2014 Team Outlook: Indianapolis Colts
QB Andrew Luck, IND - Stud (low risk)
UNLIMITED CEILING, MVP CANDIDATE. Andrew Luck enters his third year with more upside than any other QB. Luck finished 2013 outside the Top 10 in most relevant quarterback categories, but one must look beyond the numbers to grasp what awaits Luck. The former Stanford grad excelled in spite of injuries across the offense, leading his Colts to a division title with a porous offensive line and non-existent running attack (outside of two games where Donald Brown performed). Luck did his best Tom Brady impersonation and worked with a collection of young, unpolished receivers (along with TY Hilton) to maximize his success. The Colts upgraded their offensive line through the draft and signed free agent Hakeem Nicks. With Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen returning from injury and Trent Richardson likely more comfortable in the offense, the sky is the limit. Luck is currently the fourth QB off the board in most redraft leagues (with a 37.43 ADP), so you are already betting on a large statistical surge for Luck if you draft him. However, if you are comfortable sacrificing an elite WR or RB early in your draft to lock up a sure thing at QB, look no further than Luck.
World Championship Drafts: In dynasty, Luck is normally going QB2 overall (third round) behind only the great Aaron Rodgers. The expectations are high for this Colts QB.
QB Matt Hasselbeck, IND - Not Draft Worthy
It seems as if Matt Hasselbeck has been in the NFL forever. This upcoming season will be his 16th and likely last season, because he has plans to retire at the end of the year. He currently has no value for fantasy purposes, unless Andrew Luck goes down with a multi-week injury. Given the extraordinary weapons the Colts have assembled, Hasselbeck would be a fine free agent play for a few weeks should Luck get hurt.
RB Trent Richardson, IND - Quality Backup
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR CANDIDATE: No player has fantasy owners more perplexed coming into 2014 as much as Trent Richardson. The former Crimson Tide back (drafted No. 3 overall by the Cleveland Browns in 2012) came into the league as the consensus top rushing prospect in his draft class. In fact, at No. 3, he was the earliest running back to be selected in a draft since Reggie Bush went No. 2 in 2006. In fantasy drafts, Richardson was selected in the first round in nearly all leagues in both 2012 and 2013. Owners were punished with an underwhelming rookie year in 2012 and a far more dismal year in 2013 when Richardson was traded to the Colts for a first round draft pick only two weeks into the season. After two years in the NFL, Richardson has a 3.3 yards per carry average, which trumps his 16 total touchdowns and 2,200 total yards in the eyes of most fantasy players. The bar has been set so low that Richardson is currently the 20th RB off the board (58.25 ADP). Many are skeptical of the talk coming out of Indianapolis that consider Richardson to be a three-down weapon. It makes sense to have doubt considering the Colts continue to try and save face on a trade that (so far) has backfired. But, it can also be argued that Richardson was so shell-shocked by the trade that it took a season to adjust. A review of last year's game tape showcases a tentative Richardson behind the line of scrimmage. He simply lost confidence and strayed from what led him to be a top pick. The Colts are now saying that Richardson is back to his old self, relying on instincts rather than over-thinking his runs. As is often the case in fantasy, value can be found when you take a contrarian point of view. Richardson is a tremendous potential value if the Colts stay committed to him. With a void of sure thing running backs available, you can do worse than taking a shot on Richardson in the fifth round.
RB Ahmad Bradshaw, IND - Fantasy Handcuff
Ahmad Bradshaw has always been under-appreciated in drafts; not because of his talent, but his propensity for injuries. He regularly battled foot and ankle problems during his time with the Giants and was sidelined in Week 4 for the remainder of the 2013 season due to a neck injury. To be fair, Bradshaw was far more impressive in his three week stint with the Colts than Richardson was all year, but the Colts gave up a lot to get Richardson, so it's their preference to see that trade through. While Bradshaw is expected to be cleared to play before the season starts (and is likely the first man up should Richardson stumble), it is difficult to assume he can get through a season injury-free at this point in his career. If you were burned by Richardson last year and want to corner the market on Colts running backs not named Richardson, you can grab Bradshaw very late in your draft. With Bradshaw, you get a fiery competitor who has a knack for finding the end zone.
RB Vick Ballard, IND - Not Draft Worthy
UPDATE: Vick Ballard sustained a season ending torn achilles. He's a hard worker and a good guy. It looks like the Colts want to keep him as evidenced by keeping him on the roster. If they placed him on IR now, before cuts are made, he would have to clear waivers before returning to the team's IR. We wish him all the best. This puts even more pressure on Trent Richardson to be the bell cow back with the veteran Bradshaw spelling in relief.
Vick Ballard was impressive in his rookie year and the Colts went into last year comfortable with a running back by committee approach with Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown. As it turned out, Ballard tore his ACL prior to Week 2, Bradshaw was lost after Week 3 and Brown found himself the starter after Richardson (acquired through trade) struggled mightily. Ballard is working himself back slowly, but he will find himself back near full strength towards the second half of the season. Expect him to be a clear third on the depth chart to start the season, but could be a sneaky waiver wire pickup mid-year if Richardson struggles and Bradshaw proves to not be durable.
WR T.Y. Hilton, IND - Solid/Safe Pick
T.Y. Hilton is not receiving nearly as much love as he should. Hilton evolved into a complete receiver in his second year. It helps that he has been able to work with Andrew Luck since Day 1, but Hilton displayed incredible maturity taking on the lead receiving role after Reggie Wayne went down with a season-ending injury last year. Even prior to that injury, Hilton wasn't too far behind Wayne in targets, meaning the natural transition to Hilton becoming the No. 1 sooner than later was already in motion. Hilton and Luck worked to improve their chemistry, most notably seen in big games during epic comebacks. Hilton recorded 612 yards receiving on 41 catches (58 targets) over his last five games (including an incredible 18-224-2 performance in the AFC Wild Card win over the Chiefs.) The knock on Hilton is that he has to share the ball with Wayne, Hakeem Nicks and Dwayne Allen. Hilton is currently the 23rd receiver coming off the board. Look for the chemistry between Luck and Hilton to continually improve and for last year's target to reception ratio of 138:82 (60-percent catch rate) to rise. The Colts will march the ball up and down the field at will this year, meaning there will be plenty of stats to go around to all, with Hilton being the greatest beneficiary.
Editor's note: In five games last year, Hilton accounted for 670 yards. In two of those five games, he scored five TDs. In his other 11 games? He went for 413 yards and zero touchdowns. That is an average of about 38 yards per game. Many receivers struggle with huge swings in production, consistency and workload; however, Hilton is one of the more extreme cases in the NFL. Bench him the wrong week and you might miss 25-percent of his fantasy points for the season. This is something to keep in mind considering Luck's ability to spread the ball around to multiple playmakers.