INDIANAPOLIS — As we sit here in the "dead period" of the NFL offseason waiting for training camps to begin, now is as good of a time as any to get your ducks in a row for the upcoming fantasy football season.
The Indianapolis Colts are an interesting team when it comes to fantasy prospects in 2020.
Having one of the best offensive lines in the game allows for lots of potentially explosive performances, but the Colts have also added playmakers at all levels of the offense to make that even more possible.
Starting with a new quarterback in Philip Rivers to go with some new pass-catchers in Michael Pittman Jr. and Trey Burton as well as a souped-up run game that added Jonathan Taylor and Roosevelt Nix, there will be several offensive Colts players for fantasy team owners to choose from in their upcoming drafts.
However, today, we focus specifically on the Colts' running backs and tight ends, as ESPN fantasy analyst Mike Clay identified the two position groups as ones to watch this season because of head coach Frank Reich's utilization of them throughout his coaching career. Clay writes:
Playcaller Frank Reich operates a shotgun-heavy, conservative passing game that is reliant on its RBs and TEs more so than its wideouts. In four seasons as a playcaller, all four of his TE units and three of his RB units have finished top-12 in fantasy points. A committee is expected in the backfield, but Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack (in that order) should all be drafted (though Taylor's third-round summer ADP is too rich). Don't sleep on Jack Doyle at tight end, as well as Trey Burton in two-TE leagues.
Reich has 64 games of playcalling experience, including two with the Chargers (2014-15) and two with the Colts (2018-19). He leaned on the pass earlier on, but switched to a very run-heavy approach in 2019.
Reich has never had an offense below 84% in terms of snaps taken from the shotgun when passing and his past three offenses have ranked outside the top 20 in aDOT. None of Reich's four WR units have finished better than 12th in touchdowns or 10th in fantasy points.
Reich's four offenses have ranked no lower than 16th in RB carries (fourth in 2019) and no lower than 12th in expected YPC. Though his offense ranked 23rd in RB targets last season, it was second and 10th his previous two seasons. His past three RB units have finished in the top 12 in fantasy points.
Tight ends have flourished under Reich, with the four units finishing no lower than 11th in routes and fantasy points, 10th in targets and receptions, eighth in yardage and TDs, fifth in OTD and second in end zone targets.
The Colts are rich with options at both running back and tight end. Between Taylor, Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines, all three are capable of contributing as runners and pass catchers. At tight end Burton, Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox are a well-balanced group and could threaten at all levels of the field. Doyle can clean up near the line of scrimmage and at the sticks while Burton and Alie-Cox can stretch the field.
Both groups will be especially dangerous in PPR formats, as not only has Reich heavily utilized them, but Rivers loves to use his running backs and tight ends as safety valves as well.
In Reich's six seasons as an offensive coordinator and/or playcaller, tight ends and running backs have combined for 45.5 percent of the offense's pass targets, and never less than 40 percent. Tight ends accounted for 26.5 percent and running backs accounted for 19 percent.
With some injury-riddled seasons providing exception, the groups also score a lot of touchdowns. Just since Reich took over with the Colts in 2018, tight ends scored a league-high 22 touchdowns that season, and running backs scored 15. In 2019, touchdowns were down overall for the team, but tight ends scored seven and running backs scored 13.
MARLON MACK, JONATHAN TAYLOR, NYHEIM HINES
Mack and Taylor are expected to be a "one-one punch" for the Colts, splitting duties as the primary early-down backs. We could see some sort of mixture where one player gets around 10 touches per game while the other gets 12-15. Who gets those touches is up in the air, as it almost certainly will be determined by who has the "hot hand."
On the roster, the Colts have someone who they feel could be their Darren Sproles/Danny Woodhead/Austin Ekeler in Nyheim Hines. Hines is a prolific pass-catcher who is likely to finish the 2020 season with either the second-most or the most receptions by a Colts running back within their first three seasons in the NFL. Hines could also grab some extra points for punt return touchdowns if he's able to hit paydirt like he did twice last year.
Between Mack, Taylor and Hines, there's a good chance that any of the three will be startable on a weekly basis in PPR leagues, at the very least as a FLEX option. The exception could be if either Mack or Taylor run away with the early-down duties. Goal line situations will be something to monitor, as Mack has dominated those touches over the last two years, but Taylor is bigger and more powerful.
Currently, it doesn't seem fantasy experts know what to do with the Colts' backfield, although Taylor is their favorite. According to FantasyPros Expert Consensus Half-PPR rankings, Taylor sits as RB22 with and ADP of 53, Mack is RB32 with an ADP of 87, and Hines is RB51 with an ADP of 166.
JACK DOYLE, MO ALIE-COX, TREY BURTON
Doyle should be a huge beneficiary from Rivers' arrival. Both Reich and Rivers love targeting the team's top tight end, and that's Doyle. Since he took over as the Colts' primary starting tight end in 2016, Doyle accounts for 16.1 percent of the Colts' pass targets while active.
And, while Doyle likely being a heavy presence for the Colts could seem to hurt the other Colts tight ends in regard to fantasy, that really hasn't been the case for the Colts. If they have a talented tight end next to Doyle — such as Eric Ebron from 2018-19 — they use them.
This year, Burton is that guy that outsiders will be wary of because of Doyle's presence, but they really should be more excited than worried. Burton was productive as the second tight end with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2016-17 while Reich was the offensive coordinator, and he earned a big contract to be a star tight end with the Chicago Bears as a result in 2018. Things didn't quite take off due to the Bears' passing game and some injuries for Burton, but his potential has never really taken a hit.
Now back with Reich, Burton could potentially flourish again as the Colts' main mismatch, field-stretching tight end. His speed, agility and abilities after the catch should be a nice boost for the Colts' passing game.
The biggest X-factor for the Colts' tight end group in Alie-Cox. The buzz about his potential inside the Colts' organization has gained steadily steam, but being banged up at times, as well as his abilities as a blocker, have forced that to be his primary focus over his potential as a pass-catcher. Will his game expand a bit more in 2020?
While the Colts have three very talented tight ends, they may not all be fantasy studs. In Reich's offenses, the third tight end has only had at least 20 targets just once.
We likely won't see any gaudy statistics from a Colts tight end like we did from Ebron and his 14 touchdowns in 2018, but Doyle and whoever the co-starting tight end becomes should be quality fantasy options on a regular basis. Doyle will likely clean up in PPR formats while lacking yardage, but having decent touchdown numbers, while the No. 2 should have decent yardage and touchdown numbers.
In the fantasy lexicon, Doyle is currently TE19 with and ADP of 157, Burton is TE37 with an ADP of 302, and Alie-Cox is TE65 with an ADP of 488.
For more context on how running backs and tight ends have fared in fantasy football with Reich as the offensive coordinator and/or playcaller, check out the details below.
*Turnovers not included in fantasy points.