Fantasy football outlook: Evaluating our home team, the Indianapolis Colts

Fantasy football outlook by Joe Hopkins

It’s almost that time of year again when spirits rise and work productivity goes down. When mind-numbing blowouts suddenly hold your interest and when Sundays become sacred for more than one reason. If you’re like me, you’ve been daydreaming about the return of fantasy football since, well, since your league’s championship game ended. Hopefully you were in it. If not, don’t worry. I’m here now. While I can’t be there to remind you to buy Sunday’s beer on Saturday, I do vow to be your fantasy guru this year on your road to redemption. From draft day, to in-season pickups, to which players you should start each week, I’m just the nerd you need to finish this season as “Ultimate Supreme Overlord of All Things Football,” or whatever you demand to be called after you conquer your league.

We’ll start by evaluating the home team. Indianapolis has a variety of enticing fantasy prospects this year, and if you’re a fan, it’s always nice to have a Colt in your lineup to root for. Just make sure you know who you’re competing against. If the league you play in contains several other Colts enthusiasts, players from the Circle City tend to go one or two rounds higher than their perceived value. Get to know your league and use that information to your advantage when setting your draft board.

I know you’re probably reading this at work so without further delay, here is the fantasy outlook for your 2017 Indianapolis Colts.

Fantasy rankings and scoring are based off the standard scoring format. Average Draft Position (ADP) taken from ESPN.COM.

Andrew Luck – QB – Sixth Season

Since undergoing surgery in January to repair the labrum in his throwing shoulder, we’ve been told Andrew Luck would be ready by training camp. After it became apparent the Pro Bowler was not prepared for camp, fans were assured Luck will return for the season opener. Now the quarterback is reluctant to commit himself to week one. Do you see the pattern?

The most likely scenario is that Luck misses some games this year, yet still winds up a top ten fantasy passer. He finished last season as fantasy’s fourth highest scoring QB despite missing week twelve’s matchup against Pittsburgh. Currently drafted 62nd overall, Luck’s average draft position (ADP) will continue to fall until number twelve can work his way back onto the field.

Once fully recovered, Luck will undoubtedly reassert himself as a fantasy stud. The 27-year-old is coming off a career year and gets the added luxury of a healthy Donte Moncrief and free agent acquisition Kamar Aiken. The offensive line is also expected to improve, as the Colts return the same five starting blockers for the first time in the veteran’s career. Despite being pressured on a league high 279 dropbacks, Luck finished second in the league with eleven deep passing touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus.

The bottom line: While injuries remain a concern, Luck’s an elite talent who becomes worth the gamble if still available in the seventh round.

T.Y. Hilton – WR – Sixth Season

As Luck goes, so goes the entire offense. With a healthy quarterback, Hilton is a legitimate number one fantasy receiver, and he is currently being drafted as such with an ADP of fifteenth overall. The three-time Pro Bowler is coming off a career year of his own in which he led the league in receiving yards. That kind of production translated nicely to the fantasy realm, as Hilton finished fifth in fantasy scoring among wide receivers, one spot ahead of Julio Jones.

One would be wise to steer away from Hilton at his current asking price. “The Ghost” nearly disappeared against the Steelers last season, catching just three balls for 54 yards in Scott Tolzien’s lone start at quarterback. Though Hilton made more catches that were 20 or more yards down the field than any other receiver last season, the playmaker will struggle to consistently produce without his starting quarterback.

If Luck is forced to miss an extended period of time, Hilton’s value falls to the wide receiver two (WR2) range. This would lower his draft stock to round three or four. Monitor Luck’s health closely if you’re targeting Indy’s lead receiver this season.

Donte Moncrief – WR – Fourth Season

Everything I said about Hilton’s fate being tied to the health of Luck also applies to Moncrief. Without number twelve under center, the 24-year-old becomes a touchdown reliant flex play at best. If his franchise quarterback is able to return within the next month or so, Moncrief is elevated to sleeper status with WR2 upside.

