On Saturday evening, Andrew Luck shocked the sporting world by announcing his retirement. This news took everyone off guard, throwing active fantasy drafts into a frenzy as everyone scrambled to revise fantasy projections for the Colts’ skill position players.
In the wake of Saturday’s news, Matt Jones published an excellent piece explaining why T.Y. Hilton is still a redraft buy even without Luck. Now, it’s my turn to dispel some Colts-related anxiety by advocating against fading Marlon Mack.
Mack’s Projected Game Script Should Not Change
As of Sunday evening, FanDuel put the Indianapolis Colts’ win total back on the board at over/under 6.5 wins. Prior to the news of Luck’s retirement, the Colts had a win total of 9.5 at FanDuel and Westgate.
In my NFL Game Script series, I analyzed how preseason Vegas win totals affect running back production. In the final installment of that series, I found that RBs on elite teams1 and RBs on poor teams2 face a similar distribution of conservative vs. aggressive play-calling on average. Against public intuition, season-long game script does not have a strongly negative effect on RBs on poor teams.
As a result, Mack’s season-long game script remains unchanged. In fact, if anything, his new standing as a “Quartile 4” RB actually bodes well for his rush-heavy historical usage.
The Colts Have Been Here Before
During the 2017 regular season, the Colts turned to quarterback Jacoby Brissett as their starter without Luck. Now, fast-forward to 2019, and once again Brissett will lead Indianapolis following Luck’s departure.
Back in 2017, Frank Gore earned starting duties, amassing 261 rush attempts for 961 yards and three touchdowns on his way to a PPR RB19 finish. With Brissett at the helm, Indianapolis ranked 10th in rush attempts (451) and 27th in pass-rate (54.6%). The Colts offensive line also ranked 18th in adjusted line yards (3.98).3
Gore achieved a PPR RB19 finish at age 34 while rushing behind a mediocre offensive line, splitting touches with Mack, and in Brissett’s first season as a starting QB. Now, Mack inherits Gore’s old job and is 11 years younger than Gore was in 2017. Moreover, the Colts’ offensive line improved to fourth in adjusted line yards (4.83) in 2018 after the acquisition of rookie G Quenton Nelson.
How to Play It
Even if Indianapolis’ offensive line regresses slightly, it will still provide better support for Mack in 2019 than it did for Gore in 2017. As a result, it’s difficult to imagine Mack failing to exceed Gore’s 2017 rushing production. Currently, Mack reports an ADP of RB18, which may fairly approximate his median PPR projection. Nonetheless, given my previous research on game script, Mack could easily exceed that projection if Indianapolis executes a run-heavy offensive game plan like it did in 2017.
Mack ranked RB18 in my recently-released RB Tiers article. His PPR profile hasn’t changed, and his potential season-long game script remains unaffected — despite the decline in Indianapolis’ 2019 win total. Moreover, recent history suggests that the Colts can sustain a fantasy RB2 even with Brissett at QB.
The news of Luck’s retirement may enable you to draft Mack at a discount as he falls in late-summer redrafts. He still offers better PPR upside than comparable players like Derrick Henry, Phillip Lindsay, and Chris Carson. If he falls to Round 4 — or even Round 5 — don’t hesitate to hit that draft button.