Preseason - 2021 Indianapolis Outlook
Indianapolis Colts Outlook
Over his first three seasons as a head coach, Frank Reich went 28-20 with two playoff appearances. Indy's offense survived after losing Andrew Luck to a career-ending injury in 2019, thanks to the Philip Rivers signing. The Colts traded Carson Wentz in February after a down season in 2020. He played under Reich (offensive coordinator) in Philly while being a big part of their Super Bowl title in 2017.
Reich started his NFL coaching career with the Colts in 2008 while having 13 seasons of coaching experience, with four years coming as an offensive coordinator.
Marcus Brady gets a bump from quarterback coach to offensive coordinator. He's been with the Colts since 2018 after spending eight seasons in the Canadian Football League, where Brady was part of three Grey Cups.
In 2020, the Colts climbed to 10th in offensive yards and 9th in points scored (451). They scored 90 more points than last season (361 – 16th).
Matt Eberflus helped Indianapolis' defense improve to eighth in yards allowed and 10th in points allowed (362), which was their best showing since 2008. He took over the Colts' defense in 2018. Eberflus worked over the previous seven seasons with the Cowboys as the linebacker's coach, upping his coaching experience in the NFL to 12 seasons.
The Colts addressed their weakness at left tackle by signing Eric Fisher, who suffered a torn Achilles last January. He never developed into an impact player after Kansas City drafted him first overall in 2013. Over the previous seasons, he was about the league average in pass blocking despite allowing a few sacks and pressure at times. His run blocking has been up and down over the past four years.
QB Jacoby Brissett signed with the Dolphins, and DE Justin Houston remains a free agent after regressing in 2020. He has 37.5 sacks over his last 59 games.
Indy invested in their defense with their selections in the first and second rounds (DE Kwity Paye and DE Dayo Odeyingbo) in this year's draft.
Paye brings an explosive skill set led by fight, quickness, and speed. He works hard with a short resume of experience, leading to him being a looker rather than an attacker on some plays. His ceiling is extremely high once Paye develops better vision and feel for play development.
Odeyingbo comes off a torn Achilles, leading to him sliding in the draft. He has a disrupter feel with more upside when adding more strength. Odeyingbo packs a winning punch with the foundation skill set to attack the quarterback. His next step is improving his base to handle the battles in the trenches against the run.
In the fourth round, the Colts added TE Kylen Granson. His best asset early in his career will be his speed over the long field. Granson needs work on his route running while also failing short as a block. Defenders in tight quarters will challenge his hands. He'll test safeties at the third level of the defense with the wheels to score if Granson finds a seam.
S Shawn Davis was the choice in the fifth round. With improved technique and success against the run, his game will be fun to watch when attacking the line of scrimmage. Davis offers speed, quickness, and power, but his eyes lead to mistakes in timing and decision-making at times. He does have some risk in coverage and some work to do in his tackling.
The flier on quarterback depth (Sam Ehlinger) came in the sixth round. He projects to be more of a game manager with the ability to make plays on the ground. Ehlinger has a good feel for the pocket while struggling to read defenses. His willingness to stand tall in the passing game can lead to some sacks and fumbles.
Indianapolis drafted WR Mike Strachan and G Will Fries in the seventh round.
Strachan offers elite size (6'5" and 225 lbs.) to the wide receiver position. He came to Indianapolis via a smaller school where his game had an edge. Strachan creates wins on jump balls and fades at the goal line, but his speed and route running won't separate him from his peers.
Fries lacks an impact first step and the power to dominate his blocks. He makes up for his shortfalls with a good foundation in his base skill set, along with the hands to maintain spacing to finish his blocks on time. He can get bullied, and speed will challenge him outside his zone.
The Colts dipped to11th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,996) with 20 touchdowns and 12 runs over 20 yards. Their ball carriers gained 4.3 yards per rush.
Indy climbed to 14th in passing yards (4,186) with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with Philip Rivers behind center. Their offensive line allowed only 21 sacks.
