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Indianapolis Colts Writers
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Indianapolis was one of the top-five run-heaviest offenses in 2021, which made sense with struggling quarterback Carson Wentz and All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor. Now the Colts have acquired Matt Ryan, who figures to be an upgrade at quarterback despite his advanced age. Ryan has said one of the appeals of coming to Indianapolis was the adaptability of Frank Reich's offense over the years, which will be adjusting to its fifth different opening-day starting quarterback in the last five years. The Colts figure to adapt several of Ryan's favorite concepts from his time in Atlanta but continue leaning heavily on Taylor and the ground game.
Even though they were separate transactions, the Colts essentially traded away Carson Wentz for Matt Ryan. They also landed a future 2023 conditional third-round pick as part of the deal with Washington. Matt Ryan comes to Indianapolis as a former league MVP winner (2016), and in 14 years, he has never finished outside of the Top 20 among fantasy quarterbacks. Indianapolis has struggled to find a franchise quarterback since Andrew Luck's unexpected retirement. They have kicked the tires on Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan in three consecutive years. Like Rivers before him, Ryan is in the sunset of his career, and Indianapolis is hoping that he has (at least) one more productive season left in his storied career. Also like Rivers, Ryan is no stranger to 4,000-yard seasons, racking up 10 in his career. He is also extremely durable, missing only three games in his career. The Colts are a run-first offense, so Ryan won't have to use his arm nearly as much as he did with Atlanta to win games. A top-20 finish is plausible given his history, but a new offensive philosophy and an aging arm may reverse the trend of what we've seen from him in the past.
The team signed Nick Foles in May to give them dependable depth behind Ryan, who is durable, but soon to be in the decline phase of his career. Sam Ehlinger is the opposite of Ryan. He is open to using his legs to gain yards when needed, and he knows Frank Reich's offense. Ehlinger has limited action under center. In fact, he has just to throw a pass in the league. Look for him to see a lot of action in the preseason.
Jonathan Taylor was the top fantasy running back in 2021, and there is no reason to think he won't duplicate efforts in 2022. Taylor is entering his third year in the league and has never finished lower than fourth among fantasy backs. He turned 12 rookie touchdowns into 20 in 2021 with over 1,800 rushing yards on 332 carries. Taylor played every game last year and has yet to miss a game due to injury in his collegiate or professional career. There is a slight concern of a drop-off after his league-leading 332 carries. We've seen it time and again. Age is undefeated, especially at the running back position. On the bright side, Taylor is only 23 years old and won't turn 24 until January. He is slated to be the driving force behind the Colts offense once again and should be a top 3 pick in all leagues this year, if not the top overall pick.
Nyheim Hines is currently the #2 Colts running back behind Jonathan Taylor. He had an impressive 4.9 yards per carry in 2021 on 56 carries, but he is not considered to be an adequate full-time replacement if called upon. His strength is as a receiving back and change-of-pace rusher who keeps his game-day carries to a minimum. Veteran running back and known overachiever, Phillip Lindsay, was signed in the offseason and will be another complementary piece for the Colts' running back depth. He adds a versatile option who can fill in when needed and provide some assistance weekly.
The Colts are going with height and size in their wide receiver room in 2022, thanks to the presence of Michael Pittman Jr and rookie Alec Pierce. Pittman is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, while Pierce, their first player selected in the 2022 draft in round two, is 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds. Both receivers have similar skill sets, and we've seen Matt Ryan have success with taller receivers, namely Julio Jones, who is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. Pittman is coming off an impressive sophomore season that saw him jump into a top 20 finish that included 1,082 yards receiving with 6 touchdowns. He started hot beginning the 2021 season as the 8th ranked PPR wide receiver through the first ten weeks, but he dropped off to 34th after Week 10, playing every game. Five of his six touchdowns came in a five-week stretch. He failed to score in 12 of the 17 games he played. Matt Ryan should help in this department with a resume that includes at least 20 touchdown passes every year since 2009, reaching the 30-touchdown plateau three times. Indianapolis is a run-first offense with a bruising running back in Jonathan Taylor, who is no stranger to the end zone, collecting 32 touchdowns in two seasons. The Colts aren't expected to be a receiving-dominant squad, but there is still room for fantasy success for Pittman, who should command the majority of the team's downfield targets.
Pierce enters his rookie season with a chance to see a decent share of snaps, targets, and receptions in 2022. He will be a capable red zone target, resulting in some intermittent scores. His route development, involvement, and volume will dictate his success in year one. While he is a fast, explosive receiver, he struggles to consistently beat press coverage, and his blocking skills need refinement. He is expected to occupy the Z-receiver role when he is on the field.
