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
|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%|
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.
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.
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.