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How Matt Ryan's Benching Impacts The Colts In Fantasy Football

Matt Ryan - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

On Monday, the Indianapolis Colts announced that the team was benching quarterback Matt Ryan and would be replacing him with former Texas Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger.

Ryan's benching continues a trend with the Colts swinging and missing on older quarterbacks. In their efforts to replace Andrew Luck, the team has put Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, and now Matt Ryan out on the field. Like the other two, it appears Ryan will be one-and-done in Indianapolis.

So, how does this move impact the rest of the Colts' offense? Let's dig into how this offense might look now.

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Does Sam Ehlinger Have Fantasy Football Value?

One thing I liked about Matt Ryan from a fantasy perspective is that the Colts were letting him throw a ton lately. He led the entire league in passing yards in Week 6, for instance. Literally less than two weeks ago, Ryan was throwing 58 pass attempts and finishing as a top-five fantasy quarterback. He's had four weeks finishing as the QB14 or higher.

Ryan was a boring fantasy QB with a low floor, but he was still a viable streaming play. I've been rolling with him as my QB2 in some Superflex leagues, and I was feeling good about it.

And now, he'll be replaced by someone who has never thrown a pass in an NFL game.

I think there's a pretty clear loss of fantasy football value coming up from the quarterback position in Indianapolis, largely because I just can't imagine Frank Reich trusting Ehlinger to throw the ball as much as Ryan has been.

In his final season at Texas, Ehlinger completed 60.2% of his passes for 2,566 yards and 26 touchdowns, while also adding 377 rushing yards and eight scores.

If Ehlinger is going to have fantasy value, it's likely going to come from his legs. The only times that Ehlinger has touched the ball during his NFL career have been run plays: he's got three carries for nine yards, all of which came last year. He took 18 total snaps on offense last season.

Fantasy managers in a two-quarterback league should pick Ehlinger up because he's a starting NFL quarterback with some good legs on him, but he's unlikely to have the same kind of value as Ryan does, so I'll leave him on the wire in one-QB leagues. Ehlinger might have more success than Ryan on a per-play basis, but I'm just thinking about volume. Ehlinger isn't a huge upgrade in terms of his arm strength and accuracy, so the game plan will likely be to have him throw less.


Jonathan Taylor RB1 SZN?

Last season, Jonathan Taylor led the NFL in carries, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and rushing yards per game. This year, he's been a little banged-up, so the raw numbers have obviously dipped since he's missed time, but the big mark of how his usage has changed is his yards per game: he's down from 106.5 last year to 77.2 this year, putting him more in line with his numbers from 2020, not his RB1 season last year.

After adding Matt Ryan this offseason, the Colts have been a more pass-heavy team. The Colts rank second in the NFL this year in pass rate, throwing on 66.74% of their plays. Last season, they ranked 28th, throwing on 52.57% of plays.

But with the Colts sitting at 3-3-1 on the season and ranking third in the AFC South in points scored, it was time for a change, and that change extends beyond who is taking snaps—it's also about what kind of snaps he takes.

The Colts have one of the best runners in the NFL, and with this move, I expect there to be a drastic shift in how plays are called. Taylor might not wind up with the same kind of volume he had last season, but he's definitely about to see an increase in his usage.

And once we have that increase, we should get back to seeing Taylor perform as a fantasy RB1.

In full PPR, Taylor was the overall RB2 in Week 1, and he's had just one top-20 finish since which came this week when he was the RB20.

Part of Taylor's issue this year is volume, while another part is a loss of efficiency. Last season, he was third among running backs in yards per touch and yards created per touch. This year, he ranks 50th and 46th in those stats, respectively.

All that is to say that Taylor will get an increase in workload, but some of his per-play numbers this year suggest that more volume won't necessarily put Taylor back into the overall RB1 conversation, but he should be considered a rock-solid top-10 back going forward.


Fantasy Football Impact To The Pass Catchers

Perhaps the biggest question mark here is what this means for the players who catch passes in Indianapolis. If we assume the team will throw the ball at a lower rate than before, then where does that leave the team's receivers and tight ends?

The tight end part is easy for fantasy managers: you could largely ignore the Colts' TE position before this news and you can largely ignore it now. In full PPR, the Colts have had two players have top-five weeks this year at the position, but the rest of their numbers highlight how tough it's been to predict this position. Jelani Woods was the overall TE5 in Week 3, but he has just one other finish as a top-35 tight end. Mo Alie-Cox was TE2 in Week 4, which was his only finish as a top-30 tight end. And Kylen Granson was TE13 in Week 4, his only top-20 finish.

Essentially, the tight end lottery in Indianapolis wasn't worth paying attention to in season-long leagues before, and it still isn't now.

As for the wide receivers, there are going to be some losses here.

The Colts average 42.4 pass attempts per game. I think we see this team look closer to last year's team now when they averaged 30.6 pass attempts per game. That's a drop of 12 available targets per game. Maybe we give this passing game the benefit of the doubt a little more and assume we're looking at something like 34 pass attempts per game with Ehlinger, but even that would be a drop of around eight attempts per game.

And because we don't have any track record of Ehlinger playing in real NFL games, it's hard to really get a read on where those missing targets will come from.

Parris Campbell feels relatively safe to me because of his slot role.

This offensive line is still bad, even though the QB taking snaps behind it will have some legs on him to buy more time. Ehlinger might have more time to throw, but it will only be because he's capable of buying himself time to throw. We're still going to see the Colts game planning to get the ball out quickly most of the time. The slot guy is the best bet to benefit from that. Still, Campbell has just a two-week sample of being a good fantasy player, and he'll still likely lose a target or two. He's a WR4 option, with more upside in full PPR leagues than anywhere else.

Michael Pittman Jr. might benefit from having a quarterback who can buy time for something to materialize deep, but I would guess that he's also the guy who loses the most volume of any receiver on this team. Pittman is still a fantasy WR2, but his floor is lower now.

Alec Pierce has looked good as a rookie and the Colts seem committed to getting him on the field, as they've narrowed the receiver depth chart down:

Having Pierce on the field a lot gives him fantasy upside, but it also kind of feels like he's going to be the third option on an offense that will throw fewer passes. When the Colts hit their high point for pass attempts this season with 58 against the Jaguars, Pierce was fourth on the team in targets that game, behind Pittman, Campbell, and running back Deon Jackson. That might change with Ehlinger because you never really know what kind of chemistry exists between players, but I think it's safe to assume that Pierce is downgraded to a WR4 play with a low floor.

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