2018 Indianapolis Colts Fantasy Football Preview
Frank Reich has agreed to a five-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts, replacing Chuck Pagano while providing a nice cushion after the team was left at the altar by Josh McDaniels. Reich is fresh off a dominant postseason run that saw his offense drop 79 points over their final two weeks, though his influence versus Doug Pederson's is certainly debatable.
Despite rarely calling his own plays, Reich has worked with some incredibly talented QBs and has his fingerprints on some explosive passing offenses, and is a "best case" scenario fantasy-wise, considering the slim pickings this late in the offseason. With health from Andrew Luck, the Colts passing attack could regain serious explosiveness under Reich, making this a must-know move for fantasy football owners.
Reich's NFL experience began not as a coach, but as a QB for the Buffalo Bills. Similar to his coaching career, Reich often lingered in the background as a player, serving as the legendary Jim Kelly's backup on some historic offenses.
Yet, Reich consistently proved his worth when given the chance. Most impressively, the new HC engineered the largest comeback in NFL postseason history: a 41-38 overtime winner following a 35-3 deficit in the third quarter. Similarly overshadowed as a coach thus far, Reich certainly hopes to now answer the call as well with a clipboard as he did under center.
He entered the coaching ranks in 2006 as an "Intern" for the Colts staff. Here, he proceeded to serve as an offensive assistant and wide receivers coach for five years, notable for one reason alone: his work with Peyton Manning. The future Hall-of-Famer raved about Reich's work ethic and ingenuity as a player, gushing:
Reich spent 2012 with the Cardinals before a move to San Diego, where he'd spend a year as the QBs coach before being promoted to offensive coordinator. Rivers topped 4200 yards and 29 TDs in every season that had Reich's fingerprints on it, and the team ranked top 13 in passing yards and TDs in all of Reich's San Diego years. Here, Reich gained valuable insight from offensive gurus Ken Whisenhunt and Mike McCoy, but a horrendous defense and a knack for late game collapses left the Chargers crumbling.
Thus, Pederson scooped up Reich amidst the San Diego dumpster fire. The Eagles produced mediocre first-year results with a raw, rookie-year Carson Wentz; however, his sophomore campaign was one for the ages: Wentz was on pace for over 4,000 yards and 40 TDs before his devastating knee injury, while Nick Foles manufactured a late postseason run fit for the storybooks. The third-legged signal caller scored 38 points against the vaunted Vikings defense in the NFC Championship before dropping 41 points versus the Patriots the following week.
Still, Reich's exact impact is difficult. He's never been the primary playcaller, generally serving under these offensive-minded head coaches. Nonetheless, Reichs gained incredible experience under innovative minds while clearly leaving impressionable fingerprints on every passing offense he's served.
Again, Reich has never called his own plays, so predicting his exact scheme and style is impossible. Still, Reich has offered some preview nuggets in his early press conferences, and, as explored, he also has been groomed under Ken Whisenhunt and Doug Pederson, who both built off of West Coast backbones.
Thus, Reich's likely to roll out his own variation and flavor of this scheme. As a refresher, the West Coast offense revolves around quick-strike, rhythm-based passing that features plenty of slants, drags, and flat patterns. The goal is to minimize the risk, get the ball in your playmakers hands, and let them do their thing.
Still, both Pederson and Whisenhunt implemented far more vertical concepts than your typical West Coast scheme. In particular, Pederson loved sprinkling in more aggressive, downfield plays and trickery, especially on third downs and in unpredictable circumstances.
Reich similarly wants to be more aggressive, both in his route schemes and, more importantly, tempo. Reich has promised a higher-paced attack with more variety:
"We will be a multiple, attack, up-tempo offense," Reich said, per FOX 59. "We will be aggressive. We'll change things up. What I mean by multiple is we'll use multiple personnel groups and multiple formations. We'll change the tempo. There will be a strong element of the no-huddle offense. We'll build the players around that kind of scheme."
This idea of "imposing his will on the opponent" is interesting, and seems like carryover from his time with the Eagles. Despite ranking only 17th in the league in pace-of-play, Philadelphia became the 7th fastest when leading by seven or more, and second fastest when trailing. Simply put, they'd bury teams they led against, and catchup quick if ever trailing. Reich hopes to do the same in Indianapolis, though a swiss cheese defense likely means more shootouts and comebacks than game-capping situations.
Regardless, expect a rapid-fire, aggressive attack that largely funnels through the quarterback's arm and playmakers generating YAC.
Passing Game Impact
QBs have thrived with high completion percentages and yardage totals under Reich's tutelage. Outside of Wentz's "adjustment" year, Rivers and Wentz have been flatout dominant. As long as the signal caller accurately delivers the rock and has playmakers at his disposal, he'll be very worthwhile in fantasy.
Reich should be considered nothing short of the jackpot for Luck... if he's healthy. This is, of course, the most immediate concern, as the last time Luck threw an NFL football, Barack Obama was still the president. We're well over 500 days at this point, and no matter how many "Luck's 'real close'" and "Not worried" reports pop up, I don't believe it 'til I see it.
