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2021 Team Report: Indianapolis Colts

Last updated: Sun, Aug 29

Offensive Philosophy

Head coach Frank Reich historically preferred an up-tempo, pass-heavy spread offense, but Andrew Luck's sudden retirement in 2019 threw a spanner in the works and forced him into a run-first gameplan. With Philip Rivers in the fold last year, Indy's offense became one of the most balanced in the NFL, finishing between 9th and 12th in time of possession per drive, plays per drive, yards per drive, points per drive, passing yards, and rushing yards. The Colts funneled much of their passing game through their running backs, with Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines finishing 1st and 2nd on the team in scrimmage yards and Hines leading the team in receptions, but it remains to be seen how much of this was by design and how much was a product of Rivers' historical propensity to look to his running backs out of the backfield.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Carson Wentz
Backup(s): Jacob Eason, Brett Hundley, Sam Ehlinger [R], Jalen Morton

Starting QB: Carson Wentz has reunited with his former offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, in Indianapolis. Reich was instrumental in Wentz's rise to stardom with Philadelphia in 2017 before an ACL injury ended his season early. Wentz lost Reich to the Colts head coach position after that year and he hasn't been at the same level of success since. Perhaps the reunion will elevate Wentz back to his near-MVP form? Wentz has over a 2:1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions for his career and he has two top 10 fantasy finishes. In addition to having Jonathan Taylor and catching-back extraordinaire Nyheim Hines in the backfield, Wentz has veteran T.Y. Hilton, rising star Michael Pittman Jr, and Parris Campbell at his disposal. At tight end, a common target in Wentz's career and Reich's offense, he'll have Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox. In short, he'll have a blend of capable veterans and emerging pass catchers. UPDATE: Wentz suffered an aggravation of an old foot injury in late July that required early August surgery. There is still hope that he will be available to start Week 1.

Backup QB: Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger will battle for the backup role behind Carson Wentz in 2021. Eason may have the early edge because even though he didn't take any snaps last year burried behind Jacoby Brisset, he still has been in all of the meetings and practices. He knows Frank Reich's offense well and therefore has the early upper hand. Sam Ehlinger brings a dual-threat skill set to the team, plus he has excellent leadership and will likely pick up the playbook quickly. Both will see opportunities to play in the preseason as they jockey for the backup role.

Running Backs

Starter: Jonathan Taylor
Backup(s): Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Darius Anderson, Ben LeMay
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Jonathan Taylor emerged as a true bona-fide elite fantasy running back last season. It took him a few weeks to get going, but he ultimately finished as the #6 fantasy running back in PPR format. His ranking prior to Week 10 was 18th, while it bumped up to 4th after Week 10. Taylor joins Saquon Barkley, Kareem Hunt, Eddie Lacy, Doug Martin, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Steve Slaton, and LaDainian Tomlinson as the last rookie running backs since 2000 to rush for over 1,100 yards, have double-digit touchdowns, and have 35+ receptions. A full season of production, plus increased development and improvement could yield a top 5 or even top 3 finish in 2021. Ball security was seen as a detriment coming out of Wisconsin where he had 18 career fumbles. In his first season in the NFL he fumbled the ball once in 268 touches. Taylor has reached elite status as an NFL running back and should be among the top 3-5 backs selected in upcoming fantasy season.

Backup RBs: The Colts did not adjust their depth chart at running back in the offseason or in the draft. Marlon Mack is slated to be the team's second option at running back followed by Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins. Mack tore his Achilles tendon in Week 1 last year and may not be as explosive as he was prior to the injury. This is something to monitor during training camp and preseason. Joining Mack as Taylor's understudy's is Hines, who is used primarily as a receiving weapon, but he has also shown some the ability to help as a change of pace rusher. Hines has 63, 44, and 64 receptions in each of his first three years in the league and is a fantasy-relevant option in leagues that reward points per catch. Like Hines, Jordan Wilkins will be entering his fourth year. He is Taylor's primary short-yardage replacement due to his similar size and power who should see increased reps in the event of a Taylor injury. Wilkins has five games with 10+ carries in 60 total games. He is a role player who is capable of providing a spark when called upon, however, the Colts are a team that likes to feature their star back thus relegating Wilkins to lesser role with minimal fantasy threat.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman
Backups: Parris Campbell, Zach Pascal, Ashton Dulin, Dezmon Patmon, Mike Strachan [R], J.J. Nelson, DeMichael Harris, Gary Jennings, Quartney Davis