Parris Campbell has found it challenging to play a full season due to a series of injuries that have derailed his progress, experience, and fantasy success. On one hand, the speedy, versatile Campbell has an excellent skill set that mimics what we've seen from Curtis Samuel, with perhaps better feet. However, his knee, foot, ankle, and head injuries may have lasting effects on his ability to return to 100% form. At the tender age of 24, Campbell has plenty to offer. He just needs to catch a break and shed the injury-prone label. He has a good chance to be the Colts' primary slot receiver, but he will see competition from veterans Keke Coutee and Ashton Dulin. Coutee saw some brief flashes with the Texans in his first three years, but he only managed to play one game in 2021 with the Colts. In that Week 7 game, he had one catch for five yards. An early-season hamstring injury relegated him to a reserve role, and he struggled to make good on his chances with only two active games in 2021. The slot role appears destined for Campbell, but he will need to earn his keep. If he does, he could build fantasy appeal and be a relevant source in the Colts offense.
The Colts, especially under Frank Reich, have historically used a 12-personnel approach, meaning two tight ends on the field at the same time. They continue to build strength and depth in this area with the selection of Jelani Woods, a third-round pick from the University of Virginia. The veteran of the group, Mo Alie-Cox, is entering his fifth year in the league, all with the Colts. He was signed in the offseason to a three-year, $18 million contract. While his snap count percentages have been less-than-expected he has performed well when his number is called, averaging 13.4 yards per catch, which is above average for the position. He also has accumulated 8 touchdowns on 70 career receptions. He has shown well, he just has not received full-time duty. That trend may continue in 2022. Alongside Alie-Cox the Colts will have second-year pro Kylen Granson at their disposal, who continues to learn and develop. At 6'foot-1 and 241 pounds, Granson has the frame of a big wide receiver than a tight end. Reich and his staff are loaded with fast, rangy, tall, big catch-radius receivers, and Granson, albeit a tight end, also fits that role. He will likely be used as such as a hybrid move tight end/receiver in this offense. Fantasy success at the tight end position is difficult to come by in Indianapolis due to multiple options sharing the target share. Granson is a player to watch as he continues to expand his knowledge at the position. Rookie Jelani Woods will have to earn his time, but he brings a healthy 6-foot-7 and 253-pound block of clay to the Colts tight end room. A former quarterback in High School, Woods has multiple-sport athleticism and possesses an NFL skill set, but he needs to refine his route-running, work on his scrimmage release. In time he could move up the depth chart and be the next weapon in the Colts tight end corps.
- LT Matt Pryor
- LG Quenton Nelson
- C Ryan Kelly
- RG Danny Pinter,
- RT Braden Smith
- Dennis Kelly, Will Fries, Bernhard Raimann [R]
All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson is one of the best linemen in the game. Center Ryan Kelly and right tackle Braden Smith are also extremely high-level performers when healthy. The question is at left tackle, where Matt Pryor will start over rookie Bernhard Raimann (Third round, Central Michigan). Pryor has looked fantastic all summer and could be playing for a huge contract next year. Danny Pinter won the right guard competition over Will Fries. Despite the uncertainty at several spots, the Colts' line grades just inside the Top 10.
Blankenship was shaky last year and suffered a hip injury. Michael Badgley outperformed him while Blankenship was out, enough so that the team did not put him back in the lineup over Badgley when he was over the injury. They did not re-sign Badgley to push Blankenship, instead allowing him to hit free agency, bringing in Jake Verity from the Ravens practice squad, and signing Grayson Atkins (North Carolina) after he went undrafted. This will be a competition in camp, and the team could choose to bring in another kicker if they don't think an adequate option is on the roster. Avoid Blankenship in fantasy drafts.
Nyheim Hines' punt return average slipped a little from his all-world level in 2019 and 2020, but the running back remains a solid threat with the ball in his hands and will try for a rebound season in 2022.
The Colts had a strong fantasy team defense for the second straight year. It was on the back of 33 takeaways, second in the league behind the Cowboys, and strong performances against the weak Texans, Jaguars, Patriots, and Dolphins offenses. They were also fantasy relevant against better offenses like the Rams and Bills, so they have every-week starting potential despite not being drafted like an elite fantasy defense. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus left for Chicago to become the Bears head coach, but the team added Stephon Gilmore and Yannick Ngakoue, and the rest of the defense is mostly young and on the upside of their career slope. The Colts open with the Texans and Jaguars, so consider them a top late/last round streaming defense leadoff hitter.
The anchor and X-Factor of this defensive line is defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Finishing tied for DT3 with division rival Jeffery Simmons, Buckner had 64 total tackles, seven sacks, and ten tackles for loss. Going into his 7th year, Buckner is a baller and should produce similar statistics if not more due to some free-agent additions to the line. The addition of Yannick Ngakoue should take some pressure off Buckner to perform. Going on his 3rd team in his seven-year career, Ngakoue may finally have found a home at the opposite end of Kwity Paye. He can be boom or bust sometimes, but Indianapolis has four serious players on the defensive line, so his ten sacks from last year will fit perfectly into what they have planned for the upcoming year. He is a nice under-the-radar signing. Second-year man Kwity Paye was the first pick for the Colts last year and had 32 total tackles and four sacks. Admittedly a so-so year, Paye now has a second full offseason, can learn from veteran Ngakoue and won't be the sole pressure off the edge. Look for him to be more aggressive this year and add to that sack total he was drafted to have. Grover Stewart was the quietest of the four mentioned, but he still finished this past year with 46 total tackles. He will most likely be in this same range, but the entire defensive line has major upside and should be in the minds of fantasy managers as well as fans of the team.
