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2017 Projections: Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts

In this series, I use an internal version of the Projection Machine to explore likely outcomes for offensive players on all 32 NFL teams.

The Projection Machine employs a top-down approach that builds on team-wide assumptions to develop expectations of offensive output. I will use staff averages to help guide the inputs underlying the projections. Check out this article for further information on the process used by the RotoViz team. All 2017 Indianapolis Colts projections are based on PPR scoring.

I followed alphabetical order while writing this series but skipped Baltimore and Indianapolis. Given the uncertainty surrounding the health of both team’s quarterbacks, I wanted to wait until I had as much information as possible.

With the season less than a week away, Andrew Luck’s health remains a major concern, and it seems unlikely that he’ll be available for Week 1. To make this article as useful as possible, I’m going to change up the format from the rest of the series.1 We’ll look at the major fantasy players in the Colts’ offense and the impact that Luck missing one week, three weeks, or six weeks would have on their fantasy prospects.

Depth Chart and Baseline Workload Assumptions

QB – Andrew Luck

Backup QB –  Scott Tolzien

RB1 – Frank Gore — 55 percent rushes, seven percent targets

RB2 – Marlon Mack — 17 percent rushes, eight percent targets

WR1 – T.Y. Hilton — 26 percent targets

WR2 – Donte Moncrief — 17 percent of targets

WR3 – Kamar Aiken — 12 percent

TE1 – Jack Doyle — 12 percent

Scoring Margin and Pace Tendencies

To get a sense of the number of plays that the Colts will run in 2017, I played with the team’s scoring margin and pace tendencies in the Projection Machine. The distribution of passing and running attempts didn’t vary significantly between scenarios. Regardless of the number of games that Luck misses, the Colts are projected to call between 560 to 580 passing plays and 410 to 425 rushing plays. In the baseline scenario, which assumes that Luck misses Week 1 and the team wins eight and a half games, I set the scoring margin to -0.50, pass tendency to 0.02, and pace tendency to 0.25.

T.Y. Hilton and WR/TE Outlook

Hilton played in 63 games between 2013 and 2016. Luck did not play in 10 of these games. His fantasy production dipped significantly in Luck’s absence.

hilton splitTolzien was the Colts’ starter in two of the “out of splits.” In these games, Hilton scored 16 points per contest but this is too small of a sample to draw any major conclusions from. Nonetheless, it’s hard to argue that he wouldn’t be impacted if Luck missed significant time. The differences in AYA,  yards, and touchdowns per game produced between the two quarterbacks is huge. Since 2013, Luck has averaged 272 yards and 2 TDs per game. Tolzien averaged only 133 yards and less than 0.30 TDs per game in the same time frame.2

luck tolzien screener

If Luck misses six games, Hilton will be severely impacted as his yards and TDs per target will take a major hit. Historically, Hilton has been efficient in yards per target while posting low TD rates. With Luck out, his yards per target could fall beneath average levels for a WR1, and his TD rate could dip below the 75th percentile.

Given the significant variation in AYA between the two quarterbacks, Tolzien may not be able to target Hilton with the same frequency or effectiveness as Luck. This wasn’t factored into the presented scenarios but is worth highlighting.

tolzien aya luck aya

Scenario TRGS RECS recYDS recYPR recTDS PPR
Luck out 1 151 89 1,280 14.4 6 253
Luck out 3 147 85 1,172 13.8 4 229
Luck out 6 147 84 1,099 13.5 3 220

These scenarios imply that Hilton could be negatively impacted by more than six points per game if Luck misses substantial time. I was conservative in adjusting his reception percentage. However, if the team does instruct Tolzien to target Hilton deep, the included rates would likely drop.3 While Hilton’s ADP has fallen outside of the top 10, he’ll need to come at a much better discount to be worth the risk. Personally, I’ll be drafting other options and not considering Hilton until Round 4.

Moncrief is projected to score approximately 155 points with a moderately healthy Luck, per the staff average. This places him outside of WR4 territory, making him a Flex option at best. As Moncrief is a TD-dependent scorer. He could quickly become irrelevant with Tolzien at the helm. Aiken wasn’t expected to be draftable with a healthy Luck; he’s no longer worthy of a late-round flyer.

The staff average places Jack Doyle as a fringe starter even with Luck able to play the majority of the season. This projection anticipates 130 or so fantasy points. Given his low target share of 12 percent, any drop in efficiency would be a major blow to his fantasy value. If Luck misses three games, Doyle might be worth a late-round draft pick, but if he misses six, you’re going to need another option. Doyle can’t be counted on without Luck under center.

Frank Gore and the RBs

The staff average projects Frank Gore with 165 fantasy points. He has a limited ceiling but is expected to see a baseline amount of work, giving him a reliable floor. After workshopping multiple scenarios in which the Colts scoring margin and tendencies change, it doesn’t appear that Gore will be significantly impacted by the duration of Luck’s absence. The presented projection assumes that Luck misses one game.

Gore, Frank 226 904 4 41 28 233 1 172

Marlon Mack would likely benefit from Luck missing multiple games. He projects as the team’s third down and change of pace back. The staff average places him under 100 points, but he could see an increased opportunity share if the team is forced to operate at faster pace playing from behind. In a best case scenario, this could push him up into RB3 territory, eclipsing 150 points. While, this scenario shouldn’t be expected it does strengthen his case as a late round, high upside option.

What to Do With Luck?

The RotoViz staff expects Andrew Luck to be a top-10 passer when healthy. No surprise there. He’s been a phenomenal fantasy option, finishing as a starter nearly 75 percent of the time.

luck weeks

Despite the uncertainty, he’s being drafted as early as Round 8. I’d caution against using such a high pick on a player with significant risk. It’s unclear how many games he’ll miss or how effective he’ll be when playing, and you’ll be forced to carry him on your bench in the formative weeks of the season. Ultimately, the decision to draft or not draft will be a team by team consideration but if you do decide to roll the dice, here are some options to get you through Week 1.

  1. I would have liked to get this out last week, but just wasn’t able to find the time.  (back)
  2. Seven games is a small sample, and he could certainly raise these numbers as a routine starter. Still, Luck is one of the leagues’ better starters and Tolzien is a backup.  (back)
  3. I don’t imagine that this would be offset by a significant increase in yards per reception.  (back)

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