Starting WRs: The Colts top offensive star is their running back, Jonathan Taylor, however, their receiving corps is a blend of experience, youth, and determination. Longtime Colt, T.Y. Hilton, begins his 10th season in the league in 2021. In nine years, he has seven top-25 finishes, but the shine has lost some it's luster recently with back-to-back finishes outside of the top 40. In 2019 Hilton suffered a severe calf injury that he fought through and wound up playing a total of 10 games. Last year he played 15 games and finished strong ranking 17th in PPR scoring from Week 10-17. He led the team in receiving yards (762), tied for first in receiving touchdowns (5), and finished second behind Nyheim Hines with 56 receptions. Compared to previous top-25 finishes, this was a below average performance. His second-half production was rewarded with a contract extension to stay with Indianapolis as they transition to the Carson Wentz era. History labels Hilton is a top-25 receiver but he'll need to prove it once again with his third quarterback in as many years. Opposite Hilton in Indianapolis' 12-personnel offense is second-year pro and former USC standout, Michael Pittman Jr. Like many rising rookie wide receivers, Pittman showed moments of dominance, reliability, and future prowess in 2020. He finished his rookie campaign with a respectable 14% share of the team's targets totaling 40 receptions for 503 yards and 1 touchdown in 13 games. We last saw Pittman with 5 receptions for 91 yards (on 11 targets) in the Wildcard playoff loss to Buffalo. He is expected to take a step or two forward in 2021 as the Colts #2 wide receiver behind T.Y. Hilton, and he has an outside shot at overtaking Hilton as the team's leading downfield target. Pittman's 6'4, 220-pound frame will come in handy in the red zone where he should improve on his lone touchdown line from last season. Update - T.Y. Hilton will miss multiple weeks to begin the season with an upper back/neck injury. It is not considered season-ending, but an exact timeline has not been established. This puts a damper on his status as a fantasy option this season.

Backup WRs: Parris Campbell enters the lineup as the third wide receiver who will be used when the Colts elect to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Campbell has played a total of nine games in his two years in the league due to a series of unfortunate injuries that have delayed his career from taking off. Many view Campbell as a similar player to Curtis Samuel. Both are speedsters from Ohio State who are electric after the catch with athleticism that reaches the extreme end of the spectrum. Campbell suffered a PCL knee injury in Week 2 last season, which was supposed to be his comeback from an unfortunate rookie campaign that featured a hamstring injury, sports hernia, broken hand, and broken foot. The league is waiting for Campbell to show display his talents. All eyes will be on him as a player to watch in 2021. Moving down the depth chart is Zach Pascal followed by several players who are looking to battle for playing time, particularly Ashton Dulin, Dezmon Patmon, Mike Strachan, and J.J. Nelson. Fantasy production may not be in the cards for this group after Pascal but there is potential. Pascal has the biggest chance at having consistent fantasy appeal. He has shown quiet success with back-to-back 40-reception seasons with five touchdowns each. He has always been a contributing factor on offense, but he hasn't turned the corner in terms of volume. He does many things right, including scoring a touchdown once every 9.3 catches in his career. If Pascal is given an increase in volume or perhaps a change of scenery, he could become a fantasy option due to his knack for finding the end zone.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox
Backups: Kylen Granson [R], Noah Togiai, Jordan Thomas, Farrod Green, Andrew Vollert

