2020 Indianapolis Colts Team Outlook: New QB, New Expectations

SI Fantasy expert Shawn Childs examines the entire Indianapolis Colts franchise with a fantasy-minded analysis. Can QB Philip Rivers right this ship back into the postseason?
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Coaching Staff

Over his first two seasons as a head coach, Reich went 17-15 with a playoff appearance in 2018. The loss of QB Andrew Luck before last season left the Indianapolis Colts in a weaker position offensively.

His path to Indy came after a successful 2017 as the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles (Super Bowl win).

Reich started his NFL coaching career with the Colts in 2008 while having 12 seasons of coaching experience with four years coming as an offensive coordinator.

Nick Sirianni returns for his third season as the offensive coordinator for Indy after spending the four years as the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach for the Chargers. Sirianni has 11 years of experience coaching in the NFL. He is a fast riser in the NFL at age 37, and he was up to the task in his rookie season running Indy’s offense.

In 2019, the Colts fell to 25th in offensive yards (7th in 2018) and 16th in points scored (361). They scored 72 fewer points than in 2018 (433 – 5th).

Sirianni has direct ties to Philip Rivers due to his coaching for the Chargers.

Matt Eberflus did an excellent job running the defense in 2018 after spending the previous seven seasons with the Cowboys as the linebackers coach. Indianapolis slipped to 16th in yards allowed and 18th in points allowed (373). Eberflus has 11 seasons of coaching experience in the NFL.

Free Agency

Indy signed Philip Rivers to take over at quarterback with the hopes of making another playoff push this year. Rivers didn’t play well in 2019, but he has a long history in the NFL.

They lost TE Eric Ebron and WR Devin Funchess from their offense. Ebron was a vital part of the Colts' offense in 2018 with Andrew Luck behind center while Funchess was a non-factor last year due to injuries.

The Colts didn’t re-sign DE Jabaal Sheard, S Clayton Geathers, or DT Margus Hunt. They also lost CB Pierre Desir to the Jets after playing poorly last year. Indy added CB Xavier Rhodes, DT Sheldon Day, and CB T.J. Carrie to their defense.

Rhodes is a former first-round draft pick (2013) who lost value in coverage over the past two years. Day projects as a rotation player off the bench. Carrie played well in 2017 for the Raiders, but his play regressed in back-to-back seasons for Cleveland.

The only other move of value was the loss of T Joe Haeg, who signed with Tampa.

Draft

Indianapolis didn’t have a selection in the first round in the 2020 NFL Draft. They added WR Michael Pittman and RB Jonathan Taylor with their two choices in the second round.

Pittman runs excellent routes with the fight to win with his body when asked to get open in the middle of the field. Pittman is a hand’s catcher that will have success in 50/50 jump ball opportunities. Defenses will struggle to cover him with one-on-one coverage on the outside.

For his size (6’4” and 225 lbs.), Pittman offers an excellent combination of speed (4.52 forty) and quickness. He does need to get stronger (13 reps in the bench press), which will help him vs. physical cornerbacks.

Taylor comes to the NFL with an edge in size (5’10” and 225 lbs.) and speed (4.39 forty yard dash). His game is built of running up the middle in tight quarters. I see a better version of Jordan Howard while needing to develop as a pass-catcher. Taylor has the vision and quickness to turn a relatively small run into a big gainer. His speed also allows him to make plays on the outside.

His one strike is his battle with fumbles in his career while fighting at the end of inside runs when facing early contact.

In the second round, the Colts invested S Julian Blackmon. Last year he made the transition from cornerback to safety. His best value should come in coverage based on his previous resume. Blackmon needs to add more bulk to handle his workload vs. the run while improving his vision and tackling. Blackmon lacks elite speed, which will hurt him when in a chaser mode in coverage.

Indy took a future shot at quarterback in the fourth round with Jacob Eason.

Eason is a slow-footed pocket passer with questionable upside when under duress. His ticket to success is his right arm while needing to improve his drop back, reads, and decision making.

Defenses will attack him with the blitz, which closes his edge with his big arm. If given time to throw, Eason will challenge defenses at the second and third levels. He has no value with his legs.

G Danny Pinter was the choice in the fifth round. He’s a converted tight end with a developing skill set. His game projects well in run blocking while owning a foundation in athletic ability. Pinter needs to get stronger and develop in his pass blocking.

With four picks in the sixth round, Indy added DT Rob Windsor, CB Isaiah Rodgers, WR Dezmon Patmon, and LB Jordan Glasgow.