LT Eric Fisher
After losing Anthony Castonzo to retirement, the Colts went for the quick fix by adding Eric Fisher. He will give up pressure in the pass rush, but Fisher continues to be an above-average player in pass blocking. His play tends to be neutral in the run game. Overall, Fisher played his best in 2020 thanks to the ultra-talented Patrick Mahomes extending the passing window.
LG Quenton Nelson
Nelson dominated his blocking assignments in pass protection last year while already having an impact edge in his first two years in the league after getting drafted in the first round in 2018. His running blocking has been top shelf in back-to-back seasons. Last season, Nelson shined late in the year when Jonathan Taylor emerged as a big-time running back.
C Ryan Kelly
Kelly ended up being a great find in the 2016 draft after the Colts drafted him in the first round. Last year he regressed to a league-average player in run blocking and pass protection. Kelly rarely allows sacks and minimal pressure.
RG Mark Glowinski
Over the last five seasons, Glowinski made all 16 starts in two seasons (2016, 2019, and 2020). He has job loss risk due to his failure in pass protection. Glowinski has a chance to be a league-average blocker in the run game.
RT Braden Smith
Smith allowed some pressure on the quarterback last season, but most passing plays ended with no sacks or hits. His growth in pass protection pushes him into an elite area. He played well in back-to-back seasons in run blocking.
Indianapolis has one of the better offensive lines in the league. Four players grade at or above the league average. Nelson and Smith continue to push toward the top of the league at their positions. The Colts will run the ball with success up the middle while forcing teams to rush the quarterback on the outside.
The Colts ran the ball 45.4 percent of the time last year while getting nothing in the run game from their quarterback (35/15/3). They finished with close to the league average in passing attempts and passing yards. Indy wants to improve their defense, pointing to a ball-control offense.
QB Carson Wentz, WAS - Gamble (high risk)
Wentz bottomed out last season behind an injury-ravaged Philadelphia offensive line and with an inexperienced receiving corps that was plagued by drops and inconsitency. However, Wentz thrived in the early part of his career with the Eagles, where current head coach Frank Reich was Philadelphia's offensive coordinator.
After the Colts traded for Wentz, the hope was that Reich could re-establish Wentz as a quality signal-caller but Wentz aggravated a pre-existing foot injury early in camp and is expected to be sidelined after surgery. The timetable for a full recovery bleeds into the regular seaon, which puts Wentz's starting ability in doubt.
Fantasy Outlook: While there is plenty of potential for Wentz to turn his career around under Reich, he is a risky bet as a starting fantasy signal-caller due to uncertainty about his status for September. View Wentz as a high-uspide QB2 in Superflex formats, or a priority free agent in single QB leagues.
Update: Wentz was originally given a 5-12 week recovery window from foot surgery. Reports indicate that he is ahead of schedule and is looking more likely to start in Week 1 than not. This is great news, as Wentz has real sleeper appeal in a stacked Indy offense with Frank Reich at the helm.
QB Jacob Eason, SEA - Deep-league Only
After a mediocre rookie campaign at Georgia (2,430 passing yards and 16 touchdowns over 13 games), Eason missed 2017 with a left injury in Week 1. He transferred to Washington in 2018, leading to a lost season.
In his first and only year behind center for Washington, he passed for 3,132 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Fantasy Outlook: Although Eason was expecte to simply develop behind Carson Wentz, the possiblity now exists that the young signal-caller will open the season as Indy's starter. While the possibility is low, there is a chance that Eason could conceivably hold onto that role if he's successful, so he should be on the radar for dynasty Superflex leagues.
Update: Eason gets the nod as primary signal caller until we hear something more on the severity of Wentz' injury. It looks like the coaching staff is standing pat with the kid from Washington in his second year. Here's what our Hakws Insider had to say: " "he's a statue with no feet. Teams that blitz him are going to get after him. Eason throws a ball with 150mph velocity. A cannon. An old school Drew Bledsoe. Throwing p-rockets everywhere, but if you blitz him, you're gonna get him. Not a lot of touch on the short intermediate stuff." - Definitely has a chance to contribute to Fantasy teams during this Wentz injury but better to wait and see before rostering.