The tight end position on the Colts is one to keep close tabs on. Not only has this been a success for Indianapolis in years past, but new quarterback, Carson Wentz, has also utilized the tight end position often in his four-year career. In the last five years, Colts tight ends have scored 52 touchdowns, the most of any team in the league. Second on the list is Wentz' Philadelphia teams with 50. Frank Reich has always been a proponent of using the tight end and it shows with his fingerprints on the two top teams in this stat. Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox represent the Colts tight end weapons in this offense. It's possible that one of the duo will exceed expectations and become the primary fantasy option, but it's also possible that we will see both cancel each other out leaving both as top-20 players with nobody reaching every-week starter status. Doyle has two top-12 season finishes in his eight-year career despite playing 13 games in seven of his eight seasons. Doyle has scored 21 career touchdowns on 266 receptions (a score once every 12.6 receptions). If he winds up being the clear-cut producer, he could reach top-10 status, but monopolizing volume in Indianapolis has often escaped him. Alie-Cox is the #2 tight end in this offense, who has shown glimpses of success, including a Week 2 start last year against Minnesota where he totaled 111 yards on 5 receptions. He followed it up with two consecutive scoring weeks but a knee injury kept him out of action which eventually slowed his rise in 2020. Jack Doyle may be the team's top tight end target, but Alie-Cox is the team's top scoring threat at the position. Also look out for rookie Kylen Granson, a fourth-round pick from SMU. Granson has the athleticism to be a playmaker for the Colts but it may take some time for him to see increased reps in the offense as he shores up his blocking duties. Depending on his grasp of the playbook and speed to rise up the ranks, Granson could see reps in the red zone where he can be a mismatch against defenses. Granson at 6'1, 241 pounds is shorter for a tight end, but bigger for a wide receiver. He plays like a wide receiver and will need to learn the offense as a tight end. He's someone to monitor, especially as a deep option in dynasty leagues.

Place Kicker

Rodrigo Blankenship, Eddy Pineiro: Blankenship was a big success as an undrafted rookie kicker, finishing in the top 5-6 in fantasy kicker scoring and establishing himself as a reliable fantasy option. He did miss a 33-yard field goal in the playoff loss to the Bills and the team may not be completely sold on him, so they brought in Eddy Pineiro to give him competition in camp and the preseason. Blankenship is still draftable, but the top 5 premium you have to pay to get him might be too expensive for a relatively unproven commodity.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Isaiah Rodgers, Nyheim Hines

Not much was expected of rookie 6th round pick Isaiah Rodgers in 2020, but he turned in one of the best kickoff return seasons in the league, scoring a touchdown and finishing 5th in kickoff return yards and 3rd in yards per return. A performance like that leaves him a virtual lock to lead the team again in 2021.

Punt Returners: Nyheim Hines, Isaiah Rodgers

In 2019, Nyheim Hines had one of the most ridiculous punt return seasons in a long time, averaging 31 yards per return in large part thanks to scoring two touchdowns on just nine attempts. In 2020 his average dropped to a merely-quite-good 10 yards per return, but he led the NFL in punt return attempts to offset. Heading into 2021 he's a good bet to finish once again among the league leaders in punt return yards.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Eric Fisher (inj), LG Quenton Nelson, C Ryan Kelly, RG Mark Glowinski, RT Braden Smith
Key Backups: OT Sam Tevi, OL Danny Pinter, OL Chris Reed

Left guard Quenton Nelson remains a game-changer, making his third All-Pro team in as many years as a professional. After left tackle Anthony Castonzo retired, free agent Sam Tevi arrived from the Chargers. Eric Fisher signed as a free agent from Kansas City but Tevi may still start the season while Fisher rehabs. The rest of the line is solid, especially when center Ryan Kelly is healthy. They grade just outside the top ten.

Team Defense

The Colts D/ST had a breakout season of sorts, ranking in the top 5 in most formats. They had four D/ST touchdowns to push them up the ranks and they were also in the top 10 in fumble recoveries and interceptions. They'll need to replace Justin Houston in the edge rush group, but with better health among the talented defensive line group around DeForest Buckner and contributions from first-round pick Kwity Paye, they should be ok. The Colts are going in the top 5 D/ST's in many drafts, and they could return that value, but they don't have an easy matchup until Week 6 against Houston and they didn't exactly take over games last year, so that price might be a little rich.