Windsor lacks the size (6’4” and 290 lbs.) and strength to anchor a defense inside vs. the run. His vision plays up while offering the quickness to make plays outside in his box. He’ll disappear vs. power and lose his footing when asked to hold his ground.

Rodgers falls into the upside gamble category. He offers an edge in speed while showing playmaking skills. His shortfall comes with his size (5’10” and 170 lbs.). The Colts may use him in the return game, which invites durability concerns.

Patmon feels like a deep-speed wide receiver while having a power/size combination to his game. His hands and quickness have risk, but he does run better routes than expected. Patmon doesn’t excel in the open field with the ball in his hand.

Glasgow plays hard with fight and vision, but he lacks the speed to overcome his below-par size (6’1” and 226 lbs.). His best hope comes against the run on early downs while trending toward a special teams player.

Offensive Line

The Colts jumped to 7th in the NFL in rushing yards (2,130) with 17 TDs and 14 runs over 20 yards. Their ball carriers gained only 4.5 yards per rush.

Indy fell to 30th passing yards (3,314) with 22 TDs and 10 INTs. Their offensive line had tremendous growth in 2018, leading to only 18 sacks and 77 QB hits, but the drop from Luck to Brissett in 2019 led to 32 sacks and 78 QB hits. Indy had 38 completions over 20 yards, and 3 passes gained more than 40 yards.

LT Anthony Castonzo

Castonzo played at a top level for his position over the last seven seasons. He continues to be an edge in pass protection while showing some fade in run blocking. The Colts drafted him in the first round in 2011. He’s played in 104 of the last 112 games.

LG Quenton Nelson

Nelson was indeed a significant improvement on the offensive line after being selected sixth in the 2018 draft. He's a power player with high upside as a run blocker, which wasn’t the case in his rookie season. Last year Nelson blossomed into one of the best players in the league in the run game. His value in pass blocking ranks highly as well.

C Ryan Kelly

Kelly ended up being a great find in the 2016 draft after the Colts drafted him in the first round. Last year Kelly showed growth as a run blocker thanks to reliable technique and understanding of his position. He’s allowed multiple sacks in his career while trending upward in his overall success.

RG Mark Glowinski

Over the last four seasons, Glowinski made all 16 starts in two seasons (2016 and 2019). He has job loss risk due to his failure in pass protection. Glowinski has a chance to be a league-average blocker in the run game. Incoming rookie, Danny Pinter looks like his top threat for playing time.

RT Braden Smith

Smith moved into the starting lineup in Week 5 in 2019, where he helped Indy solidify their offensive line. He allows too much pressure with some risk in sacks. Smith is the future at right tackle after Indy added him in the second round. Smith has a mechanical feel to his game while lacking the vision to anticipate a defender’s plan in the pass rush. His best value comes in a power run game.

Offensive Line Outlook

This offensive line could be the best one Rivers has ever played behind, which points to a rebound in his game. Overall, Indy has three studs and one player that ranks above the league average. The run game should push forward in 2020 with a rebound in passing yards as well.

Offensive Schedule

The data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).

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This information is based on 2019, which will work as our starting point for 2020. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.

2019 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2019.

2019 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.

2019 Adjustment is based on the 2019 league average and the 2019 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.

The Colts should have an edge in four games (CLE, CIN, and JAX X 2) for their rushing offense. They’ll have the most challenge on the ground against the Jets, the Ravens, and the Raiders.

Indy has two-below par games (PIT and BAL) while the Bears and the Browns played well defending the passing game in 2019. They have a plus matchup against the Lions and two favorable games vs. the Texans.

Offense

The Colts want to control the clock with a top-flight running game that should only get better with Jonathan Taylor added to the offense. Philip Rivers likes to take deep shots in the passing game, which invites a move toward the league average in passing yards and pass attempts. The structure of the wide receiver position should be improved as well in 2020.

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Here’s a look at the early projections for the Colts, which will be fluid all summer after taking in all injury updates and training camp news:

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Quarterbacks

Philip Rivers

Over the last nine seasons, Rivers ranked poorly in interceptions in four different years (20, 18, 21, and 20). He passed for over 4,000 yards in 11 of his previous 12 seasons. Rivers finished with his lowest TD production (23) since 2007 (21).

The move to Indy leaves him with a decline in the receiving game at RB, WR, and TE while trying to improve on the empty QB stats (3,279 passing yards and 22 TDs).

T.Y. Hilton is a top wide receiving option, and he should be rewarded with a few more chances downfield this year. The Colts invested a second-round pick in WR Parris Campbell in 2019 and WR Michael Pittman this year.

