Juggernaut Index, No. 26: Colts fans, fantasy owners still waiting on Andrew Luck

Hey, look who’s finally doing things with footballs. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Hey, look who’s finally doing things with footballs. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

The Indianapolis Colts will go as far this season as quarterback Andrew Luck can carry them, and it’s not yet clear that he’s capable of carrying them anywhere at all. Two weeks ago, Luck made a couple dozen short throws with footballs that weren’t quite official NFL-size and, understandably, the Colts community was pretty pumped…

Woo. Plan the parade route, Indy.

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As everyone knows, Luck missed the entire 2017 season following January labrum surgery. Colts news coverage over the past year-and-a-half has been a carnival ride of bogus pronouncements, wishcasting, skepticism, setbacks and wild speculation. It is, without question, a very good sign that Luck is throwing again. A great sign. Excellent news. The expectation is for Luck to develop something close to a regular season throwing routine that he can carry into camp:

“Big picture, my goal was to be able to throw as much as I need to, like on a game week,” Luck said. “A Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at practice and then Sunday, let it loose, no count, nothing. You’ve got to go and let it go. So that’s what I’m preparing for, that’s why right now I throw Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Fridays to mimic a three-day sort of practice week and then a Friday as a Sunday as a game week.”

Sounds like a solid plan. It also sounds as if Luck is beginning to feel legitimately closer to the pre-surgery version of himself. When asked if he expects to play the opener this season, he told reporters, “I’ll be playing. I believe it in my bones.”

Fantasy owners obviously can’t treat him as a sure thing, especially at a time when the quarterback position is as deep as it’s ever been. Luck’s FF Calculator average draft position seems aggressive (104.1, QB12) considering the quality and reliability of the players selected in his range. Drafting him at any price means that you will almost certainly need to roster a second playable QB. That’s not the greatest use of limited bench spots. But let’s also remember that Luck, at his absolute best, was a 4700-yard, 40-TD passer. He threw for 4240 yards and 31 scores in a year in which he played with the labrum tear. There’s little question that a healthy Luck would rank as a top-six fantasy quarterback.

If you’re still trying to talk yourself into Luck, please note that new head coach Frank Reich is fresh off a Super Bowl win as OC for the Eagles. Reich was essential in Carson Wentz’s development, plus he’s the guy who prepped Nick Foles to star in the postseason. These are good bullet points for a coaching resume.

Head coach Frank Reich was the most important offseason addition in Indy. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Head coach Frank Reich was the most important offseason addition in Indy. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

We don’t have to make any final decisions on Luck’s draft value today, so let’s please keep an open mind. The recent news has been encouraging. At the very least, we shouldn’t run away from him quite the way we did last summer. His line should improve following the draft day addition of mauling guard Quenton Nelson.

The Colts’ offense was a start-to-finish mess without Luck last season, ranking dead-last in yards per play and 30th in passing. If he can’t get back to full health, none of this team’s skill players are particularly interesting for fantasy purposes.

Indy’s receiving corps is T.Y. Hilton and, um … some other dudes

T.Y. Hilton led the NFL in receiving yardage two seasons ago with Luck at the controls of the offense, catching 91 balls for 1448 yards. Last year, with Jacoby Brissett running the show (and rarely looking downfield), Hilton slipped to just 966 yards on 57 receptions. He was painfully boom-or-bust, delivering three games with 150 or more yards and a whopping eight games with 30 or fewer. Hilton is a dynamic player in his prime, 28 years old, and his chemistry with Luck is well established. He’s also a member of the best-shape-of-his-life club, which can’t hurt. If Luck gets right, Hilton will as well. His recent ADP reflects the fantasy community’s optimistic outlook on his quarterback (33.4, WR14). Hilton has never seen more than 16 red-zone targets in any season, so don’t expect a double-digit TD total.

