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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Indianapolis Colts

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Colts made the second round of the playoffs last year, taking another small step toward a championship run. They made it there in spite of a receiving corps stripped barren by injuries and awful play and without a consistent run game or quality offensive line.

That's the power of a stud quarterback for you.

Entering Year 3 in Indianapolis, the Colts have further built around Andrew Luck and have themselves a heck of a squad on both sides of the ball. Prized offseason acquisitions include tackle machine D'Qwell Jackson, receiver Hakeem Nicks and second-round pick Jack Mewhort at guard. Nicks should give Luck a terrific target across the middle and down the sideline. Pairing him with a receiving corps that will get back Reggie Wayne (torn ACL) and tight end Dwayne Allen (hip) should free up T.Y. Hilton to run deeper routes and stretch defenses. Mewhort will help stabilize the O-line to keep Luck upright and Jackson will aid a defense that struggled vs. the run last year (26th in the NFL).

So it's all coming together for the Colts, though the one area on the roster they didn't make any big additions to might be the most perplexing: the running game. Indy let Donald Brown walk right to a backup role in San Diego and didn't add another runner via free agency or the draft. It's a sign they're banking on a rebound year from Trent Richardson after he was awful in 2013. That's a risk Fantasy owners might run away from.

Best Indy WR is ... T.Y. Hilton

Maybe we're taking a chance here on Hilton, but he's easily the most threatening receiver on the Colts roster. Last year the offense tried to peg him into the No. 1 receiver's role after Wayne got hurt and it backfired until the end of the year. Coach Chuck Pagano said this offseason they had to keep working and working on Hilton's game in order for him to be effective -- perhaps in the process he got some hard lessons on how to be a top-flight receiver in the league. It paid off over his final three games of the year (28 catches, 482 yards and two scores) and should parlay into bigger opportunities this year, particularly if Wayne, Nicks and at least one tight end is drawing coverage away from him. We could see defenses try and take Hilton away, a practice that really kept the Colts offense stuck in neutral the second half of last season. Though he might be inconsistent, Hilton should still be expected to be the most productive Colts receiver without necessarily being the leader in receptions.

Bust candidate ... Reggie Wayne

We're conditioned to think of Wayne as a quality Fantasy starter. Forget it. It's not so much that he's coming off of ACL surgery and turning 36 in November as it is the Colts topping off their receiving depth this offseason. Nicks was signed, Allen is coming back from hip surgery and the rookie Moncrief will have a chance to get in the mix a little bit. Last year Nicks was part of a 2-3 man show. Now, Luck will have the luxury of spreading the ball around and not having to lean on Wayne for the 11.7 targets per game he averaged over the last two seasons (Wayne caught around 57 pct. of those targets, by the way). Wayne has also posted six scores or less in five of his last six seasons. Please don't overrate him.

Bounce-back candidate ... Hakeem Nicks

2013 Touches Leaders
759 total touches
Trent Richardson 185 (157 car., 28 rec.) 24.4%
Donald Brown 129 (102 car., 27 rec.) 16.9%
T.Y. Hilton 84 (82 rec., 2 car.) 11.1%
Andrew Luck 63 car. 8.3%
Coby Fleener 52 rec. 6.9%
Ahmad Bradshaw 48 (41 car., 7 rec.) 6.3%
All Others 198 26.1%

Ok, so it's not real hard to think of Nicks as a bounce-back candidate after scoring as many touchdowns as you did last season (assuming you're not an NFL player). But what if he did better than last year's 56 catches and 896 yards, too? We're thinking that's a real possibility for Nicks, who hasn't posted over 900 yards or four-plus scores for two seasons now. Count on both of those things happening in 2014 as he finds himself in a spot where he's not really the No. 1 receiver but rather a quality outlet on a team loaded with them. We suspect that defenses won't think about double-teaming Nicks or sending coverage closer to his side of the field. It'll give him multiple chances to get open and move the chains. Will he regain his form as a 1,100-yard, seven-touchdown receiver? We won't discount that possibility, though no one should expect as much. Counting on Nicks as a potential third Fantasy wideout is an acceptable idea.