It is tough to believe in Rivers offering starting fantasy value based on his team’s expected game plan and the overall receiving structure.

Rivers has an ADP of 126 in the early draft season as the 23rd quarterback drafted. I have him projected for 3,583 yards with 25 TDs and 13 Ints. Possible matchup value with his success tied to the growth of his two young wide receivers.

Jacoby Brissett

In his two seasons as a starter for Indy, Brissett went 11-19 while tossing 31 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. Over this span, he averaged only 195 passing yards per game. Last year he passed for 300 yards in three games (310/2, 326/4, and 319/1) with each contest being played at home. Part of his value comes on the ground (56/228/4).

Jacob Eason

After a mediocre rookie campaign at Georgia (2,430 passing yards and 16 TDs over 13 games), Eason missed 2017 with a left injury in Week 1. He transferred to Washington in 2018, leading to a lost season.

In his first and only year behind center for Washington, he passed for 3,132 yards and 23 TDs.

The Colts won’t need him for a year or two, which makes Eason a developmental player.

Other options: Chad Kelly

Running Backs

The rushing opportunity is rising for the Colts with more momentum expected in 2020, but last year they ranked low in running back catches (72) and receiving yards (483) with no touchdowns. In his career, Rivers has been one of the top quarterbacks in league passing to running backs (148/1357/9 on 182 targets in 2019 for the Chargers). The problem here is Indy may rotate in three running backs this year.

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Jonathan Taylor

Over three seasons at Wisconsin, he gained 6,174 rushing yards with 555 touchdowns and 42 catches on 968 touches. Taylor had success each year on the ground (2017 – 299/1977/13, 2018 – 307/2194/16, and 2019 – 320/2003/21) while flashing at times in the passing game (26/252/5) last season.

His speed also allows him to make plays on the outside. I was surprised to see the Colts add Taylor, who has a similar skill set as Marlon Mack. Indy looks on a path to rotate three RBs in 2020. For Taylor to gain momentum, he needs to work his way into more chances in the passing game. His ceiling is higher than Mack.

In my initial set of projections, I have Taylor on a path for 1,264 combined yards with ten TDs and 22 catches. He ranks as the 24th running back based on my outlook. Fantasy owners set his bar as the 18th RB in the early drafts with an ADP of 32.

Torn here, but some positive coach-speak over the summer could push me more in his camp.

Marlon Mack

Mack improves every year, but he still hasn’t played a full season of games in his career. Last year he set career highs in rushing attempts (247) and rushing yards (1091) while regressing in the passing game.

The Colts gave him 21.6 touches per game over the first five weeks, which led to two strong showings (25/174/1 and 29/132). Over his final five starts, Mack slipped to 14.2 touches per game despite averaging 4.9 yards per rush. He had only three targets and two catches over this stretch.

The change to Philip Rivers at QB invites more catches to the RB position, but Mack doesn’t look positioned to take advantage of the expected uptick.

A hard runner with the ability to have big games. With Jonathan Taylor added to the roster, Mack takes a big hit in value. I lowered his projects to 651 combined yards with five TDs and 11 catches.

Overpriced for me based on his ADP (75).

Nyheim Hines

The drop-down to Jacoby Brissett at QB led to a regression in chances for Hines in 2019. Andrew Luck looked his way 81 times in 2018, leading to 148 overall touches. His opportunity in the passing game dropped by about 30 percent last year.

QB Philip Rivers likes to feature the RB position in the passing game (2018 – 107/1050/7 and 2019 – 148/1357/8) based on the previous two seasons with the Chargers, which should be a win for Hines this year.

An outside chance at 70+ catches with 700 combined yards and about five TDs, but he’ll struggle to get on the field on early downs. My conservative projection came to 618 yards with four TDs and 61 catches, which is about ten percent below his possible ceiling.

Possible value in PPR leagues based on his early ADP (153).

Jordan Wilkins

Over his first two years in the NFL, Wilkins gained 5.8 yards per carry with a minimal opportunity in the passing game. His best game in 2019 came in Week 16 (9/84/1) while only receiving over ten chances in one game (56 combined yards with two catches on 13 touches).

In his final and best season at Mississippi, Wilkins did show more upside as a receiver (26/241/1). Looking like the odd man out in 2020 with RB Jonathan Taylor added to the roster.

Other options: Bruce Anderson, Darius Jackson

Wide Receivers

The difference in the wide receiver production was 70 catches for 872 yards and 73 targets without Andrew Luck behind center last year. Indy has had a weakness at wide receiver for the previous three seasons, which led to a peak of 52.1 percent of their quarterback completions in 2018.