It is too early to label a second-year man as anything other than green, but defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo was only active in ten of the 17 games played and had statistics in just five games (six total tackles, 0.5 sacks). The second-round pick out of Vanderbilt will need to contribute more this year, or he could get lost in the depth chart, as the Colts are not afraid to make moves and move off players early a la quarterback Carson Wentz. Another second-round draft pick on the defensive line back in 2019, Ben Banogu is another depth guy who isn't going to wow you with his stats. Having eleven tackles, 2.5 sacks, and one forced fumble his rookie year, he has only had eight tackles since. The Colts have four studs starting, but the depth of this unit leaves much to be desired.
Statistically, this was the strongest unit of the entire defense. You will be hard-pressed to find another team with two stud linebackers that match what these first two players accomplished. Darius Leonard continually proves why he is number one here: 122 total tackles, eight forced fumbles, and four picks is a mega stat-line for one of the NFL's premier linebackers. He was IDP fantasy LB5 and has never finished a season with less than 100 tackles and two forced fumbles. Year in and year out, Leonard is a football must-have, whether it be fantasy or professional. Last year was an opportunity for Bobby Okereke to emerge as a relevant football player and played almost as big as his Pat McAfee draft introduction. I recommend looking it up if you've not watched it. Although his counterpart Leonard was the fifth-highest scoring linebacker, Okereke finished with more tackles, 132 in total. In his first year in an every-down role, Okereke showed why he can be a brick wall in the linebacking corps, but he is still getting snaps and should improve upon his breakout performance this year. Lastly, Zaire Franklin, while not getting as glamorous of statistics, finished the year strong last year, acquiring 13 of his 40 total tackles in the last four weeks of the season. He will be in a highly competitive role in this defensive unit.
While the starters of this unit aren't going to be hiding from anyone, the backups for this team may be a bit harder to spot on the field. The most notable being fourth-year man EJ Speed. A fifth-round pick back in 2019, Speed has been consistently a backup, but last year had a pop in his statistical performance. Having 16 total tackles going into last year, he put up the best year of his career, achieving 31 total tackles, a forced fumble, and two touchdowns. He likely doesn't move the needle too much in terms of fantasy football, but as a depth player on a unit that is flush with starter talent, he is a secure option as a backup. Another familiar face for Colts fans is Jordan Glasgow. Although he hasn't produced much in the actual defensive structure, he does return to a role he has had over the last two years, and the way their depth is at this position, that's notable. He played in 12 of the 17 total games last year and won't do much more unless there is an injury ahead of him.
- NCB Brandon Facyson, NCB Isaiah Rodgers, CB Chris Wilcox, CB Will Redmond, S Armani Watts, S Nick Cross [R], CB Marvell Tell III III
It's not often that Kenny Moore II would be the second-most notable defensive back on a team, but with the news of Stephon Gilmore signing, the Colts now have an embarrassment of riches in their secondary. Gilmore will be an immediate contributor to the Colts, although he turns 32 years old in September. In 2019, Gilmore was the Defensive Player of the Year, compiling 55 tackles, six picks, 20 defended passes, and two touchdowns. Since then, however, he has had 53 total tackles, three picks, and five defended passes. Was 2019 the peak of his career? If so, even a less-than-peak Gilmore is still a top 10 corner in this league and one that teams need to be aware of. Kenny Moore II is no slouch, either. Moore finished last year statistically as CB2 with 102 total tackles, four picks, and 13 defended passes. It's just as hard to consider him a number two corner as it is Gilmore, but either way at corner, the Colts are set. Last but certainly not least, the strong safety position will come down to veteran Rodney McLeod and third-round rookie Nick Cross after starter Khari Willis retired unexpectedly during the offseason. A consistent stat sheet guy, McLeod will be going into his 12th year and will be 32 years old at the start of the new year. He should be a name most football fans recognize. Signing into the league initially as an undrafted free agent, McLeod worked his way into a captain's role and has even won a Super Bowl as a captain of the Eagles. This was a good signing for a team that needed some secondary help. Cross was the result of a Chris Ballard trade-up, so the team obviously likes him.
Julian Blackmon is on the wrong side of bad news, unfortunately. Having a second major injury in just his two years in the league, the Colts signed Rodney McLeod to start in place of the young safety. After tearing his ACL before his rookie year, in October 2021, it was revealed that he tore his Achilles in practice and was out for the rest of the year. Before that, he was on pace for a solid year of production with 34 total tackles and a forced fumble through six games. This is a high-quality problem for the Colts having a vet starting while a stud young player is rehabbing, but Blackmon needs to stay healthy before being trusted as a long-term part of the team.
Having signed a one-year prove-it deal, Brandon Facyson will be the most likely slot corner for the Colts, competing with Isaiah Rodgers. Having compiled a decent statistical year with the Raiders, Facyson now finds himself in a role that may be best suited for his talents. He is also in a system with two stud veterans that will take lion's share of the assignments allowing him to produce against a team's third-best wide receiver option. Look for him to have a less impactful statistical year but more positive for the Colts defense as a whole.