Schedule analysis

It's a good slate for the Colts, who face some challenging defenses but none of the elite units in the league. And even if they did ... remember how they fared vs. Seattle last season? Indy even has a perk: Three straight home games after a Week 10 bye. They basically are staying in Indiana for the month of November. If there's a complaint it's that they face three teams coming off of a bye (Giants in Week 9, Patriots in Week 11, Jaguars in Week 12). They also waste a great matchup (at Tennessee) in Week 17. Expect a lot of high-scoring games as the Colts take on the powder kegs of the NFC East as well as the Patriots, Bengals and a Week 1 showdown at the Broncos.

Training camp battles

How will the tight end snaps shake out? After Dwayne Allen got hurt in Week 1, Coby Fleener had a ton of opportunities to break out last season and didn't grab the brass ring. This isn't to say that Allen will go on to be the Colts' every-down tight end -- it might mean that both guys get relegated to complementary/red zone roles. That won't help Fantasy owners.

How will the run game shake out? This is a question the Colts probably would like to know the answer to themselves. Ahmad Bradshaw was re-signed after having two vertebrae in his neck fused together. Vick Ballard is coming back from a torn ACL suffered last September and Trent Richardson is coming back from a season gone horribly wrong. Unless Dan Herron or Zurlon Tipton go off in training camp or someone else waltzes into the Colts facilities, that's what they have. The commitment the team made to Richardson last fall suggests he'll get another grand opportunity.

Bold prediction

Andrew Luck finished last season as the seventh-best quarterback in Fantasy, despite posting only six games with 20-plus Fantasy points, the lowest of any passer who averaged 20 or more Fantasy points per game. It's also his second consecutive season with only six. But those years are over -- Luck will fare much better and be far more consistent this season. His receiving corps, as illustrated above, is deeper than ever. His offensive line is stronger than ever. His schedule is better than ever. His running game is ... well, it's there and probably not strong enough to take the ball out of Luck's hands. But here's a fun fact: Luck had those six games with 20-plus points last year and another three with 18 or 19 points. That's how close Luck was to having nine 20-plus-point games, as many as Nick Foles. Luck will again be a Top 10 quarterback and potentially Top 5. Not bad for a player you can nab in Round 5 or 6.

Injury report

Reggie Wayne (torn ACL), probable for start of training camp. ... Ahmad Bradshaw (neck), questionable for start of training camp. ... Vick Ballard (torn ACL), probable for start of training camp. ... Dwayne Allen (hip), probable for start of training camp. ... Donald Thomas (bicep, quad), probable for start of training camp.

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Player News
Redskins all but mum about pace of Robert Griffin III recovery
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:57 pm ET) Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan are taking a far quieter approach to letting the world know about the progress of his recovery from a dislocated left ankle than they did in a similar situation last season, according to CSNWashington.com.

Griffin and Mike Shanahan gave frequent updates in 2013, when he was rehabbing from a knee injury. But they have said little about his current situation, though he is expected to return sometime this season, perhaps even in a few weeks. Shanahan provided virtually nothing to go on Wednesday.

"He's doing a great job, and like I said, for whatever injury he has, he's probably going to recover quicker than the normal human being, faster than anybody probably," Shanahan said. "So it won't surprise me when he comes back. ... Whatever the timetable is, I have no idea."

Griffin has not played since sustaining the injury early in Week 2.


Garrett Graham staring at a great matchup
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:55 pm ET) The Cowboys pass defense has held up better than we expected so far this season, with one notable exception; they cannot seem to locate tight ends on the field. That could work out quite nicely for Garrett Graham in Week 5, as the Texans get set to take on Dallas.

