better. Taylor might not have the passing game upside of Christian McCaffrey or Najee Harris, but he’s a far better runner than Harris and a safer health bet than McCaffrey. Taking him at 1.01 is the chalk move for a reason.

Nyheim Hines (Proj: RB39 | ADP: 136 | Pos ADP: RB43)

Look, it’s only fair to expect a dip in production for a rotational back when he’s playing with a guy in Jonathan Taylor who led the NFL in every major rushing category. In many ways, Hines’ career-lows in targets, receptions and receiving yards, with only 1 receiving TD, should be obvious (57, 40/310/1). But was there something more going on here? Likely Carson Wentz, in our eyes.

Now, Matt Ryan isn’t nearly the checkdown artist Philip Rivers was, but Wentz is basically allergic to checkdowns — he’d rather run around and then throw left-handed desperation passes while waiting for something to open up downfield. Ryan is not going to do that. And given the lack of depth the Colts have at receiver, we think there’s a very good chance Hines is able to claw out a role independent of Taylor, and one that could be particularly useful for PPR leagues.

Phillip Lindsay (Proj: RB115 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: N/A)

Lindsay has been one of the worst RBs in the NFL for a few years. In fact, per SIS, he was the worst in 2021 — among RBs with 50 or more carries, his positive play rate was 21.6%, the worst among 77 qualifying RBs. In all, he averaged 2.8 YPC on 88 carries between the Texans and Dolphins. To be fair to Lindsay, those two teams had terrible offensive lines, and while the Colts’ line isn’t the unit it was two years ago, it’s better than those two rag-tag groups. Still, Lindsay is an undersized grinder who is a zero in the passing game. If Jonathan Taylor goes down, Lindsay could fill in for a week or two, but the Colts would be in serious trouble beyond that.

Michael Pittman (Proj: WR16 | ADP: 30 | Pos ADP: WR14)

The Colts made the move from Carson Wentz to Matt Ryan to give them a more reliable option at the QB position when they need to throw it, but for fantasy purposes, the biggest beneficiary is very likely to be Pittman, a supremely talented X receiver who has yet to fully break out for fantasy. In 17 games last year, Pittman posted 88/1082/6 on 129 targets. He finished as the overall WR17 in PPR, and as the WR26 with 14.0 FPG. Pittman was much more of a solid piece of a lineup than someone who carried your team — he had just one top-5 blowup week, and finished just three times as a top-12 WR despite playing all 17 games. So why are we more bullish on Pittman with Ryan vis-a-vis Wentz? Well, Wentz has never had a WR finish higher than WR23 in PPR FPG in his career (Alshon Jeffery, 2017). Meanwhile, Ryan has consistently pumped out WR1s throughout his career — Roddy White, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley.

With so little proven competition for targets in Indy — TY Hilton, Zach Pascal, and Jack Doyle are gone — we expect Pittman to at least challenge for WR1 production, as Ryan has supported for his entire career.

Alec Pierce (Proj: WR55 | ADP: 159 | Pos ADP: WR71)

A freak athlete with a 93.9 SPORQ score via our Scott Barrett, Pierce didn’t produce huge numbers at Cincinnati (52/884/8 in his final year), but his tape and athleticism were enough to get him drafted in the second round by the Colts. A favorite of our Greg Cosell — he did not have many differences from Drake London, according to Greg — Pierce was a contested-catch specialist who has the body frame and ball skills to line up at boundary X in the NFL. The question from a fantasy perspective is if Pierce will get a chance to start right away on such a thin WR depth chart… and if so, if Pierce can show much more yards-after-the-catch ability than he did in college (Cosell believes his lack of production in that area is because the majority of routes Pierce ran were not conducive to YAC production). While Pierce has some flaws as a prospect, there is a massive opportunity for him to snatch a job here — Zach Pascal and TY Hilton (presuming the latter isn’t eventually signed) are leaving behind 116 targets at the WR position.

