Fantasy Football Target Practice: The 2020 Indianapolis Colts
The objective of our Target Practice series is to give you an idea of a team’s possible target distribution heading into the 2020 season. We try to choose teams that might be giving fantasy football managers headaches when trying to figure them out. The Colts certainly fall into that category.
Frank Reich has been the head coach for the Indianapolis Colts since 2018 and will be entering his 3rd year with his 3rd new QB to start the season. In 2018, with Andrew Luck, the Colts threw the ball 644 times, 3rd most in the NFL. In 2019, with Jacoby Brissett, they threw it 513 times, 8th fewest in the league. Predicting the target floors and ceilings of this team will depend largely on what offense they will run with Philip Rivers at QB in 2020. Rivers’ game more closely resembles Andrew Luck, so we should expect more passes than 2019 but Rivers is also 38 years old and hasn’t thrown the ball more than 600 times since 2015.
The Colts enter 2020 with 118 vacated targets up for grabs. Most of these came from TE Eric Ebron (52), WR Chester Rogers (28), and WR Dontrelle Inman (21). The addition of Philip Rivers, and the information from previous vacated targets research, leads me to believe that a good portion of these targets will either stay with the TE position or find their way to one of the Colts RBs.
TY Hilton- Floor: 110 | Ceiling: 140
TY Hilton enters 2020 as basically the only proven commodity as a pass-catcher in Indianapolis. While their games don’t exactly compare, if Philip Rivers feels the affinity for Hilton that he did for Keenan Allen, 2020 could be a special year. Hilton spent most of 2019 hurt and still ended up being targeted seven times per game. Considering it is likely the Colts throw the ball more in 2020, that seems to be his very safe floor. In 2018, with Andrew Luck and higher passing volume, Hilton was at about 8.5 targets per game. Keenan Allen was averaging between 8-9 with Rivers at the helm, so this feels like a safe ceiling. It is hard to deny that, barring injury, Hilton is likely to have a solid year in Indianapolis this season.
Parris Campbell– Floor: 65 | Ceiling: 85
It was a rookie year to forget for Parris Campbell. The Ohio State speedster was hampered by injury and only played in seven games, catching just 18 balls for 127 yards and one TD. The Colts spent a 2nd round pick on the 23-year-old, so they won’t be writing him off just yet. To increase excitement, they recently said that he would have the first crack at the slot role in this offense, the same role that Keenan Allen played for Rivers. Campbell isn’t close to Allen when it comes to polish but he is insanely faster. If Rivers gets the ball into his hands early, he should be able to make big things happen. He will still be the WR2 at best behind Hilton, so his floor and ceiling are limited. Zach Pascal was the WR2 in this offense last year and played a few games as the WR1. He ended the season with 72 targets. In 2018, the WR2 was Chester Rogers and, despite the higher passing volume, he was also targeted 72 times. Campbell receives a small bump for his talent but there isn’t a lot of difference in targets at his floor or his ceiling. The only question is what can he do with the targets?
Michael Pittman– Floor: 25 | Ceiling: 90
The Michael Pittman / Mike Williams comparison pretty much writes itself. Both are 6’4″ and about 220 lbs. Their Combine/Pro Day numbers are almost identical. Even their college stats are very similar, though Williams put his up in basically three years. All in all, Pittman should be the new Williams for Rivers and that could mean very different things. Williams was all but ignored his rookie year, being targeted just 23 times and not even topping 100 yards on the season. In 2018, his targets jumped up to 66, he reeled in 43 catches for 664 and 10 TDs. Not quite the yardage you want from your big-play guy but those TDs helped. In 2019, he was targeted 90 times, finally crossed 1000 yards on just 49 receptions, but only scored two TDs. This pretty much lays out our range of outcomes for Pittman. The Colts offense will differ from the Chargers but when Rivers looks at Pittman, he will see Williams. It’s really a question of does he see a rookie or his big-play guy from a year ago?
Nyheim Hines– Floor: 60 | Ceiling: 90
From the day Philip Rivers signed, no fantasy asset was more hyped up than Nyheim Hines. Rivers has always targeted his RBs and if Hines could assume the role that Austin Ekeler had in 2019, with 108 targets, he could be the single best sleeper in fantasy football. While there is still hope for Hines, that hype was before the Colts added Jonathan Taylor in the NFL Draft. While Taylor will cut into Hines’ work, with Rivers, there will be more work to gro around. Hines was targeted 53 times last season and 81 times in 2018. Those feel like the perfect floor and ceiling for him in this offense, with a small bump to account for the addition of Rivers.
Jonathan Taylor- Floor: 50 | Ceiling: 80
Jonathan Taylor is arguably the best RB to enter the NFL since Saquon Barkley and there may not have been a better landing spot than behind the Colts offensive line. While Taylor is likely to run wild in this league, it may be a little while before he establishes his fantasy value. He’s likely to split carries with Marlon Mack and targets with Nyheim Hines. His talent dictates that he’ll do more with his touches than both of the other guys, but his volume will be limited, at least to start. To establish his floor and ceiling, it took some math. If he’s at his floor, Hines will be at his ceiling, and vice versa. In 2018, with a less mobile QB, the Colts targeted their RBs 125 times. For 2020, I’m projecting that up to 150, to account for Rivers and his love of RBs. Basically, Taylor will get whatever Hines doesn’t in the passing game and that should still be solid when you add in his carries.
Marlon Mack- Floor: 10 | Ceiling: 25
Marlon Mack is not a passing-down back, plain and simple. He was at 23 targets in 2018 and just 17 last year. Even with Rivers, he is less-talented and less likely to see the field in passing situations than Hines or Taylor. He may still see 200+ carries, he will not be catching the ball.
Jack Doyle– Floor: 75 | Ceiling: 100
While much has been made of Rivers love for RBs, most would tell you he loves his TEs just as much. I would call this a fallacy. If you look back to his glory days with Antonio Gates, you’re going to see a different Rivers than what we’ve seen over the last few years. Jack Doyle is not Antonio Gates. No tight end with Rivers has crossed the 100 target mark since 2013 and he only targeted the entire position 98 times last year in Los Angeles. Recent history in Indianapolis has been slightly better, with Eric Ebron seeing 110 targets in 2018. This offense does not have a ton of weapons at WR, so it is probable that Doyle is able to repeat what he did in 2019 without much issue, establishing his floor. Ebron’s 2018 feels like his ceiling but bumped down due to the fact that Rivers is unlikely to target a TE more than 100 times.
Trey Burton– Floor: 35 | Ceiling: 75
Burton was an utter disappointment in Chicago but is familiar with Frank Reich from his time in Philadelphia. During that pass-heavy 2018 in Indianapolis, the TE2 was targeted just 33 times, and the TE2 in this offense averages just 40 targets over the last two seasons. His floor is low and would make him irrelevant in fantasy football. His ceiling would require either him winning the job over Doyle or a transition to more two-TE sets. Neither seems very likely but both are within the realm of possibility.