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Indy should look more toward the  position this year with a step-back in options at tight end and questionable pass-catching depth at running back.

T.Y. Hilton

Over the first three games in 2019, Hilton caught 20 passes for 195 yards and four TDs on 25 targets. He missed Week 4 with a quad issue, and then another five contests with a calf injury. Hilton caught only 15 balls for 195 yards on 28 targets over his final five games.

He gained over 1,000 yards in his last five seasons with QB Andrew Luck behind center.

Last year the Colts’ WRs only caught 155 passes for 1,891 yards and 15 TDs over 258 targets. The change to QB Philip Rivers should create more long play-action passes while being an excellent player over the short areas of the field. Trending toward a WR2 in PPR leagues with a floor of 78 catches for 1,062 yards and about eight TDs while being a value in the early draft season (ADP of 69).

Michael Pittman

Injuries (ankle and shoulder) cost Pittman playing time in his sophomore (23/404/2) and junior (41/758/6) seasons at USC. When given a chance to shine while being healthy in 2019, he delivered a stud wide receiver season (101/1275/11). He broke through in Week 4 (10.232/1) against Utah, ending in November with three exceptional games (13/146, 11/180/1, and 13/104/1).

There’s a lot to like here, and I expect him to be drafted higher than his scouting ranking. I would fight for him on draft day as I expect him to develop into a complete player with a 100/1300/10 skill set.

Fantasy owners haven’t given him much respect in the early draft season (ADP of 201). I see a starting point of 46 catches for 614 yards and a chance at five touchdowns.

Parris Campbell

For all the fantasy owners looking to bet on the 2019 draft class, they should look no further than Campbell to see the possible downside of a young receiver. He missed nine games due to four injuries (broken hand, hamstring, broken foot, and sports hernia).

Campbell came into the league with a high catch rate (80.4) in his final year at Ohio State while working as a possession type receiver with scoring ability. His challenge in 2020 is finding enough targets to be relevant while beating out incoming rookie Michael Pittman on the depth chart. Don’t dismiss.

Must follow this summer while expecting him to start the year as the WR3 for the Colts. I set his early protection to 43 catches for 522 yards and four TDs.

Zach Pascal

At times in 2019, Pascal had the look of an upside WR2 for Indy. His breakthrough game came in Week 7 (6/106/2) while also looking playable in three other starts (5/76/1, 7/109, and 5/74/1). The Colts had him listed as a starter in 13 weeks, but he finished with fewer than 20 yards receiving in eight of those games. More of a WR4 in this offense in 2020 if WR Parris Campbell emerges as expected.

Other options: Marcus Johnson, Dezmon Patmon, Daurice Fountain, Chad Williams, Auston Dulin

Tight Ends

The tight end position tends to be active in the Colts’ passing game, but their 2020 structure points to a lower ceiling. I expect some of their tight end chances to be shifted to the wide receiver position this year.

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Jack Doyle

The Colts want to have success on the ground with a ball-control offense. A move to Philip Rivers at QB should create more chances in the short passing game for both the RB and TE. After an excellent season throwing the ball to the TE in 2018 (108/1216/21 on 165 targets) with Andrew Luck behind center, Indy slipped to 82 catches for 903 yards and five TDs. Doyle worked well in 2017 as a short-area target, but his play regressed last year. More steady than explosive with some growth in his chances with Eric Ebron now earning his keep in Pittsburgh.

Trey Burton

Burton flashed in 2017 with the Eagles (23/248/5), earning him a starting job for the Bears the next season. He finished 8th in TE scoring (148.10) in PPR leagues in 2018, but Burton only had one impact game (9/126/1).

Last year he missed Week 1 with a groin issue and the final seven games with a hip injury that required surgery in December. In his eight weeks of action, Burton failed to gain over 20 yards in any contest while failing to score a touchdown. A dark horse TE2, while needing Indy to attempt more overall passes to help his chances.

Other options: Mo Alie-Cox, Matthew Lengel, Xavier Grimble, Ian Bunting, Farrod Green

Kicker

Rodrigo Blankenship

Over four seasons at Georgia, Blankenship made 80 of his 97 field-goal tries (82.5 percent) with some success over 50 yards (6-for-9). He didn’t miss an extra point (200 chances) in his college career. In 2019, he set career highs in field goals made (27) and attempts (33). Last year the Colts scored 42 TDs while creating 31 field goal attempts. The upgrade to Philip Rivers at QB and more talent added in this year's draft calls should lead to more scoring. A big leg kicker with the ability to shine in his rookie season.