Graham has just 95 yards through three games since returning from a back injury, so this could be his best chance to breakout. The Cowboys are allowing 17.5 Fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, by far the highest total in the league. They have allowed 98.8 yards per game and six total touchdowns, including at least one in each game.

Graham is, by no means, a slam-dunk starting option for Week 5. However, given the matchup, you could do worse. At this point, the Cowboys have to prove they can stop tight ends before we believe it. 


Report: Ben Tate to be limited Wednesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:55 pm ET) Browns running back Ben Tate, who's coming back from a sprained knee, will be limited in practice Wednesday, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Tate is tentatively expected to start Sunday at Tennessee.

Texans receivers could succeed in a shootout
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:47 pm ET) Andre Johnson is still the top target in the Texans passing game, but DeAndre Hopkins has outproduced him so far. Still, Fantasy owners should feel comfortable relying on both in Week 5 against the Cowboys.

Dallas has done a better job than we expected on defense this season, with opposing wide receivers averaging just 16.0 Fantasy points per game. However, this receiving duo has been productive so far, and we expect that to continue; they are averaging 138.3 yards per game through four games.

The Cowboys defensive backfield has held up well, but this receiving duo is too productive at this point to consider benching, especially in what could end up being a shootout. Jamey Eisenberg has Johnson ranked as low as 35th among wide receivers, but Dave Richard's ranking has Johnson inside the top-30. Consider Hopkins a solid starter, with Johnson more of a flex or No. 3 option. 


Lions DT Ndamukong Suh angered by free agency speculation
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:44 pm ET) Lions defensive end Ndamukong Suh has neither confirmed nor denied that he will bolting Detroit after this season. He declined to elaborate Wednesday on the subject.

"I don't know where that story came from," he told the Detroit News. "I want to talk about (Week 5 opponent) Buffalo."

According to several reports, Suh was angered enough by his interview that he slammed the door on the way out. He is eligible for free agency after this season.


Cecil Shorts says he's 'week-to-week' with hamstring injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:44 pm ET) Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts won't play Sunday against the Steelers, and he said he's "week-to-week" with his hamstring injury, reports the Florida Times-Union. Shorts caught seven passes for 60 yards and a touchdown over the past two games before suffering the injury against the Chargers.

Doug Martin still searching for breakout game
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) Buccaneers running back Doug Martin is looking for his first big game of the season, but it is not clear if that is coming in Week 5 against the Saints.

New Orleans' defense has struggled against running backs this season, allowing 21.5 Fantasy points per game through four contests. However, this might be a game where the Buccaneers have to abandon the run early, since the Saints' offense tends to be unstoppable at home. Opponents rushed for just 93.78 yards per game against the Saints in the Superdome last season, compared to 129 on the road.

Martin's role might just depend on how the game goes this Sunday. If the Buccaneers can keep it close, he could put together a solid performance, as he did in Week 3 a year ago, when he rushed for 144 yards against the Saints.

Consider him more of a No. 2 back this week, with both Dave Richard and Jamey Eisenberg ranking him toward the bottom of the top 20


Arians: QB Carson Palmer shoulder 'getting better'
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:25 pm ET) Bruce Arians would not commit either way to the possible availability of Cardinals starting quarterback Carson Palmer for the Sunday game in Denver. But he did speak with optimism about his recovery from a shoulder injury that has prevented him from playing since Week 1.

"He's still doing a lot of treatment with (his shoulder)," Arians told the Denver Post. "It's getting better."


Jaguars rule out Marqise Lee for Week 5
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:23 pm ET) The Jaguars announced that rookie receiver Marqise Lee won't play Sunday against the Steelers. He has not played since Week 2 due to a hamstring injury.

Report: Lions DT Nick Fairley limping Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:14 pm ET) Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley walked with a noticeable limp in the locker room Wednesday and declined to answer questions from the media, per the Detroit News.

Fairley has played through a biceps ailment in recent week, but there has been nothing to indicate any problems with his legs. He did manage his first sack of the season Sunday against the Jets.


 
 
 
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