As the mercury rises and we inch closer to the open of training camps, our resident fantasy football sickos, Brad Evans and Liz Loza, will profile their favorite booms/busts of every NFL team. Today’s topic: The Steeds of Naptown.
Brad – JORDAN WILKINS. Every year a later-round or undrafted rookie RB free agent experiences a carpe diem moment. Two years ago Jordan Howard rocked the fantasy world. Last season, it was Jamaal Williams. This fall, Wilkins owns a similar potential.
Selected in Round 5 of the NFL Draft, the Ole Miss product shouldn’t be underrated. In a breakthrough campaign for the Rebels he amassed a 155-1011-9/26-241-1 line over 12 games. Beyond scratching the surface, he also racked an outstanding 3.32 yards after contact per attempt, 23.8 missed tackle percentage on all touches and finished RB7 in elusive rating amount all FBS backs according to Pro Football Focus. He’s an upright runner, but his size (6-foot-1, 218-pounds), versatility, power between the tackles and slipperiness visually impress. With Marlon Mack sidelined during minicamp (shoulder), Wilkins earned critical first-team reps.
If Luck regenerates and the offensive line fronted by prized rookie Quenton Nelson progresses, the youngster could convince Colts coaches he’s their true RB of the present. As owners go gaga over Mack (89.4 ADP) and Nyheim Hines (150.8) much earlier, sneak Wilkins on your roster (221.3) just before the D/ST and K rounds.
Liz – NYHEIM HINES. This past April, the Colts spent two of their first three picks shoring up the offensive line, selecting Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith. While keeping Andrew Luck upright is certainly a priority, it’s important to note that both guards are high-end run-blockers. Since the health of Luck’s shoulder remains a mystery, improving the efficacy of the ground game is a sound strategy.
But with six backs currently on the team’s roster, which RB gives fantasy owners the best chance of winning? Truthfully, it’s too early to tell. Right now, however, my money is on Hines. A speedster (4.32) with superior balance and deft cutting ability, the NC State product has impressed in minicamp. He may be “undersized” at 5-foot-8 and 198 pounds, but his versatility as a slot-receiver-turned-running-back aligns with a Frank Reich designed offense.
You know who else is an undersized back with good hands? Danny Woodhead. He’s actually the same height and just three pounds slimmer than Hines. Oh, and remember that 80-catch season he had back in 2015? Well, that was orchestrated by Reich who was the Chargers’ OC at the time. I’m not saying that Hines is going to be a top-five fantasy RB in PPR leagues (as Woodhead was), but with Marlon Mack recovering from shoulder surgery, Robert Turbin lacking efficiency, and Jordan Wilkins fighting for reps, Hines’ role appears the most clear-cut.
On the flipside, which player should owners avoid like a sushi bar in Fort Wayne?
Liz – JACK DOYLE. In 2017 Doyle existed as the Colts’ most dependable chain-mover. Steady week-in-and-week-out production resulted in an 80-690-4 stat line, affording the Western Kentucky alum low-end TE1 fantasy status. This year, however, the offense has a new look. With a retooled coaching staff in charge and numerous young players added, the summer months will add clarity to the makeup of this offense. Yet Doyle is being drafted among the top-twelve TEs.
I’m not saying that Eric Ebron (ADP, 181.62), after four seasons of underwhelming, will suddenly break out under the tutelage of Frank Reich. I am, however, pointing out that change is afoot, and that there’s increased internal competition at the position. Simply put, relying on an average talent like Doyle’s doesn’t make good sense. It’s like spending top-dollar on a pair of khakis. Just don’t do it.
Brad – T.Y. HILTON. Whether in the virtual universe or reality, talent is often undermined by situation. Hilton is a prime example. Last season, the receiver’s value plunged to hellish depths. Though the former Pro Bowl selection was targeted a healthy 23.1 percent of the time (WR17), he netted a hideous 52.3 percent catch rate (WR81), totaled 1.62 fantasy points per game (WR51) and finished just outside the WR3 class in 12-team leagues in overall fantasy points per contest (WR37), a far cry from the WR8 output he posted with Luck in 2016. Cast all the blame on Jacoby Brissett.
How Luck performs is entirely tied to Hilton’s projected 2018 worth. If the QB experiences no repercussions and rediscovers his prior form, the Colt whinnies. However, if Luck’s accumulated dust weighs him down, Hilton will leave owners penniless and frustrated. The likelihood he’ll continue to see the opposition’s best cover man only adds to the risk. Recall he ranked WR25 in target separation a season ago.
Point blank, it’s hard to justify Hilton’s 33.2 ADP (WR13) knowing his low floor.
LOW, MEDIUM, or HIGH: What’s your confidence level that Andrew Luck plays a full season and finishes inside the QB top-12?
Brad – VERY LOW. Think the temperature reading in Muncie during an extreme polar vortex or a Colt fan’s reaction when he or she hears the name “Josh McDaniels.” Yes, that low.
Building trust is fundamental in fantasy. When a player hasn’t thrown an NFL regulation football in over 500 days it greatly diminishes owner confidence and raises anxiety. No matter how Luck performed during his peak years, the glacier speed in which he’s recovered raises endless questions. Can he unload the ball outside the numbers with vintage zip? What about his touch on deep balls? Can he withstand the physical demands of a 16-game season behind a work-in-progress offensive line?
Colts officials continue to look at Luck’s slow advancements through rose-colored glasses. The passer says he’s “pain free,” though coaches will ease him in during training camp. Some gullible drafters are taking the bait, optimistically buying into the notion the polarizing passer will regain his top-five form. Anything is possible, but at his 127.7 ADP (QB16) and given the remarkable depth at the position, I’m passing. Around the same point in drafts, the risk/reward of Patrick Mahomes (127.6 ADP), Jared Goff (121.9) and Marcus Mariota (126.0) is more appealing.
Liz – Andrew Luck threw a high school ball. Reggie Wayne caught the “nice tight spirals.” #FootballTwitter ramped up its usual GIF game, inciting rabid debate and polls about rabid debate. But none of us know how good Luck will be after nearly a year and a half away from the game.
From a fantasy perspective, it doesn’t matter. Not when taking into account the incredible depth at the position.
If rostering two quarterbacks is your thing then sure, grab Luck in round eight(ish) and see what happens. (Though, if he does bounce back, good luck trying to trade away your other QB. Again, the depth of the position makes even high-end producers tough to move.) If you’re not down for that sort of risk, either select a signal caller earlier, or wait a bit longer and snag Matt Stafford.
Bottom line: There is zero reason to make this gamble, especially when considering that a quarter of Luck’s starts will come opposite the Jags and the Texans defensive units.