ESPN Colts Projections: Top-5 Team, Marlon Mack 1,000-Yard Rusher, Two No. 1 Defenders

ESPN’s Mike Clay is back with his statistical and game-by-game projections for the Indianapolis Colts for the 2019 season. How does he see the year panning out for Indy?

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INDIANAPOLIS — What will Andrew Luck do in Year 2 in Frank Reich's offense? How many rushing yards can a fully-healthy Marlon Mack rack up? What will the likes of Darius Leonard and Kenny Moore II do for encores after standout 2018 defensive performances?

While all signs are pointing up for the Indianapolis Colts heading into the 2019 season, it's always nice to get some outside perspective for the team from those who know best.

And if it's quality projections you want, ESPN's Mike Clay is the person for the job.

We've brought you Clay's Colts projections at this time of the offseason the last two years, and it's time once again to dive into how he believes the 2019 season will play out, both for the players and their individual statistics and for the team itself:

TEAM PROJECTIONS

The Colts are facing an extremely tough schedule in 2019, especially on the road. But Clay's projections have Indy doing just fine, thank you very much.

His simulations have the Colts winning 10.2 games in the regular season, ranking fifth in the NFL.

The Colts have a better than 50-percent win probability in 12 games, meanwhile: Week 2 at the Tennessee Titans, Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons, Week 4 against the Oakland Raiders, Week 7 against the Houston Texans, Week 8 against the Denver Broncos, Week 9 at the Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 10 against the Miami Dolphins, Week 11 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Week 13 against the Titans, Week 14 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Week 16 against the Carolina Panthers and Week 17 against the Jaguars.

Of the remaining games, Clay projects the Colts' Week 5 matchup at the Kansas City Chiefs (44-percent win probability) and their Week 15 game at the New Orleans Saints (32-percent win probability) will be their toughest.

Position-wise, the Colts stack up favorably, as well. Clay projects the Colts will have the eighth-best offense, the 14th-best defense and eighth-best overall roster in the league in terms of production.

"The Colts are strong in all the right places," Clay tweeted. "That could be enough to get them back to the top of the AFC South in 2019."

PLAYER PROJECTIONS

Here are a few individual highlights from Clay's 2019 Colts projections

» After a highly-successful comeback season in 2018, Clay believes Luck will continue his solid play at quarterback for the Colts in 2019. He's projecting Luck to rank sixth-overall among all NFL playcallers by completing 386-of-594 passes (65 percent) for 4,330 yards with 34 touchdowns to 14 interceptions; he also has Luck running the ball 53 times for 200 yards and another score. Reich has repeatedly mentioned a bigger emphasis on running the ball this season, and these numbers for Luck seem to follow that narrative.

» Last year, Mack nearly missed out on his first-career 1,000-yard rushing season, despite the fact he missed four of the team's first five games with a hamstring injury. Clay believes Mack will eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in 2019, however; he has him running the ball 247 times for 1,100 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns, ranking 19th among all backs in PPR fantasy leagues. Nyheim Hines, meanwhile, will be another all-around weapon in 2019, as he's projected to have 336 rushing yards and 345 receiving yards (681 yards in all) with four touchdowns.

» Watch out for T.Y. Hilton. He was banged up all throughout 2018 and still put together a Pro Bowl-worthy season, and now fully healthy — especially from those low and high sprains on the same ankle he played through over the final six games of the season, including the playoffs — Clay believes he is in for another big year. Hilton is projected to catch 81 passes for 1,285 yards and a career-best eight touchdowns. Should Hilton get to those numbers, he'll have moved past Raymond Berry for the third-most receiving yards in team history, and he'll have tied Lenny Moore for the fifth-most receiving touchdowns in Colts history.

» Of the newcomers at the wide receiver position, second-round pick Parris Campbell is projected to have a solid rookie season with 53 receptions for 572 yards and four touchdowns, although Clay only has him with four rushing attempts for 24 yards; one would believe the speedy Campbell could get more touches in the run game than that. Free agent pickup Devin Funchess, meanwhile, is expected to have five touchdowns among his 36 receptions.

» At tight end, Jack Doyle is expected to return to form after an injury-plagued 2018 campaign, with a projected 63 receptions for 572 yards and five touchdowns. Eric Ebron is projected by Clay to catch six touchdowns in 2019 after he hauled in 13 scores last season.

» The Colts' defense, according to Clay, will be led by Leonard and Moore II, each of whom are projected to be the No. 1 players at their respective positions, according to fantasy football rankings. Leonard is expected to put together another All-Pro-type season in 2019, with 154 total tackles, 3.8 sacks and 1.4 interceptions, while Moore II is projected to have 71 tackles, 2.6 interceptions and 0.9 sacks.

» Other projected standouts for Indy defensively are defensive tackle Denico Autry (No. 15 overall; 41 tackles, 5.9 sacks), defensive end Justin Houston (No. 13 overall; 46 tackles, 8.9 sacks), cornerback Pierre Desir (No. 10 overall; 71 tackles, 1.6 interceptions) and safety Clayton Geathers (No. 16 overall; 103 tackles).

» Clay believes the Colts will once again have solid special teams play. He has kicker Adam Vinatieri hitting 86 percent of his field goal attempts, and has punter Rigoberto Sanchez averaging 45.3 yards per punt, 24 of which will be downed inside the 20.

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