Parris Campbell (Proj: WR105 | ADP: 192 | Pos ADP: WR85)

A talented player who has shown flashes in the NFL, serious injuries have significantly derailed the career of Campbell so far — he’s played just 15 of a possible 49 career games thus far and has just 34 career catches. In 2019, he missed time with abdominal, hand, and foot injuries. In 2020, he missed virtually the entire season with a torn MCL/PCL in his knee. In 2021, he missed one game with another abdominal injury, and then all but Week 18 after a serious foot injury in Week 6. As per usual, the off-season hype on Campbell has been building. During minicamps and OTAs, Campbell reportedly showed extremely well, and — though unsurprisingly, given Indy’s lack of depth at WR — has been working exclusively as a starter. It’s hard to get excited about Campbell at this point, but if he does make it through the off-season program and reports are good, we have to acknowledge the chance of significant opportunity here with a QB upgrade in Matt Ryan.

Mo Alie-Cox (Proj: TE32 | ADP: 212 | Pos ADP: TE29)

Alie-Cox is a former basketball player who has shown his goods as a red-zone option for the Colts, scoring 8 TD on just 70 career receptions. Frankly, there have been points we’ve felt he’s been underutilized in his career, but to date the Colts have not seen Alie-Cox as more than a rotational player — only twice in his four years has he topped a 70% snap share, both coming in 2021 (he caught just 2 passes for 42 yards in those two games combined). The Colts, however, did lose Jack Doyle to retirement this off-season, and there could be ample opportunity for someone to step up here. The question is if Alie-Cox truly has the upper hand because he’s the most senior of this group, or if the Colts will take a committee approach given they’ve drafted three TEs over the last two seasons (including the freakish Jelani Woods). We’re projecting Alie-Cox to be the “lead” guy here, but a large part of that has to do with his blocking. He’s quite solid in that respect, while the youngsters are either raw in that department (Woods, Andrew Ogletree) or too small for an in-line position (Kylen Granson). It’d be a surprise if he doesn’t “start” for that very reason, and his decent receiving chops will help matters.

Jelani Woods (Proj: TE33 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: N/A)

The tight end position has proven to have fantasy’s longest learning curve outside of maybe quarterback, and we shouldn’t expect that to change with Woods. But man, we’re paying close attention to this kid, because he is a freak. Woods is 6’7” and 253 pounds with 4.61 speed. Here’s what our Scott Barrett had to say about him pre-draft — “Woods was slow to break out, amassing just 361 yards through 22 games at Oklahoma State, before transferring to Virginia in 2021. But that can be explained away by the fact that he came into the program as a QB before ultimately switching to TE. And his numbers at Virginia were impressive enough. He posted a (71) 44-598-8 line through 11 games, though he finished 5th on the team in receiving yards. But, more importantly, he posted some elite marks by missed tackles forced per reception and yards after contact per reception in 2021 – top-12 among Power 5 TEs since 2014 (of 104 qualifiers). And, maybe most importantly, Greg Cosell loves him.” Yeah, we’re burying the lede here, but Woods was one of Cosell’s favorite players to watch, writing in our Prospect Guide that he “is just scratching the surface of what he can become as a receiving TE at the next level with his rare size/movement/hands/body control/run-after-catch/competitiveness profile. Woods does not have a lot of experience as a receiver and he is still learning the TE position as he is playing it but it is evident from the tape that there is much to like and develop.” If you squint hard enough here, you can see a Jimmy Graham like profile. Again, Woods will probably be slow off the mark, but if he can work himself into a consistent role at any point, he’s someone to keep an eye on (and someone dynasty players should know intimately).

Kylen Granson (Proj: TE58 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: N/A)

The Colts’ TE room is going to look like it’s made up of guys who aren’t even playing the same position. That’s because the second-year man Granson is positively small (6’2 ⅛”, 242 pounds) compared to absolute units like Mo Alie-Cox and Jelani Woods. And because of that size, Granson isn’t likely to be a full-time TE, rather working in specific packages when his straight-line speed can be a factor in mismatches with linebackers and safeties. Granson played in all 17 games as a rookie, but never more than 47% of the snaps, and he caught just 11 passes for 106 yards. With this receiving group as thin as it is, there should be opportunity for a young and talented player like Granson to make an impact, but for now that’s far from saying he’ll be fantasy relevant.