If that upside is met, the Ole Miss product will end up a steal at his current ADP of 83rd overall. Despite being limited to just nine games last season due to injury, Moncrief pulled in a team-leading seven touchdowns on just 30 receptions. Though we can’t expect 23% of his catches to result in a score over the course of a full season, the budding receiver seems in line for a double digit touchdown total.

Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Moncrief will be driven to prove himself with a breakout campaign. Do what you can to land this mid to late round gem.

Frank Gore – RB – Thirteenth Season

Don’t overlook old reliable. Despite his advanced age, Gore finished twelfth last season amongst fantasy running backs and hasn’t missed a game since 2010. He’s also tallied at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns a season since his rookie year, and Gore was one of only three backs to score at least four rushing and four receiving touchdowns in 2016. However, there are reasons to believe the 34-year-old is approaching a decline in production.

Gore’s burst has noticeably regressed with age. The veteran’s longest run last year was just 22 yards, a career low. That’s quite a drop off from his previous career low of 37 yards. Gore also saw his number of broken tackles fall from 51 in 2015 to just 23 last season, according to Pro Football Focus. The addition of fourth round running back, Marlon Mack, could also equate to less touches for the league’s eighth all-time leading rusher.

Currently being selected 70th overall, Indy’s lead back appears primed to outplay his ADP. Gore offers great mid-round value thanks to his high end RB2 ceiling and high-end flex play floor.

Jack Doyle – TE – Fifth Season

Fans are excited about Doyle after the late bloomer broke out for 59 catches, 584 yards and five touchdowns last season. The Indianapolis native scored the twelfth most fantasy points at his position in 2016, and his emergence allowed the Colts to trade away fellow tight end, Dwayne Allen. With Allen’s 52 targets from last year up for grabs and Doyle entering his first season as the full time starter, many are predicting a big step forward for the 27-year-old.

That prediction should be met with cautious optimism. The good news is that Doyle’s production might not be as hampered by Luck’s absence as others. Inexperienced quarterbacks tend to lean on their tight ends as big, reliable targets in the middle of the field. Doyle illustrated his reliability by catching 81.9% of his targets last season, which was sixth best amongst tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus.

The bad news is second year tight end, Erik Swoope, will undoubtedly eat into Doyle’s opportunities. Two tight end sets have been a staple of Indy’s offense in recent years, which puts a lid on Doyle’s upside. Since Luck entered the league, his lead tight end has averaged 621 yards and five touchdowns a season. That translates to 92 fantasy points, which would have finished 10th at the position in 2016.

With an ADP of 132, Doyle looks set to provide low end TE1 production at a favorable discount.

Adam Vinatieri – K – Twenty Second Season

The future Hall of Famer continues to be one of the better kickers in the league. Vinatieri was successful on 27/31 field goals last season and was the third highest scoring kicker in fantasy. There is no reason to believe the 44 year-old won’t once again finish 2017 as one of the NFL’s best.

The only negative is with an ADP of 126, Vinatieri comes with a steep asking price. There is better value to be found elsewhere, such as Caleb Sturgis for example. The Philadelphia kicker finished with just one less fantasy point than Vinatieri last season, yet isn’t being drafted until pick 155 on average.

Names to Keep an Eye On

There are a few guys on the roster that could become fantasy relevant if things shake right for them. Aforementioned rookie running back, Marlon Mack, has impressed his head coach thus far, according to Indy Star’s Zak Keefer. The athletic back left USF as their all-time rushing leader and should see his touches increase as the season goes on. Though he doesn’t warrant a draft pick, Mack is a guy to keep on your waiver wire radar.

Second year receiver, Chester Rogers, is currently the favorite to win the team’s third receiver position. If the undrafted Grambling State product can hold off Kamar Aiken and Phillip Dorsett, he could become a significant contributor. Should Moncrief or Hilton face injuries this season, Rogers becomes a juicy waiver wire add.

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