Defensive Schedule

The Colts’ defense has four games (NYJ, CHI, PIT, and CIN) vs. teams that struggled to run the ball in 2019. Indy has a tough matchup against the Ravens, followed up by three other challenging games (MIN and TEN X 2).

Their pass defense doesn’t have one game on the schedule against an offense that had success throwing the ball last year. The Colts have five contests (MIN, NYJ, CHI, BAL, and PIT) that ranked poorly last year in passing yards.

Defense

Indy improved to seventh in rushing yards allowed (1,567). They gave up 4.1 yards per carry with ball carriers scoring eight touchdowns.

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The Colts need growth in their pass defense after falling to 23rd in pass yards allowed (3,982). Their defense finished with 41 sacks while giving up 29 passing TDs with 15 interceptions.

DE Justin Houston

In his first season with the Colts, Houston posted 44 tackles with 11 sacks and three fumble recoveries. His value rushing the quarterback came in at his highest level since 2014 (22 sacks). Houston continues to add support to the run defense.

DT DeForest Buckner

The Colts traded their first-round draft pick in 2020 to acquire Buckner from the 49ers. Over the last two seasons covering 32 games, he delivered 19.5 sacks with 129 tackles while scoring one touchdown and recovering five fumbles. Buckner has consistently ranked above the league average against the run. San Fran drafted him in the first round in 2016.

DT Denico Autry

After success in 2018 in sacks (9) for Indy over 12 games, Autry posted only 3.5 sacks last year in his 14 weeks of action. He’ll knock some passes (four in 2019). His play against the run faded after showing league-average value in 2017 and 2018.

DE Al-Quadin Muhammad

Indy gave Muhammad four starts over the first four weeks last year, but he finished the final 12 games with a role off the bench. His upside is limited with more risk in the pass rush than against the run.

LB Darius Leonard

Over his first two years in the NFL, Leonard has 284 tackles, 12 sacks, seven Ints, 15 defended passes, and one touchdown over 28 games. His play in run support is improving thanks to his edge in tacking. Leonard is a top player at the linebacking position.

LB Anthony Walker

Walker has been active as well in tackles in 2018 (105) and 2019 (124) while chipping in with minimal sacks (3.4) over this span. He has two career interceptions over 31 games. Last season Walker ranked poorly defending the run while missing too many tackles.

LB Bobby Okereke

In his rookie season, Okereke worked best against the run and in pass coverage. He made six starts with minimal value in sacks (1). Okereke comes to the NFL with a great vision and instincts while lacking size (6’1” and 239 lbs.). His first step helps him make plays when attacking the line of scrimmage. He’ll get in trouble vs. big bodies while losing too many battles vs. physical runners.

CB Rock Ya-Sin

Ya-Sin has the tools to be a top cover corner with upside in press coverage. His feel for the game is an edge, but he needs to improve his awareness and technique. Ya-Sin looks the part of an upside player while continuing to improve.

In his rookie season, he allowed too many big plays while allowing a couple of touchdowns. Ya-Sin tackles well, which helps support the run defense.

CB Xavier Rhodes

In his career, Rhodes tends to allow short yards per catch, but he will give up some TDs and the occasional big play. His value in coverage is sliding, which is why he needed to find a new home. A drop down in role should improve his success in defending the pass.

CB Kenny Moore

For the second straight season, Moore held receivers to short yards per catch. He likes to keep his opponent in front of him, which leads to a high catch rate. Moore had growth in vs. the run while picking up four sacks and five Ints over his last 26 games.

S Malik Hooker

The Colts drafted Hooker in the first round in 2017, but they did not pick up his fifth-year option this spring. His play improved against the run, but offenses did pick on his more in the passing game. There’s talent here while needing growth in all areas to be considered an edge on defense.

S Khari Willis

Willis is a physical safety with a winning combination of strength and size (5’11” and 213 lbs.). He plays hard with his most value coming when attacking forward. His change of direction skills put him at risk in coverage if matchup with a top WR.

In his first season in the league, Willis finished with 71 tackles and no sacks. He held receivers to short yards per catch.

Team Defense Outlook

This defense has three star players with enough talent at the second and third levels. They should show improvement in 2020 in all areas. Their schedule is favorable against the pass, which also gives the Colts’ defense some fantasy value. I’d prefer to play them at home and roster Indy as a backup defense if your league size allows that opportunity.

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