INDIANAPOLIS — Lots of factors go into Mike Clay's annual NFL game-by-game predictions, player projections and unit grades — most notably, his own research and various algorithms.
And after all of that — and after all the moves the Indianapolis Colts made this offseason — where do they end up in Clay's 2017 projections?
Well, right about where they've been the past two seasons.
In an interesting take on how the Colts will fare in the upcoming season, Clay — a fantasy football analyst for ESPN — has the team finishing pretty much at 8-8, its exact same record from the previous two years.
Want the bad news first? Another 8-8 season doesn't exactly seem promising to the Colts and their fanbase.
But the good news? Clay's projections *do* have Indianapolis making the playoffs in 2017 as a wildcard team, with the Tennessee Titans, at 9-6, winning the AFC South Division title.
Clay also projects the stats for many of the Colts' players on offense, defense and special teams. Let's break those down (some figures are rounded up or down):Quarterback:
• Andrew Luck: 360 of 587 passing (61.3 percent) for 4,251 yards with 31 touchdowns to 15 interceptions; sacked 35 times; 65 carries for 309 yards and two touchdowns.
— Sound familiar? Well apparently Clay thinks Luck is going to essentially repeat his 2016 season — which wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Luck last year completed 346 of 545 passes (63.5 percent) for 4,240 yards with 31 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, was sacked 41 times and ran 64 times for 341 yards and two touchdowns.
One might believe, however, that fully healthy and recovered from offseason surgery to his throwing shoulder — fixing a problem he suffered through all of last season — Luck should improve upon his numbers from 2016. And while Clay does expect an improvement in the Colts' pass protection up front, you can imagine the team would still be pretty disappointed if No. 12 is sacked 35 more times in 2017.——————
• Frank Gore: 233 carries for 947 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and six touchdowns; 29 receptions for 233 yards and one touchdown.
• Robert Turbin: 64 carries for 250 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and two touchdowns; 31 receptions for 251 yards and two touchdowns.
• Marlon Mack: 45 carries for 172 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and one touchdown; 17 receptions for 144 yards and one touchdown.
— What's somewhat interesting about Clay's projections for the Colts' running backs in 2017 is that he has all three of them playing 15 games, and not 16, during the upcoming season (all other players are projected to play 16). So, one might say that Gore's numbers seem pretty realistic, and if he gets in another game, he could very well be looking at another 1,000-yard season. At 34 years old, though, Clay believes Gore will see his carries decrease in 2017 by more than 11 percent from last year's total, giving more opportunities to guys like Turbin and Mack.
— Speaking of Turbin, Clay has him going at about his career rushing average (3.9 yards per carry) in 2017, with a 36 percent increase in the number of carries from 2016 to 2017. That seems fair. Turbin could very well have much better stats in 2017, but these projections aren't necessarily going to predict that.
— The wild card, of course, is Mack, the rookie running back taken in the fourth round in this year's NFL Draft. His projected numbers don't look flashy at all, but first-year backs respond to NFL roles in many different ways. If he's a fast learner, he could bypass these projections by the fifth week of the season; but if it takes him some time to get adjusted, then who knows?——————
Wide receivers/tight ends:
• T.Y. Hilton: 84 receptions for 1,310 yards and seven touchdowns.
• Donte Moncrief: 69 receptions for 798 yards and seven touchdowns.
• Jacoby Brissett: 27 receptions for 361 yards and two touchdowns.
• Kamar Aiken: 21 receptions for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
• Chester Rogers: 7 receptions for 89 yards and one touchdown.
• Jack Doyle: 63 receptions for 616 yards and six touchdowns.
• Mo Alie-Cox: 23 receptions for 320 yards and two touchdowns.
— So, just another top-of-the-line year is apparently coming for Hilton, who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2016 with 1,448, but with Moncrief fully healthy, Clay sees that number dropping slightly in 2017. Keep this in mind, though: 1,310 yards would've still ranked Hilton fifth in the league last year, so there's nothing wrong with that.
— And, as for Moncrief, this projection seems about in line with his career trajectory — when he can stay on the field. Injuries have hampered him the past couple seasons, but he's been productive when he does find his way onto the turf.
— For Dorsett and Aiken, it's all about opportunities. The Colts need Dorsett to break out in 2017, but there's only so many footballs to go around. Aiken, meanwhile, was brought in this offseason to not only provide much-needed size for the Indy receivers, but to add competition, as well. Like Turbin and Mack, it's kind of tough to project anything much more productive for Dorsett or Aiken at this point, but they certainly could very well have much better seasons than these predictions.
— Out of all the projections by Clay, however, Rogers' is perhaps most baffling. As stated earlier, there's only so many passes to go around, and these predictions are assuming all players are healthy the entire season, and with all that being said, Rogers, for now, seems to outsiders like the Colts' No. 5 option at wide receiver. But he proved last year, as an undrafted rookie, that he can play in this league (19 receptions for 273 yards), and he has impressed this offseason. So you'd imagine Rogers' season will be a little better than what Hilton will average each game this year, right?
