September 07, 2010
The Colts failed to win a game this preseason, per their usual. Over the past six years, Indianapolis has an exhibition record of four wins and 22 losses. This fact should tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the importance of preseason stats, results, and analysis.
In the regular season, when the wins and losses are meaningful, few teams are as reliably great as the Colts. They've won at least 12 games every year since 2003. They've also finished among the top-six in the NFL in passing yardage in every season of Peyton Manning's(notes) career.
Basically, the safest wager in football is to bet on the Colts winning a bunch of games and piling up yards. They do it every year, without exception. And the second safest wager in football is to bet on Indianapolis having an awful preseason.
In a sport that's defined by its unpredictability, Indianapolis has somehow become robotically consistent. The Colts will win, Manning will pass for 300 yards, and they will sit starters when home-field advantage is clinched. There's very little we need to preview here, really, because we've all seen this show before.
In fact, Indianapolis is so well-understood by the fantasy community that this team has apparently started to bore us. During a radio segment last week, I fielded a question from a caller who owned both Manning and Joe Flacco(notes). He wasn't sure who he'd be starting each week because, as he said, "I really love Flacco's upside."
Honestly, I like Flacco's potential as much as the next expert, but I'm not sure his statistical ceiling is as good as Manning's floor. In Peyton's 12-year NFL career, he's never thrown fewer than 26 touchdown passes. He's averaged 4,177 yards and 30.5 TDs per season while completing 64.8 percent of his passes. Manning threw for 300-plus yards in eight of his first nine games last season — and in the 10th game, he passed for 299.
The bottom line with Manning is this: He's on the short list of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. He's also on the short list of the greatest fantasy assets of all-time. Nobody ever lost their league because they drafted him too early.
Backup Curtis Painter(notes) is still around to fill the Week 17 role that Jim Sorgi(notes) made famous, but Peyton has never missed a start. With Manning at the controls, the Colts' offense delivered top-five fantasy scorers at wide receiver and tight end last year, as well as a top-10 running back. (Sure sign of a juggernaut: Indy ranked dead-last in per-game rushing yards in 2009, yet Joseph Addai(notes) still placed 10th at his position in fantasy scoring. He reached the end zone 13 times, tied for the seventh highest total in the NFL.) The receivers who finished third and fourth on this team in targets, Pierre Garcon(notes) and Austin Collie(notes), both managed to rank among the top-36 fantasy wideouts in standard scoring formats.
Simply put, this offense is ridiculous. You'll want to own a piece of it. Or two pieces, or possibly three.
It's not possible to get a bargain on Reggie Wayne(notes), obviously. He typically comes off the board in the middle of Round 2 (ADP 16.5), somewhere in the neighborhood of Larry Fitzgerald(notes) and Calvin Johnson(notes). Wayne finished seventh in the league in total targets last season (149), reaching triple-digit receptions and double-digit touchdowns for the second time in three years. He's totaled 1,000-plus receiving yards in six straight years. There's really not a safer WR in the player pool.
Garcon will usually line up opposite Wayne, and there's at least a chance he'll be value at the draft table. His current ADP at Mock Draft Central is 58.1, but in the (many) live drafts I've witnessed recently, he goes anywhere from the fourth round to the eighth. Garcon was a revelation in his second season, as he and Collie managed to fully replace the contributions we all expected from Anthony Gonzalez(notes). (You'll recall that Gonzalez, a first-round draft pick in 2007, injured his right knee on a non-contact play in the first quarter of Week 1 last year. He didn't record a catch all season.) Garcon saved his absolute best for the playoffs, hauling in 11 passes for 151 yards and a TD in the AFC championship game — Wayne was held captive on Revis Island — then delivering 66 yards and another score in the Super Bowl. We've learned over the years that the Indianapolis offense is capable of producing three 1,000-yard receivers, so don't get too concerned about Garcon's position in the Colts' target hierarchy. If healthy, he's going to be great.
Gonzalez appears to have recovered from last year's injury — "Knee feels great," he says — but he sounds a bit frustrated with his current placement on the depth chart. The Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell reports the following:
It appears the primary alignment at Houston [in Week 1] might be the same as it was during the Super Bowl loss to New Orleans: Wayne and Garcon on the outside, Collie in the slot. That would leave Gonzalez as the interchangeable backup.
Until then and perhaps even after that, he's choosing his words carefully.
"All I wanted was an opportunity to compete," Gonzalez said. "That's it. That's what I was promised."
Gonzalez, of course, will still see the field, and he has experience at every spot. The Colts' receiving corps obviously has the talent and depth to sustain injuries and continue to produce at an absurdly high level. Last year, as a 24-year-old rookie, Collie finished the season as the No. 30 wideout in standard scoring formats. Gonzalez may take a bite out of his value in year two, but Collie's ADP is 184.7, so you he remains a nice risk/reward play.
We shouldn't need to tell you that Dallas Clark(notes) is a top-tier tight end. He's coming off a season in which he essentially scored like an elite wide receiver; Clark gave us the first 100-catch, 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown campaign in the history of his position. In two of the past three years, he's finished with double-digit TDs, so you don't need to worry about his role in the red zone. Draft early and enjoy.
As mentioned above, the Indianapolis running game was little more than a sideshow last year — last in the NFL in yardage, next-to-last in attempts — but Addai nonetheless delivered a useful fantasy season, because this team scores whenever it needs to. Addai is a tricky fantasy option in 2010, as he's the sort of player whose usefulness could easily decline as the season unfolds. He's been relatively lousy on a per-carry basis over the past two years (3.5 YPC in 2008, 3.8 in '09), he's in the final year of his contract, and the Colts have Donald Brown(notes) waiting on deck. Brown was a first-round pick out of UConn in 2009, and he profiles as an every-down, all-terrain back. Injuries limited him to 11 games as a rookie, and, like Addai, he failed to gain 4.0 yards per carry.
During camp, Manning described Addai and Brown as near equals:
"We expect [Brown] to be a huge contributor this year. He and Joseph both, whenever they're in there, we're running the same plays. Addai has proven himself to be a fine receiver out of the backfield and we expect Donald to be that same contributor in the passing game. You can't call certain plays or not be able to call certain plays because the guy's in there. We expect Donald to be able to do the same things in the passing game Addai did. He's very bright. He knows his protections and he's hungry to come out here and have a good year."
If nothing else, Brown is a serious asset in dynasty formats. He could very well be the lead back in Indianapolis next season, and the draft day price isn't too steep (ADP 106.4). Addai is generally selected 60 picks earlier (46.6); he'll need good health and another 10-plus touchdowns in order to justify the cost.
It's tough to view the Colts' defense as anything more than a situational option in standard fantasy leagues. This unit was perfectly middle-of-the-pack in terms of yards allowed (339.2), sacks (34) and takeaways (25) last year. However, Indianapolis' D is a fundamentally different entity when safety Bob Sanders(notes) is healthy — and at the moment, he's ambulatory. That's a good sign. Sanders is a terrific IDP when he's fully functional. LB Gary Brackett(notes) (99 tackles in 14 games), DL Robert Mathis(notes) (9.5 sacks), DL Dwight Freeney(notes) (13.5), and DB Antoine Bethea(notes) (95 tackles) deserve your attention, too.
And so ends the Colts report. Two teams remain unranked, vying for a title that traditionally guarantees a solid fantasy season and a painful real-life finish (Dallas in '08, Houston in '09). Feel free to cast a completely meaningless vote in comments…
Please note: The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. This is not an NFL power ranking. We're reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it.
Photos via Getty Images
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