Assuming he can actually throw a football, Luck would be a major offseason riser. The Colts finally made a concerted effort to beef up their line, especially along the interior, spending the No. 6 overall pick on Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson, the draft's best lineman by a mile while also adding the 6'6", 315 lb monster Braden Smith at No. 37. Staying more upright and facing less pressure up the gut will be enormously beneficial for Luck.
Additionally, Luck will greatly benefit from getting the ball out quicker as compared to Rob Chudzinski's longer-developing, vertical based attack -- both from a health and accuracy standpoint. Luck is known as highly cerebral, so a no-huddle, up tempo attack could be downright deadly with him at the reins. He'd have no problem returning to the 4200+ yard, 28+ TD range under Reich... if, again, he can throw.
Luck is certainly excited to work with Reich, as the talented gunslinger expressed his growing excitement:
“I know all the best offenses that I’ve been a part of in my career we’ve not been static and we’ve attacked. And I’m sure he’ll have a great flavor and we’ll involve as many people as we can, and attacking defenses is what it’s all about."
“Going back to (Reich’s) playing days, he’s incredibly successful, and he’s been around some awesome quarterbacks,” Luck said. “And I hope I can learn from him and ask him how Peyton or Carson or Philip did it, and find the best way for me or for whatever Colt quarterback way that is. I hope I can give him the most that I can give, and that he can help me get out of me the most that’s there.”
Again, none of this matters if he can't throw. We're not far from two full years without a single throw yet. Everything here has felt cryptically slow and, as we've seen, this offense borders on useless without their young leader under center.
Reich's offenses have generally spread the ball amidst pass-catchers, with one exception: 2015's dominant Keenan Allen stretch. Allen was on pace for a whopping 178 targets, 134 receptions, and 1450 yards. Otherwise, no one target has truly dominated looks under Reich, as the scheme specializes on finding the mismatches and then repeatedly exploiting them
As currently composed and at first glance, the Colts WR corps appears ill-fitting to a West Coast scheme. Speedster and four-time pro bowler TY Hilton appears more built for a vertical, "Air Coryell" type of attack. Moreover, Donte Moncrief departed to division rival Jacksonville this offseason, leaving the No.2 spot completely wide open for creatures like Chester Rogers and Ryan Grant to battle it out.
Yet, I have a feeling Hilton could absolutely dominate. For one, he has legitimately no wideout competition for looks. Moreover, his route running has improved drastically over his career, and he's afforded tons of space at the line and underneath due to his deep speed. Alongside maybe Odell Beckham and Tyreek Hill, Hilton's the rare type of weapon who can rip a simple five yard slant down the entire field for a 90 yard touchdown. His long speed and open field vision are incredibly dangerous, even if Hilton is not the shiftiest guy in traffic.
He's also evolving in this regard, however, logging 24% of his snaps out of the slot last season. Hilton has topped 1300 yards in his last two seasons with a healthy Luck, and he has a real chance to surpass those totals again as a current target-hog Alpha who'll rack up YAC... with a healthy Luck.
Ultimately, the team still needs a position guy who can dominate the shallow routes. The backs and tight ends should monopolize the scraps left from TY, but a second WR target needs to emerge still.
Though he's undoubtedly benefited by having elite talents in Gates and Ertz, Reich has never been afraid to aggressively target his tight ends. His offense clicks with a seam stretcher who can break tackles and generate YAC opportunities, and Reich has always leaned on tight ends inside the 20.
2018 Outlook - Doyle & Ebron, an ugly committee
Amidst some monster 2018 tight end seasons from Gronk, Kelce, and Ertz, how long would it take you to guess Jack Doyle ranked second at the position in receptions (80)?
Unfortunately, while Doyle seemed primed to build upon this for a true breakout season under Reich, the team added Eric Ebron. Sure, the Colts lack a reliable intermediate threat, thus opening up enough volume for both tight ends to produce. Still, exactly which one hits pay dirt and truly explodes in a given week seems likely to be an unreliable toss-up -- ala Cameron Brate and OJ Howard last year.
Doyle already has established chemistry with Luck, and the team absolutely loves his dependability. Even if he brings nothing exceptional to the table as an athlete, he knows how to use his massive frame well in contested situations, and had among the highest reception percentages in the league last year.
Meanwhile, Ebron is the near polar opposite. He's a physical freak with raw tools that rank among the top seam-stretchers in the league. Yet, he's constantly dinged up and makes bone-headed drops regularly. Consider this the perfect "ying-yang" balance... which just means a disastrous committee that can't be relied on. Far too many "Penny Stocks" exist with strangleholds on their team's starting TE gigs, so I'll be looking elsewhere in 2018, despite my undying love for Jack "The Beanstalk."
2015 – Committee - Melvin Gordon (13 GP): 833 total yards, 0 TDs, 33 rec (37 tgts), 184 carries; Danny Woodhead**: 1091 total yards, 9 TDs, 80 rec. (106 tgts), 98 carries
2016 – Committee– Ryan Matthews (13 GP): 766 total yards, 9 TDs, 13 rec (14 tgts); Darren Sproles: 865 total yards, 4 TDs, 52 rec (71 tgts)
2017 – Committee - LeGarrette Blount: 816 total yards, 3 TDs, 8 receptions; Corey Clement: 444 total yards, 6 TDs, 10 rec (15 tgts); Jay Ajayi (7 GP): 499 total yds, 1 TD, 10 rec.