QB Sam Ehlinger, IND - Dynasty Only
Over four seasons at Texas, Ehlinger passed for 11,436 yards with 94 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. Part of his intrigue is his value as a runner (554/1,903/33). His best season came in 2018 when he gained 3,764 combined yards and 41 touchdowns while doing plenty of damage on the ground (164/482/16). This season he'll be holding a clipboard.
Other Options: Jalen Morton
RB Jonathan Taylor, IND - Stud (low risk)
As expected, the Colts' running backs had a jump in production helped by the chain to Philip Rivers at quarterback. They gained 2,897 combined yards with 22 touchdowns and 11 catches. Their back gained 4.7 yards per rush. The most significant area of improvement came in the passing game (115/916/5 on 137 targets – 72/483/0 on 88 targets in 2019).
Taylor finished his rookie season with 1,468 combined yards with 12 touchdowns and 36 catches. He gained over 20 yards on 12 plays, with three of those touches reaching the 40-yard mark. His catch rate (92.3) came in better than expected. Taylor gained 5.0 yards per rush, with 17.9 touches per game.
The Colts gave him the keys to the run game over the final six games (118/729/8), highlighted by dominating performance in Week 17 (30/253/2). Over his hot streak, Taylor averaged 21.7 touches per game. He missed Week 12 with a Covid issue.
Fantasy Outlook: Indy rotated Taylor with Nyheim Hines on most passing downs. Marlon Mack will be back in the mix in 2021, but the Colts must ride their new franchise back. At a minimum, Taylor should receive 300 touches with a run at 1,700-pus yards, 16 touchdowns, and 50 catches. In the early draft season, he has an ADP of 5.7 as the sixth running back drafted.
RB Nyheim Hines, IND - Quality Backup
The change at quarterback in 2020 led to Hines having the best year of his career (882 combined yards with seven touchdowns and 63 catches). He finished as the 16th highest scoring running back in PPR leagues (193.20 fantasy points).
His season started with an impact game (73 combined yards with two touchdowns and eight catches – 27.30 FPPG). Over the first 10 weeks, he scored fewer than 9.00 fantasy points in six matchups. His other two games of value came Week 8 (21.20 fantasy points) and Week 10 (28.50 fantasy points).
The rise of Jonathan Taylor down the stretch led 375 combined yards with one touchdown and 20 catches while averaging 10.8 fantasy points per game.Fantasy Outlook: Hines will make plays, but he isn't explosive. The Colts should give many of his carries (89/380/3) to Marlon Mack, pushing him to only a passing-down back. His ADP (115) ranks him as the 40th running back drafted. I only see 500 combined yards with short touchdowns and closer to 50 catches.
RB Marlon Mack, HOU - Gamble (high risk)
Over his first two seasons, Smith-Schuster had a stud WR1 feel highlighted by his success in 2018 (111/1,426/7) while receiving 166 targets. He struggled with an injury this following year (42/552/3), and Pittsburgh lost Ben Roethlisberger for most of the season.
The pluses were his catches (97), his high catch rate (75.8), and touchdowns (9) in 2020, but Smith-Schuster gained only 8.6 yards per catch. Pittsburgh listed him on the injury report in most weeks with multiple issues (toe, foot, and knee) despite playing every game. Over his final 12 games (including the playoffs), Smith-Schuster had a floor of six catches in 10 matchups while scoring seven touchdowns. His best two games (9/96/1 and 13/157/1) came in Week 16 and the postseason.
Fantasy Outlook: The wide receiver position in Pittsburgh has many mouths to feed, but Smith-Schuster remains the go-to guy over the short areas of the field. Hopefully, his injuries hindered his explosiveness in 2020, giving him a chance to regains his yards per catch (13.7) over his first three seasons. His ADP (74) ranks him as the third Steelers' wide receiver drafted and 29th option at wideout. I trust his 100-catch opportunity, and I expect a push back over 1,000 yards with value in touchdowns. He should be a worthy buy while looking like a steal if Smith-Schuster slides in drafts.