The Indianapolis Colts are emerging as one of the young threats in the AFC due largely in part to the success of quarterback Andrew Luck. For a team that many believe are a lock to make the playoffs, it’s kind of strange that they’ve only produced one player who is a surefire fantasy star. That said, the team is littered with names people know who possess enough upside to justify owning in most fantasy formats.
This article is one in a series of 2014 NFL team outlooks touching on position player analysis, risers/fallers, rookies and sleepers. You can read about many other NFL team previews & much more fantasy football pre-season analysis right here.
Indianapolis Colts Offseason Changes
Offseason Acquisitions: WR Hakeem Nicks
No Longer on the Roster: RB Donald Brown
Indianapolis Colts Quarterbacks
It’s no secret Andrew Luck is quickly becoming one of the premiere quarterbacks in the NFL. Naturally with real-life success comes immediate fantasy relevancy. For Luck, that means he has solidified himself as a second tier fantasy quarterback along with peers Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton. Not only is he getting better as he gains experience but the Colts have yet to establish any sufficient run game at all.
The Colts have been linked to offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s obnoxious run-heavy offense but eventually talent trumps strategy. Luck is becoming too good, too fast to be a game manager who hands the ball off more than he throws. The Trent Richardson trade didn’t exactly pan out the way the Colts had hoped during the second half of last season and Ahmad Bradshaw is, well, old. That leaves room for Luck to takeover games and sling the ball when needed.
Coming off a stellar fantasy year in 2013, Luck has moved up into about a fifth round pick which is perfect when you consider what drafting him at that spot would imply. Ideally, taking Luck in round five means you already have two running backs and two wide receivers, leaving room for you to venture into the QB category without worrying you’re losing out on another position. The counter argument to drafting guys like Luck, Stafford, and Cam is that you can just wait on quarterback entirely and take someone with slightly less upside, drafting more running backs and receivers in the process.
That’s a fine strategy but keep in mind that fantasy quarterbacks come in tiers. Not to dive into all the specifics pertaining to that but it’s clear that Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees represent tier one, followed by the three quarterbacks we’ve mentioned as tier two. Tiers imply a drop off so you should view Luck as the last quarterback worth taking “early” before you fully commit to waiting on one. The better Luck gets the more the team will trust in him so expect his 570 passing attempts, 3,822 yards and 23 touchdowns to rise in 2014.
Indianapolis Colts Wide Receivers
One of the more devastating injuries last season was to aging Colts receiver Reggie Wayne. At 35, it sounds nearly impossible for a guy with that kind of mileage to come back from a torn ACL and be as good as he once was. Reports indicate that Wayne has been ahead of schedule throughout his healing process which is better real-life news than it is fantasy news. Wayne was on pace to crack the 1,000 receiving mark before getting injured so his production was certainly respectable. The only real problem with Wayne’s fantasy value is that his upside is limited due to the injury and the fact that he’s already an aging veteran who has competition among his teammates. Wayne will probably go in the seventh round of most fantasy drafts, rounding out the top 30 at receiver and that’s an accurate spot for him to go.
His tag team partner T.Y. Hilton is a much more intriguing name, however. Hilton finished the year with 1,083 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns, yielding a 2014 fantasy ranking that flirts with being inside the top 20 at receiver. Hilton possesses enough upside to consider him earlier than that sixth round ranking but when you look at his numbers during Wayne’s absence last year, he really only had three big games out of nine. Those other six games were practically identical to the ones when Wayne was healthy. That’s not to say Hilton can’t exceed expectations this year given that he too is a young player but it does mean his upside is somewhat capped. You should view Hilton as a high-end flex option or a low-end WR2 if you decide to take a quarterback or tight end earlier in your draft.
The last Colts receiver worth mentioning is former Giant Hakeem Nicks. Nicks has been plagued by injuries and a lack of production the last two seasons so it’s clear why his fantasy value has plummeted. Sometimes a change of scenery is enough to rejuvenate a career so maybe a new home in Indianapolis is enough for Nicks to get back on track. That said, he automatically defaults into the category of a player who has to show us he can still do it before we believe in him. Nicks is worth rostering as your fifth receiver. We should know fairly quickly whether or not he still has anything left in the tank so if he’s being unproductive on your team you should be able to cut him rather quickly.
Indianapolis Colts Running Backs
If you had asked me six months ago what I thought about Trent Richardson’s fantasy relevancy heading into the 2014 season I would have probably said “Who’s Trent Richardson?” I kid, but he was practically invisible last year much like fellow disappointment Ray Rice. The expectation was that Richardson would turn his season around after being traded to the Colts once he had a few games under his belt .That never even came close to materializing with Richardson finishing the year with a whimpering 458 rushing yards. Thinking about it now, Richardson’s value has fallen so far that it’s actually worth taking him at his current ranking. As a fifth round pick, Trent Richardson could easily fill the black hole that is the RB2 slot on your roster. Richardson had a tremendous rookie season two years ago. Talent like that can’t just disappear entirely in one season can it? Besides, Richardson has now had an entire offseason to acquaint himself with his new team.
With Donald Brown off to vulture away touches from Ryan Mathews in San Diego and Vick Ballard out for the year with a torn achilles, the only true competition for Richardson is the aging Ahmad Bradshaw. Reports out of camp indicate Bradshaw is fully recovered from the neck surgery that sidelined him for nearly all of last season. In addition to his recovery, Bradshaw is said to look great on the field which may raise some eyebrows among Richardson supporters and detractors alike. The main take away from that should be that Richardson will be on an extremely short leash once the season starts. If he were to struggle right away, Ahmad Bradshaw would certainly be given more opportunities to be productive. Bradshaw was borderline undraftable prior to Vick Ballard’s injury but that should change quickly now that he’s the clear-cut number two back in Indy. Stash Bradshaw toward the end of your draft if you want some additional running back depth and keep an eye on Trent Richardson’s performance as the year progresses.
Indianapolis Colts Rookies & Tight Ends
The Colts didn’t exactly turn any heads in drafting rookie wide receiver Donte Moncrief in the third round so for now he’s just a name on the roster. Could he dethrone an unproductive Hakeem Nicks as the number three receiving option? Sure, but that doesn’t mean much considering the rest of the Colts offense. As for tight ends, the Colts are in a peculiar position of having two players who should be better than they actually are in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.
Fleener should have had a much better season than he did last year with both Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen missing considerable amounts of time. With both Wayne returning and Hakeem Nicks joining the team, it’s virtually impossible to project any sort of breakout for either tight end. It’s a classic case of too many mouths to feed that could look a lot like the Saints Light in that there will be weeks one guy goes off but good luck guessing who or when that is. Both Fleener and Allen could be used as a bye week tight end if need be but neither are a must-own.
Indianapolis Colts in Summary
The Colts are only getting better under quarterback Andrew Luck which should benefit most of his supporting cast. For now, the upside is limited but enough to take a chance on Richardson or Hilton getting better. They’re both young players whose value should at least be met if not exceeded. If things go their way, the Colts could contend for more than just fantasy points, challenging the likes of the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos for the top spot in the AFC.