— In his first opportunity as the Colts' No. 1 tight end, Doyle's numbers might seem fair to most. But they also look familiar: he had 59 receptions for 584 yards and five touchdowns a year ago, so maybe the new contract and status could mean much better numbers in offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's system.
— Swoope, meanwhile, seems to have a fair amount of production projected for 2017. Like many others, he likely needs to show he can produce at a higher level before his projections would ever be higher.——————
• Johnathan Hankins: 42 tackles (eight for a loss), four sacks, one pass defensed, one forced fumble.
• Henry Anderson: 33 tackles (three for a loss), one sack, four passes defensed.
• Kendall Langford: 28 tackles (four for a loss), two sacks, three passes defensed.
• John Simon: 76 tackles (10 for a loss) eight sacks, three passes defensed, one forced fumble.
• Jabaal Sheard: 48 tackles (nine for a loss), eight sacks, four passes defensed, one forced fumble.
• Akeem Ayers: 24 tackles (three for a loss) three sacks, two passes defensed.
— It looks like much of the same for Hankins in 2017 — and that's not a bad thing. he had 43 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble for the New York Giants last season, and if he can bring similar production to the Colts' defensive interior this year, then he would certainly be doing his job. The hope, however, is to see Hankins raise his game in now his fifth year in the league, and perhaps put up similar numbers to his 2014 campaign: 51 tackles, seven sacks, three passes defensed and a forced fumble.
— If healthy, one might imagine Anderson would perform better than these numbers indicate. That's just it, however: he needs to stay healthy. He tore an ACL in one knee to end his rookie season prematurely in 2015, and then his other knee caused some issues last year. He's terrific against the run, and is hoping to improve against the pass, so this could be a critical year for Anderson's development.
— Sheard's projections go about along the same line as his averages his first six years in the league (about 43 tackles, six sacks, three passes defensed a year). Obviously the Colts would like to see him take it up a level with the opportunity to start each game, so time will only tell what those increased snaps could mean for Sheard.
— Simon, however, is expected to take a big leap forward, according to Clay. Those numbers would be career highs. He, like Sheard, has been slated to likely start at one of the two outside linebacker spots this season; the most games he had started previously in one year was eight in 2015 with the Houston Texans (he had five sacks that season).——————
• Edwin Jackson: 105 tackles (six for a loss), two sacks, one interception, three passes defensed, one forced fumble.
• Sean Spence: 75 tackles (six for a loss), three sacks, one interception, three passes defensed, one forced fumble.
• Antonio Morrison: 47 tackles (three for a loss) one sack, one pass defensed.
— That's a solid second season for Jackson, who ended up starting eight games last year for the Colts and had 66 tackles and two sacks. One might not be surprised to see Jackson, if given the opportunity, be a bigger playmaker against the run and get a few more tackles for loss, however.
— At the other inside linebacker position, it seems as though Clay has Spence starting, but the youngster Morrison also getting plenty of snaps. That would make sense given the players listed.
— And while Clay can't be expected to project every single player on the team's roster, one might remind him to try to add Jon Bostic to his next predictions for the Colts. Bostic is expected to play a major role — either as a starter or as a backup — at inside linebacker for the team in 2017.——————
• Vontae Davis: 52 tackles (one for a loss), two interceptions, 13 passes defensed.
• Quincy Wilson: 48 tackles (one for a loss), two interceptions, nine passes defensed.
• Darius Butler: 57 tackles (one for a loss), three interceptions, 12 passes defensed, one forced fumble.
• Clayton Geathers: 104 tackles (five for a loss), one interception, eight passes defensed, one forced fumble.
• Malik Hooker: 60 tackles (two for a loss), two interceptions, six passes defensed.
— It's interesting how similar Clay sees Davis and Wilson's seasons playing out, given how Davis is the veteran, bonafide No. 1 cover corner, while Wilson is the rookie who still needs to earn his starting spot. Maybe these figures are a bit of underachieving for Davis and the other way around for Wilson?
— Butler is listed by Clay as a cornerback, though he has prepared himself for a full-time move to safety in 2017. It's unsure how that transition could or would affect his projected numbers for 2017, but those are pretty solid numbers regardless.
— The hope is Geathers can fully recover from offseason neck surgery to be able to mesh with the rookie, first-round pick Hooker to form one of the more talented, young safety duos in the league. And while these projected numbers for a fully-healthy Geathers are fine, he seems like he could be a little bit more of a stat stuffer if able to play an entire season, so one might expect a sack or two (or three) to go along with another pick and a couple more forced fumbles, at least.
— And will Hooker's elite final season with Ohio State translate into production at the NFL level? Well, yes and no, according to Clay. These are fine numbers for a rookie, but, like Geathers, the hope is that he can do a little more from the safety position to help improve this Colts defense.
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