Saturday, August 20, 2022

2022 Colts Fantasy Football Preview: Can Matt Ryan get Indianapolis over the hump?

2022 Colts Fantasy Football Preview: Can Matt Ryan get Indianapolis over the hump?

Chris Towers previews the Colts Fantasy outlook: Sleeper, bust, breakout and more

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The Colts‘ search for an answer at QB brought them to Matt Ryan in the hopes he can provide the stabilizing presence Carson Wentz couldn’t be. This offense doesn’t ask much from the QB, but that’s not to say the QB doesn’t matter. Specifically, better QB play could help Michael Pittman take a step toward stardom after a solid breakout 2021. 

2021 Review

Record: 9 – 8 (13)

PPG: 26.5 (9)

YPG: 347.1 (16)

Pass YPG: 197.7 (26)

Rush YPG: 149.4 (2)

PAPG: 30.6 (27)

RAPG: 29.4 (5)

2021 Fantasy finishes

QB: Carson Wentz* QB14

RB: Jonathan Taylor RB1, Nyheim Hines RB48

WR: Michael Pittman WR18

TE: Mo Alie-Cox TE26, Jack Doyle* TE29

*No longer with team

Number to know: 22.2

Taylor was the best running back in Fantasy last season, and he’s likely to be the No. 1 pick in nearly all leagues this season as a result. However, his 22.2 points per game in PPR were the lowest by a No. finisher at running back since 2017, despite rushing for 1,811 yards and 18 touchdowns. The problem is obvious: He just doesn’t catch very many passes.

Taylor is more than capable as a receiver, with an 84.4% catch rate and 7.3 yards per target in his two seasons, but the Colts just don’t use him as a pass catcher as often as the other elite running backs for Fantasy. It’s entirely possible that changes this season, because I think he’s more than capable of it, but we haven’t heard much this offseason about the Colts making Taylor more of a focal point in the passing game.

In fact, we’ve heard more about Nyheim Hines taking on a bigger role than anything else — head coach Frank Reich told reporters he would pick Hines for his Fantasy team in 2022, and has talked about making sure they get him more involved in the passing game after his catches fell from 63 to 40 from 2020 to 2021. There could still be room for Taylor to have an expanded role as a pass-catcher even if Hines catches more — the statuesque Ryan is going to dump off more than Wentz did — but it doesn’t sound like the Colts are intending to turn Taylor into peak Le’Veon Bell.

This means he still needs to be arguably the most productive rusher in the league to challenge for the RB1 spot. He’s obviously capable of a repeat in that regard, but a repeat of his 5.5 yards per carry on league-high volume seems unlikely — Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson are the only players to have multiple seasons of 5.5 yards per carry on 300-plus carries, and only two others have done it multiple times on 250-plus carries. Taylor is about as safe a bet for high-end production as any running back can be, but regression wouldn’t be a surprise. 

2021 Offseason

Draft Picks 

2. (53) Alec Pierce, WR

3. (73) Jelani Woods, TE

3. (77) Bernhard Raimann, OL

3. (96) Nick Cross, DB

5. (159) Eric Johnson, DT

6. (192) Andrew Ogletree, TE

6. (216) Curtis Brooks, DT

7. (239) Rodney Thomas II, LB

Additions

QB Matt Ryan, CB Stephon Gilmore, DE Yannick Ngakoue, CB Brandon Facyson, QB Nick Foles

Key losses

QB Carson Wentz, CB Rock Ya-Sin, OL Eric Fisher, OL Mark Glowinski, WR T.Y. Hilton, WR Zach Pascal

Available Opportunity 

28 carries, 5 RB targets, 106 WR targets, 43 TE targets 

2022 Preview

Rankings

Chris Towers’ projections

QB Matt Ryan PA: 542, YD: 3957, TD: 24, INT: 13; RUSH — ATT: 15, YD: 36, TD: 1
RB Jonathan Taylor CAR: 329, YD: 1481, TD: 14, TAR: 54, REC: 43, YD: 390, TD: 2
RB Nyheim Hines CAR: 73, YD: 312, TD: 3, TAR: 65, REC: 47, YD: 349, TD: 2
WR Michael Pittman Jr. TAR: 136, REC: 84, YD: 1030, TD: 7
WR Alec Pierce TAR: 66, REC: 45, YD: 563, TD: 3
WR Parris Campbell TAR: 47, REC: 35, YD: 466, TD: 2
TE Mo Alie-Cox TAR: 54, REC: 35, YD: 463, TD: 2

Biggest Question

What does Jonathan Taylor do for an encore?

In nearly all Fantasy leagues, Taylor is going to be the No. 1 pick, so it’s worth noting that, though he finished as RB1, his 22.2 PPR points per game were the lowest by a top scorer at the position since 2017. Taylor might be the best pure runner in the league and he plays on a team that gives him a ton of carries, but I’m not sure you can count on 1,800-plus yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground again. Does he see an increased role in the passing game after catching 36 and 40 passes in his first two seasons? That might be the key to unlocking another level for him, and the less-mobile Ryan at QB could help him get there.

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One sleeper, one breakout and one bust

Pittman is the only non-RB who had more than 45 targets returning to the Colts from last season, so there’s an opportunity for the No. 54 pick in this year’s draft to step in right away and produce. Pierce is big and fast and showed the ability to win down the field in college, but his college production profile leaves a lot to be desired – he was in the 36th percentile in dominator rating and 57th percentile in target share among draft-eligible wide receivers, which is pretty middling. Still, he’ll have an opportunity to play right away and could emerge as a viable flex play before long.

On the surface, it kind of just looks like Pittman got more opportunities, but he really did take a huge step forward from his first season to his second season – he was played 80% or more of the snaps nearly all of his rookie season but ranked just 57th out of 84 wide receivers in yards per route run, min. 300 routes. He improved to 16th out of 90 in 2021, as he did a much better job of getting open and earning targets. Wentz is probably a more physically gifted quarterback at this point than Ryan, but Ryan is a much steadier presence, one we’ve seen feed receivers at a high volume in the past, something Wentz never really did. There might be another step forward left for Pittman to take here, even in a low-volume pass offense.

I mean, who else am I supposed to pick here? For the record, I think Taylor is very unlikely to be a true bust, in the sense that he just isn’t worth starting if healthy. He has less injury risk than just about any other back based on his track record, and he’s such a talented rusher that the weekly floor is always going to be pretty high. However, because he’s so relatively dependent on high rushing volume, he could be hurt if the Colts defense struggles or Ryan just has a melt-down season at 37. Still, the worst-case scenario is still probably something like a better Nick Chubb, so there’s very little risk. The issue is more with the possibility that he’s just very good as the consensus No. 1 RB, rather than a consistent difference maker.

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