Not surprisingly, T.Y. Hilton’s numbers took a huge nosedive without Luck. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)
Not surprisingly, T.Y. Hilton’s numbers took a huge nosedive without Luck. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

The battle for second and third-receiver duties is wide open behind Hilton — which is to say, there are no particularly intriguing candidates. Indianapolis signed the competent-if-not-spectacular Ryan Grant to a one-year deal back in March. Grant established new career highs in receptions (45), yards (573) and TDs (4) for Washington last season, but never topped 85 yards in any game. Front office fave Chester Rogers is entering his third pro season with a relatively unobstructed path to snaps and targets. Health has been an issue for him, but he’s flashed field-flipping ability a time or two — notably in a 104-yard performance against Pittsburgh last year. Rogers could be a decent what-if flier in the final rounds of deep drafts, depending on Luck’s status.

Fifth-round rookie Daurice Fountain (Northern Iowa) and sixth-rounder Deon Cain (Clemson) are in the mix as well. Both receivers have size enough to function as red-zone threats. Fountain had a superhuman pro day, posting a 42.5-inch vertical and 11-foot-2 broad jump. Cain has generated low-level buzz during the offseason, though he never actually delivered a huge season at the collegiate level. He has good speed for his size (4.43, 210), but ordinary leaping ability (33.5-inch vert). If you’d like to take a shot with one of these guys in dynasty, I’d lean Fountain. But, again, Cain is the guy who seemed to impress onlookers during OTAs.

Absurdly, tight end Jack Doyle led the Colts in receptions last year (and finished second overall at his position), hauling in 80 passes for 690 yards and four touchdowns. He was a short-range catch-and-fall receiver, ranking behind nearly all tight ends in average target distance (5.3) and yards per reception (8.6) according to Player Profiler. We can expect Indy’s offense to be far less predictable/numbing under Reich and new OC Nick Sirianni, so Doyle’s numbers should take a hit.

This team added Eric Ebron via free agency, and wow are the coaches excited about him

“[Ebron] is really smart,” Reich said. “I knew that because we did our homework before he got here. We knew he was a smart player. But he’s like really a highly intelligent football player. And that’s really good because you want to use a guy with the versatility that he has and move him around and call all kinds of things with him. That helps. And he’s an explosive athlete.”

Detroit fans probably would have been willing to help Ebron pack his bags this spring, having seen enough drops and disappearances during his four seasons with the Lions. But it’s not unusual to see a tight end make a production leap on his second contract, so we need to keep Ebron’s name on the cheat sheet. He’s reportedly lining up everywhere in Indy’s offense. I’d prefer him to Doyle, which isn’t saying much.

Frank Gore is gone, replaced by a committee

Reich’s committee backfield in Philly was a massive success, so it should come as no surprise that he’s preparing to go RBBC with the Colts. It’s happening. No back on this team’s depth chart is obviously deserving of a featured role, so there should be little controversy regarding this potential three or four-man rotation. Marlon Mack gets a share, Robert Turbin gets a share and Ole Miss rookie Jordan Wilkins gets a share. Mack will be drafted ahead of the others (ADP 70.6, RB32), but strictly as a flex. Wilkins looks the part of an NFL back and he produced a solid year in the SEC, but he wasn’t much of a yards-after-contact runner. Pass protection is a concern as well.

Rookie running back Nyheim Hines could get interesting for PPR purposes. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Rookie running back Nyheim Hines could get interesting for PPR purposes. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The most interesting chess piece in this backfield might just be rookie Nyheim Hines, a fourth-round pick from NC State. He’s already lined up everywhere for the Colts, and it’s only June. Hines is a gifted returner, too. He’s a fun-size back (5-foot-8) who won’t make a living between the tackles, but he offers excellent speed (4.38) and receiving ability. Hines caught 89 passes over three collegiate seasons, and he ran for 1113 yards and 12 scores on 193 carries last year (5.6 YPC). He’s a name to know in PPR formats.

Of course none of these guys will be terribly exciting unless Luck is the NFL’s comeback player of the year. He’s the franchise cornerstone, the key to everything else. Let’s hope Luck can return to form, because his ceiling in a healthy season is the No. 1 player at our game’s highest scoring position.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 16.4 (30th in NFL)
Pass YPG – 180.8 (30)
Rush YPG – 103.8 (22)
Yards per play – 4.6 (32)
Plays per game – 62.1 (23)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis

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