The trend is clear under Reich: four years, four committees.
Indeed, he hasn't had any other-worldly talents to feature, and has also dealt with his fair share of injuries.
Still, guys like Melvin Gordon, Ryan Mathews, and LeGarrette Blount have all had massive RB1 seasons and proven capable of shouldering massive workload... and none ever found genuine success under Reich.
Simply put, Reich's "lead" ball carrier isn't likely to be a true horse.
Still, there's hope. Reich has long peppered RBs with screens and a plethora of short-game routes. Any type of third down back is intriguing here -- just look at Woodhead's 106 target, 80 reception, 1091 total yard and 9 TD monster season; Sproles similarly saw frequent usage despite his extensive age and mileage.
Look for a PPR beast to emerge from the Indy backfield, with my favorite being...
Frank Gore has moved on to Miami, and an influx of young, tough-to-project talents have been added in his stead.
Many "experts," have consequently been labeling Marlon Mack among fantasy's biggest "offseason winners," but I'm not sold. Yes, he flashed some dangerous ability in space, led the league in percentage of runs to go for 20+ yards (5.4%), and has been labeled the early "frontrunner" to lead the team's committee.
Yet, nearly 1/3 of Mack's carries went for zero or negative yards (32.3%), which was second worst in the NFL. He'd almost certainly be pulled at the stripe for the bruising and efficient Robert Turbin, limiting any TD upside. Plus, fellow rookie Jordan Wilkins' vision has drawn heavy praise from GM Chris Ballard, who's compared Wilkins to Matt Forte, a Ballard-drafted special while in Chicago.
Simply put, the competition for carries is fierce here.
Thus, I'm chasing the receptions instead. This has me taking rookie Nyheim Hines towards the end of every mock draft I've done.
Hines is already reportedly lining up "all over the field" in early OTAs, and Reich has already praised Hines' pass-catching and intelligence too. Remember - Danny Woodhead is not far removed from a 1091 total yards, 9 TDs, 80 rec. (106 tgts) season, and Hines seems to be separating in the battle for this invaluable role.
Mack himself is an above average pass-catcher, and has yet to touch the field as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Thus, who knows if Hines will continue dominating this role once the full backfield is available to Reich, as Mack could easily outplay him. Still, Hines has already made an impression, which is huge for a rookie runner this early, and carries a 14+ RD price tag at the moment.
This remains one of the few backfields with legitimately no clarity right now, and thus one of the most intriguing storylines to monitor heading into Training Camp. Anyone from Mack to Turbin to Wilkins could lead for the carries; in what seems destined to be a four-headed committee, it's likely none of the three sees a consistent enough volume stream for it to matter.
Thus, I'm aggressively attacking the third-down RB options, especially Hines at the moment, and will be tuning in to every note on this role all summer long.
Though Reich has never called his own plays, he's helped craft some explosive passing attacks and prompted some fantastic QB development. Time spent with offensive gurus like Pederson and Whisenhunt certainly doesn't hurt, and neither does extensive work with Rivers or Wentz. Expect the Colts to regain some passing game mojo, with Reich promising a "no huddle" attack that "enforces our will" on opponents...
...if Andrew Luck ever decides to throw a football. An offensive resurgence is obviously and entirely dependent on his health. Should he regain form, Luck will be behind by far his best line and playing under the brightest offensive mind he's had yet, making him a very real candidate for massive QB1 outputs -- especially considering the shoot-out and trailing situations the team is likely to face.
Meanwhile, speedster TY Hilton faces next to no competition for wideout looks here, and should be an absolute target vacuum. Though his long speed appears more tailored for a vertical-style attack, Hilton could find oodles of chances to rack up massive amounts of YAC and flash his dangerous open-field vision.
Outside of Hilton, no other pass-catchers flash fantasy appeal. Jack Doyle appeared headed for a Zach Ertz type of breakout, but Eric Ebron's addition will make TE production inconsistent and impossible to rely on each week.
In fact, outside of Hilton, I'm really only interested in whomever emerges as the pass-catching RB. Between Darren Sproles and especially Danny Woodhead, Reich has consistently peppered his backs in the screen and short-passing games. Right now, my eyes are glued to Nyheim Hines as he draws praise and moves all over the formation. Outside of him, this backfield appears headed for a three or even four RB committee -- consistent with Reich's history -- which has the makings of a fantasy dumpster fire. At some point, a 15-18 carry guy could emerge (I'd put my chips on rookie Jordan Wilkins), but I'm not touching this backfield outside of Hines right now.
After being left at the altar by Josh McDaneils, the Colts have done very well in landing Reich. While he lacks playcalling experience, so did Pederson entering Philadelphia and Sean McVay prior to the Rams. A bright mind is a bright mind, and Reich has flashed ingenuity, especially in passing games, in every one of his stops. As long as Luck can throw a ball, I expect the Colts to put up some serious statistical outputs as they play from behind.
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