Andrew Ogletree (Proj: TE78 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: N/A)

The second of two TEs the Colts drafted in 2022, behind Jelani Woods (3rd round), Ogletree (6th round) is in many ways a lower-case version of Woods in that he’s big, explosive, and raw. But given he played at Youngstown State, he didn’t face elite competition, and never caught more than 28 passes in a season. He needs serious work on his blocking, and in an ideal world the Colts could stash him on a practice squad while he develops, though his raw traits would be appealing to other clubs.

Huber’s Dynasty Buy-Low

Every time you turn around somebody is picking a player/s as a breakout candidate. Many of those players are being chosen after making a single splash play in practice. If we forced the sources of those narratives to provide their evidence, the disappointment level would be very high. It’s a business. Content spots need to be filled. Sports reporting is not closely monitored for accuracy. When they don’t have anything interesting to report, some of the lower character sites/individuals will simply resort to inventing the news. Who can we trust?

The list of trustworthy football opinions floating about for my taste is pretty short. Normally, all it takes is one piece of evidence pointing to low-character reporting is enough for me to blackflag that source for life. One source that I will look past a few false narratives is information directly from the horse's mouth. Coach-speak is always a concern, but it’s also the location of invaluable information on future breakouts.

Prior to being hired as the assistant QB coach for the Colts, Marcus Brady spent 16 seasons as a player or coach in the CFL. Three seasons later, he was promoted to OC. Talk about being thrust, ready-or-not, into the lion’s den. While Brady’s offense scored the ninth-most PPG (26.5), Indianapolis failed to make the playoffs. In addition, one of the players that trinity of offensive decision makers – GM Chris Ballard, Frank Reich and Brady – admitted to not receiving the deserved opportunities is Nyheim Hines. In addition to Brady passing along that they “had plays for him” and just wanting “to get the ball in his hands in space,” check out these quotes from Reich regarding Hines:

I think that last year, as we’ve documented well, we got probably a tad more run-centric than we wanted to be, than I wanted us to be. Just worked out the way the dynamics were. Nyheim still made an impact in games but not as much as normal and if you look at his years here, it’s been like every other year where he seems to have a better year. I was just laughing with Matt Conti coming in here, talking about Nyheim and I said, ‘If I was a fantasy owner, if I was going to be in a fantasy league, I think I’d pick Nyheim this year. I think I’d consider drafting Nyheim. I think it’s worth it to consider drafting him.’

When an OC mentions correcting one of the mistakes from his first year on the job, piggy-backed by the GM and HC involved to make sure that mistake is not repeated; that’s precisely the type of reporting that peaks my interest. Nobody is touching Jonathan Taylor’s workload. However, getting Hines involved enough to matter in fantasy is not outrageous since he scored 12.1 FPG in PPR formats during the ‘20 season. Hines will enter his Age 25 season with the same alluring 4.38-speed and elite receiving chops. Based on FFPC start-up ADP, Hines is mistakenly selected after Ronald Jones, Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson, Melvin Gordon and Darrell Henderson.

Hansen’s Final Points

Obviously, the cheat code is not in effect for Matt Ryan, who has put up 174/3 rushing total in his last two seasons (33 games). Ryan led the league in attempts as recently as 2020, and HC Frank Reich does love the forward pass, but he’s unlikely to hit 600+ attempts on the Colts, even in 17 games. Ryan probably won’t be incredibly efficient with his targets, either, since they’re receiving corps is a little light. He’ll be a stabilizing force and will get the ball to their receivers, most notably Michael Pittman, but Ryan won’t likely move the needle much unless he winds up throwing it 35+ times a week most weeks. Carson Wentz hit 35 or more attempts in just five of 17 games last year, and Ryan’s likely to only slightly improve that number.

