Five Problems Holding Back the Colts Offense
If the Colts are going to rise out of the 8-8 doldrums they’ve put fans and fantasy owners through the last couple of years, they’ll have to remedy five issues that currently plague their team: getting their QB healthy, fixing their offensive line, having a consistent WR2, finding Frank Gore’s replacement, and utilizing Erik Swoope. Any of these situations could play out positively for Indy, but they will need to sort out all of them by the end of Colts training camp if they want to jump up to the elite tier of fantasy offenses.
1. Injury Luck
The first and most important issue for the Colts is keeping their star QB healthy. When we last saw a healthy season from Andrew Luck, he was riding high as the QB1 in fantasy, and his team made it within one game of the Super Bowl. Since then, Luck has missed 10 games, the Colts haven’t had a winning record, and they’ve run through coaching and front office personnel.
The recent shoulder surgery for the star QB, in January of this year, sheds some doubt on their prospects for the fall. For more, check out @TheFantasyPT’s article here: http://www.thefantasyauthority.com/analysis/injury-update-andrew-luck/
Luck has barely been seen throwing a football this offseason, much less participating in offseason activities. (Update: He will open training camp on the PUP list). If the star QB continues to miss time throughout training camp, he’ll slip down draft boards along with his teammates.
2. The Front Line
The much maligned Colts offensive line has been the bane of fantasy owners throughout the Grigson/Pagano/Luck era. After five seasons, they still haven’t worked out the kinks, starting eight different offensive line combinations last year alone. Only LT Anthony Castonzo, and rookie center Ryan Kelly started every game for the Colts.
A preseason ranking of the 22nd offensive line by Pro Football Focus is generous, considering the lack of resources they put into it this year. The most significant free agent acquisition was at backup center, and the most they invested in the draft was a fourth rounder in USC Tackle Zach Banner. The Colts are hoping their young pieces will develop further this year.
Starting LG Jack Mewhort is just 25, and a former second round pick. The Colts drafted RG Denzelle Good in 2015 and RT Joe Haeg was a fifth round pick just last year. Le’Raven Clark, a third round pick in 2016 started the last three games of the season too, and looks to be a future starter. If these young players don’t improve in camp, the skill players will continue to underachieve in fantasy and Andrew Luck could end up back in the trainer’s room sooner, rather than later.
3. Take Two
TY Hilton has been looking for a consistent running mate for years. The 2016 league leader in receiving yards would have no limits on what he could do if his WR2 demanded more attention from defenses. There are three real contenders with three different skillsets that might make a good WR2 by committee.
Donte Moncrief’s 2016 touchdown rate might be unsustainable, as he scored a touchdown once every 4.3 catches. That is the highest in-season rate among WRs with 50 or more targets in the last nine years. That being said, Moncrief is a redzone threat, with six of his seven TDs in 2016 coming inside the 10 yard line. If he can stay healthy, Moncrief will be have extra motivation from a contract year.
It’s too early to call Phillip Dorsett a bust, but he has yet to live up to expectations stemming from his 4.33 speed and first round draft pedigree. With just a 50% increase in targets from his rookie year, Dorsett nearly doubled his totals in TDs, catches and yards in 2016. Despite that, he has yet to post a 100-yard receiving game and has just one game with more than 64 yards.
The “Dark Horse” is Kamar Aiken, who finished as the WR30 (higher than Moncrief or Dorsett have ever finished) in 2015 when injuries in the Baltimore receiving core pressed him into service. This past year, Aiken posted just the fourth-best finish on his own team. Aiken is no lock to make the roster, but he can be a serviceable possession style receiver.
4. The More Things Change, the Gore They Stay the Same
Frank Gore has started more than 100 straight games, earned nearly 2,200 fantasy points over his career, and the last time he wasn’t a top 20 fantasy RB, “Laffy Taffy” was the number one song on the Billboard Top 100. We should be prepared, as fantasy owners, for the day when the 34 year old is no longer the Colts’ starting running back.
The leader for the job would be Robert Turbin, who had as many touchdowns as Gore, despite 224 less touches. The scoring upside is clearly there for Turbin in a potent offense as the goal-line back (all eight of his TDs came within the 7-yard line). Turbin has had one game in his five-year career with more than 11 carries, so becoming more involved in the offense would be new territory for him.
Josh Ferguson, an undrafted free agent in 2016, managed a respectable 136 receiving yards on 20 catches for the Colts last season, but paired that with an abysmal 1.3 yards per carry. Ferguson has a ceiling as a pass-catching back in a committee, but it will be interesting to see how many targets he’ll see in the preseason.
The newest edition, fourth rounder Marlon Mack, will be the most interesting to watch in camp. His combine measurables speak to his explosiveness and athleticism and paint him as a smaller version of Jordan Howard on mockdraftable.com. He caught 63 passes at South Florida and is the most complete back behind Gore. One of these players will need to emerge as the clear RB2, or a Gore injury could derail the whole offense.
5. Swoope, There It Is
The player I’m looking forward to seeing most is by far Erik Swoope. The former Miami basketball player is finally coming into his own as a player. Swoope had almost 300 receiving yards last season on just 15 catches. Listed at 6’5” and 258 lbs on the team’s website, Swoope is a freakish athlete with the potential to dominate DBs and LBs. Per Football Outsiders Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacemnt (DYAR) rating, Swoope finished as the highest scoring TE with less than 25 catches and as the 16th highest TE overall.
The opportunity for Erik Swoope to shine will be there this year. The Colts have always utilized two TEs from Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, to Allen and Jack Doyle, to now Doyle and Swoope. Chris Ballard was confident enough in Swoope’s development to ship Allen to New England a season after he signed an extension with the team. Indy used the second-highest percentage of “12” personnel (one RB, two TEs) in 2016, and the second-highest percentage of multiple TE sets. If Swoope can emerge as a fantasy starter and a dependable receiving option for Luck, it can elevate this offense beyond even what we saw in 2014.
For more updated news, notes and analysis on the Colts training camp, check out Colts.com and follow the team writers as they break down the above issues and many others.