Defensive Line

Starters: LDE Kemoko Turay, RDE Kwity Paye [R], NT Grover Stewart, DT DeForest Buckner
Backups: DT Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE Tyquan Lewis, DE Isaac Rochelle, NT Taylor Stallworth, DE Ben Banogu, DE Dayo Odeyigbo [R]

Starting DL: Justin Houston left in free agency. Other than that, there is no change to a unit that should be a playoff contender again. Kemoko Turay will need to take on a full-time workload after being a part-time player for the first three years of his NFL career. The Colts will need him to step up on a pass rush unit that added Kwity Paye in the Draft. Indianapolis desperately needed to add an edge defender who can stop the run and rush the passer and they did that with their selection of Paye. The loss of Denico Autry to the division rival Tennessee Titans hurts their interior pass rush considerably.

Backup DL: Al-Quadin Muhammad could very well beat out Tyquan Lewis on the edge for a primary backup spot, as he has been a consistent producer in the past. Ben Banogu has not panned out for the Colts and looks to be on a career backup path. Indianapolis drafted Dayo Odeyigbo in the second round. Odeyigbo has the size and athleticism, but has room to develop both as a pass rusher and run stopper. Signing Isaac Rochelle to a one-year deal gives the unit some depth with experience. He served as a rotational end with the Chargers during his early career. Taylor Stallworth was seen early in the offseason working out with DeForest Buckner at the University of Los Vegas. He will need every rep he can get, as his on-field opportunity has been limited. He did manage to beat out Sheldon Day last season and earn more playing time than a typical street free agent.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Darius Leonard, MLB Bobby Okereke, SLB Zaire Franklin
Backups: WLB EJ Speed, WLB Jordan Glasgow, MLB Skai Moore, LB Matthew Adams

Starting LBs: Darius Leonard remains the centerpiece of the linebacking group and is in line for a huge contract extension. With Anthony Walker completely out of the picture, it should be Bobby Okereke's time to shine alongside Darius Leonard. He will call plays for the defense and be the primary coverage linebacker. Franklin will tentatively move into the strong side role after spending most of his Colts tenure as a backup.

Backup LBs: If Zaire Franklin does not have a strong camp, EJ Speed could take his starting spot, and the strong side linebacker job should basically be considered wide open after Bobby Okereke vacated it in his move to the middle. Skai Moore opted out last season, but is back to continue as a reliable reserve and special teams contributor.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Xavier Rhodes, FS Julian Blackmon, SS Khari Willis, CB Rock Ya-sin, NCB Kenny Moore CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Rock Ya-Sin, CB Kenny Moore, FS Julian Blackman, SS Khari Willis
Backups: CB Marvell Tell III, CB Isaiah Rodgers, SS George Odum, DB Shawn Davis [R], FS Sean Davis, CB T.J Carrie

Starting DBs: The corners in this group are a solid unit. Rock Ya-Sin looked much more competent in coverage in his second year. Xavier Rhodes re-signed with the team in the offseason. He was among the top ten in the league in 2020 in yards allowed, yards after the catch, receptions allowed, and yards allowed per snap. Kenny Moore remains one of the best slot corners in the NFL. While the corner group is unchanged, the safety group has a new starter in Julian Blackman, who replaced the often-injured Malik Hooker. The Colts struck gold in finding Khari Willis after Clayton Geathers, like Hooker, could not stay healthy.

Backup DBs: Marvell Tell was also another COVID opt-out player that Indianapolis will get back this season. Sean Davis signed a one-year deal with the Colts. His experience playing for both the Steelers and Washington will be of value if injuries strike ahead of him on the depth chart. Like Khari Willis before him, George Odum has shown some acumen for playing the position in limited duty. Shawn Davis is a one-dimensional player at this stage of his development. A violent hitter, Davis needs to improve in coverage to avoid being a liability when on the field.