There’s really only one point to make about stud Jonathan Taylor and it’s that Nyheim Hines will have a larger role and will be a lot more impactful in this offense than he was last year, when he was crushed by Carson Wentz. Otherwise, other than lingering concerns about Reich’s stupidity when it comes to Taylor, who was laughably the RB28 heading into Week 4, we’re good. Indy was 0-3 before Reich realized he had a stud RB to feed the ball to, and then they went 9-5, which should have been 10-4 but they lost to the hapless Jags in the finale. Taylor may not duplicate 2021’s production, and it’s rare for a RB to finish as the RB1 for the season two years in a row. But if anyone can do it in the 2020’s, it’s the incredibly durable Taylor. In my personal opinion, there’s really only one player who should merit any consideration over Taylor at one overall, and that’s Justin Jefferson.

He’s not a guy to pick if you want upside, but Nyheim Hines is a player we’ve priced way ahead of the markets starting in May, but the markets have largely caught up to us. Part of the problem is HC Frank Reich is flapping his gums about Hines and fantasy football. He’s up to RB45 heading into camp (from RB55-60 in May), and we have him at RB38 with a decent 10 FPG. Hines can certainly produce a couple of blowup games, as he did in 2020 with multiple TDs in a pair of games, but with Hines is all about the catches. We have Hines finishing sixth in RB receptions, thanks to Matt Ryan, so he’s a sneaky depth option for some standalone value. Until someone else emerges, I’d have to give Hines the nod in terms of being the handcuff, as well.

The RB situation behind Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines is murky heading into camp with Phillip Lindsay the likely next man up — assuming he makes the team. I like rookie D'Vonte Price as a deep sleeper here, and I’d imagine he’ll stick around on the practice squad, at worst. They also have former Raven Ty'Son Williams hanging around. We’ll see how things play out this summer, but no one’s drafting any of these guys in redraft leagues.

It’s a clear upgrade at QB this year for Michael Pittman with Matt Ryan coming to town. The Colts didn’t do much at receiver this year, so we’re all expecting Ryan to feed the third-year receiver a ton. We’re a little below the markets positionally heading into camp, but we were at 31 overall and his ADP was 30, so we’re basically in line. Pittman’s always been one of our targets and this year he looks as safe as ever.

If he’s not drafted in your league, there’s a good chance that rookie Alec Pierce will be picked up early on the WW. That’s because he should be locked into the #3 WR spot, at worst. If Parris Campbell is healthy, he’d probably play over Pierce in 12 personnel, but that would still leave around 70% of the snaps for Pierce. I think he might immediately be a better red zone guy than Pittman, for what it’s worth. His talent + opportunity + cost makes him a big draft day win or a negligible roster cut. We’ve well over his WR70 ADP and have him at WR55.

I’ve always liked the concept of Parris Campbell, but we’ve seen only flashes from the oft-injured fourth-year receiver. It’s now or never, and he’s with a QB in Matt Ryan who can get him the ball and help him earn a new contract, like Ryan did for Russell Gage last year. Campbell has a lot to work with in his toolbox and inside/outside versatility, so if he’s healthy this summer with good vibes, we’ll move him up our board. In the meantime, if you’re still looking for WRs around 200 overall, he certainly has upside.

There was a time early last year when like Mo Alie-Cox was going to emerge as a viable fantasy option, and he was effective on shot plays and in the red zone. But Frank Reich commits to no one at this position, and the Colts drafted specimen Jelani Woods and then Andrew Ogletree this past April, plus they still have Kylen Granson, last year’s fourth round pick. So the Colt TEs should be a nightmare again, which is why they all have ADPs at 225+ overall.

It seems almost impossible that rookie Jelani Woods can rise above the TEBC in Indy, especially since he’s considered raw. But he may be fun to watch in spots right away if he sees the field, and we should get a better feel for his chances in August. It’s worth noting that raw talent isn’t the issue with Woods, which is why it would be foolish to discount him.

I don’t want to draft Indy’s #1 TE, so I sure as heck don’t want to draft one of their backups, especially since they have three of them heading into camp. Kylen Granson was a fourth round pick last year, but his impact was negligible, and the Colts drafted TEs Jelani Woods and Andrew Ogletree this past April, so Granson’s at best a WW guy this year.

Rookie Andrew Ogletree is a developmental prospect who is off the redraft radar in 2022.

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