Juggernaut Index, No. 19: Colts fantasy fortunes rest on Andrew Luck's shoulder

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It’s all about the health of <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/25711/" data-ylk="slk:Andrew Luck">Andrew Luck</a>’s surgically repaired shoulder, Colts fans. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
It’s all about the health of Andrew Luck’s surgically repaired shoulder, Colts fans. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Indianapolis Colts training camp opens with the team’s $139 million franchise quarterback on the physically unable to perform list, still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Andrew Luck isn’t expected to see action in exhibition games, but the belief in Indy is he’ll be ready for the regular season opener.

Nothing to see here, people. Just a routine six seven eight-month return from a procedure to repair a partially torn labrum. No big deal.

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Actually, things probably are just fine with Luck. It’s not as if his surgery was some experimental overseas procedure. Luck has finally begun a throwing program, even if he’s not yet spinning the ball at full capacity. He also played with the injury last season while producing some of the best rates of his career: 63.5 Cmp%, 5.7 TD%, 2.4 INT%, 7.8 Y/A.

Perhaps the most reassuring detail about Luck’s recovery is that his understudy remains Scott Tolzien. Indianapolis hasn’t been notably active in the market for backup QBs.

Luck has ranked as a top-five fantasy quarterback in two of the past three seasons, and it’s not unreasonable to hope for a similar result in 2017. He’s great, and his receiving corps hasn’t undergone substantial turnover. Unless the reports about his recovery turn dire, we have to regard him as a bankable, upper-tier fantasy asset. A few of us downgraded Luck in our initial QB ranks, back when he wasn’t throwing, but no Yahoo analyst has him slotted outside the top-eight at the moment. He’ll deliver 4400 passing yards, 30 or more combined TDs and 280 or so rushing yards, assuming good health.

Andrew Luck is a no-doubt top-five fantasy QB when he’s right. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andrew Luck is a no-doubt top-five fantasy QB when he’s right. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Any new names in Indy’s receiving corps?

No, not at the top of the depth chart, but that’s OK. Continuity isn’t a bad thing — boring, maybe, but not bad. T.Y. Hilton has produced four straight 1000-yard seasons and he rarely misses a game. He led the NFL in receiving yards last year (1448) and finished tenth in receptions (91), yet he generally slips to the late second round in fantasy drafts (ADP 19.8). His 156 targets ranked fourth in the league. Hilton’s single-season high in touchdowns is only seven, but that’s not unusual for a teacup receiver (he’s 5-foot-9, 178). He’s an obvious top-of-draft wideout, regardless of your scoring format.

Indy’s remaining receivers, however, are not a special group. Donte Moncrief was a catch-and-fall specialist last season, gaining just 62 total yards after the catch on 30 receptions, per Player Profiler. Brutal. Hamstring and shoulder injuries limited him to seven games played in 2016, but his red-zone role kept him relevant in fantasy. He saw five targets inside the 5-yard line and 10 RZ targets. Moncrief is entering the final year of his rookie deal, for those of you who care about such things. His draft price is much too rich for me (ADP 63.7, WR25), considering his history. Moncrief has never seen more than 105 targets in any of his three seasons, and last year’s TD-to-catch ratio clearly isn’t repeatable.

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Veteran Kamar Aiken will battle Chester Rogers and multi-year disappointment Phillip Dorsett for this team’s third receiver role. Aiken is the most reliable player in the group, and he’s just a year removed from a 75-catch, 944-yard season in Baltimore. He’s the preferred choice here, if you play in a league deep enough to chase receivers who might produce 55-650-5 fantasy lines.

Jack Doyle is unchallenged as the Colts’ primary receiving tight end, and he’s spent four seasons developing rapport with Luck. Doyle maximized his targets last year, catching 59 balls on 75 chances (78.7 catch rate) with five TDs included. He’s in a terrific situation this year, with Dwayne Allen now in New England. Luck has thrown 32 touchdown passes to tight ends over the past three seasons in just 38 games. Doyle has obvious top-eight potential at his position, and he remains dirt-cheap in drafts (ADP 127.9). Given Luck’s history with tight ends, we should consider Erik Swoope a deep sleeper of interest as he enters his third pro season.

Death, taxes and 1000-yard seasons from Frank Gore.

There has never been football without Frank Gore. He ran the flying V under Walter Camp and the single-wing under Pop Warner. He’s run the Wing-T, the Veer, the Wishbone. And every year, it’s 1100 yards and six touchdowns. At every point during his 120-plus seasons in football, some player has been behind him on a depth chart, pushing to claim his job. Most of those running backs are now dead. Others are retired. No one has ever taken a job from Gore. He is the one constant in American life, our connection to a simpler time. He will outlast us all.

Gore has topped 1000 yards in nine of the past 11 seasons, and he’s likely to rank fourth or fifth on the all-time rushing list at the conclusion of 2017. He’s entering his age-34 season and hasn’t averaged better than 4.0 YPC since 2014, but he closed with five straight weeks of 70-plus scrimmage yards last year. He’s a historic outlier in terms of age and performance. The fantasy industry has collectively been betting against him for half a decade, and we keep losing. Dismiss him at your own peril. He’s finished as a top-20 fantasy running back every year since 2005, ranking twelfth in 2016. Pencil him in for 250 carries, 30 receptions and 1000-something yards. He always gets what’s blocked and rarely makes a poor decision.

Frank Gore, refusing to go down, gaining yet another yard. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Frank Gore, refusing to go down, gaining yet another yard. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Fourth-round rookie Marlon Mack is the latest running back to fill the role of Dude Who Will Replace Frank Gore, displacing last year’s DWWRFG, Josh Ferguson. Mack was an excellent collegiate runner at South Florida, gaining over 1000 yards in each of his three seasons while averaging 6.2 YPC. He was terrific at the combine, too. He has a chance to be a very effective runner on his second contract with another team, when Gore is still leading the Colts in touches at age 40.

Robert Turbin scored eight touchdowns on just 73 touches last year, which obviously isn’t gonna happen again. He enters camp as the proper handcuff for Gore, however, and his touches are likely to increase somewhat in the season ahead. He’s not the flashiest back in the player pool, but Indy likes him in goal-to-go situations. Turbin carried the ball 10 times inside the 5-yard line last year, the same as Gore.

Should we care about the Indianapolis def—

Nope, no need. The Colts defense ranked No. 30 in yards allowed last season (382.9 YPG) and No. 26 in takeaways (17). There’s no reason to invest in this D for fantasy purposes, although it’s worth noting the early matchups with the Rams, Browns and Niners. Indianapolis signed a pile of free agents on defense and used six draft picks to address this unit, so, in time, things should improve. Ball-hawking rookie safety Malik Hooker will get interesting for IDP owners if he can ever get healthy. But for now, there’s not much to like about this D for fantasy purposes. Let’s just appreciate the fact that they keep getting this team’s offense involved in shootouts.

2016 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 25.7 (8)
Pass YPG – 262.6 (5)
Rush YPG – 101.8 (23)
Yards per play – 5.6 (13)
Plays per game – 64.8 (12)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) NY Jets, 31) San Francisco, 30) Cleveland, 29) LA Rams, 28) Baltimore, 27) Chicago, 26) Minnesota, 25) Detroit, 24) Denver, 23) Jacksonville, 22) Buffalo, 21) Philadelphia, 20) Miami, 19) Indianapolis

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