Fantasy football impact: Just how many wild cards does the Colts offense have?

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Between back-from-injury guys and please-don't-be-awful guys, there is a lot to wonder about in the Indianapolis offense in 2014. We break down the fantasy implications.

There are any number of reasons a team might have the number of draft picks it has. Maybe they gave up every pick from now until forever for Robert Griffin III or Julio Jones, only to win 3-4 games a season ago. Maybe they acquired every pick from now until forever for, well, Robert Griffin III or Julio Jones.

Or maybe it's a mishmash of things, like for the Indianapolis Colts in this year's draft. Barring any trades between now and May 8, the Colts will enter the draft with fewest-in-the-league five draft picks. In the past five drafts - the last four plus the one to come - the Colts stand to be only the 12th team to have five or fewer picks in a single draft (including the Jets of 2010, who managed to have only four total draft pick, which would be notable if they hadn't had only three picks in 2009).

Of the previous 10 five-draft-picks teams, six won fewer games the year after the draft than the year before. On average, the teams had nearly a full win fewer than they had had the season before.

Now, as with many of my previous little faux-stats, this is not necessarily indicative of anything. As I said, there are any number of ways a team can have few draft picks. For the Colts, they have lost three different picks to trade - their first-rounder to Cleveland for Trent Richardson; their fourth-rounder to Cleveland for last year's fifth; their seventh-rounder to St. Louis for Josh Gordy. (The Colts do own Baltimore's seventh-rounder, acquired for A.Q. Shipley, giving them a projected five picks.) And, heck, just saying "Team X has Y picks" ignores the fact that all draft picks are not created equal - a team that has the first three picks in the draft and never picks again is in better shape than a team with 12 picks but none before Round 5, to use an extreme example.

But the entire point I'm getting at here is that it's April 29, free agency is for all intents and purposes done, and the Colts have only five draft picks, with no first-rounders. Who the Colts are today is basically who the Colts will be come season start.

So who are they?

Well, they are a couple knowns, and a lot of unknowns.

The Colts went 11-5 in 2013, a year after going 11-5 and leading everyone to forecast regression. Now, some of their success in 2013 was because they played in a god-awful sad-sack division (13 wins total among the Titans, Jaguars, and Texans), but the Colts were also a much better base team in 2013 than they were in 2012 - a point differential of -30 in 2012 improved to +55 in 2013.

They'll enter the 2014 season as the presumptive AFC South division favorites. On the fantasy end, the most relevant changes to the names on the roster sheet are the departure of Donald Brown and the wide receiver shift from Darrius Heyward-Bey to Hakeem Nicks. Of course, the team also gets back injured-in-2013 guys like Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw, Dwayne Allen, and Reggie Wayne.

This all looks past Andrew Luck at quarterback. The third-year star finished ninth in fantasy scoring at quarterback in 2012, his rookie year, jumping to fourth at the position last year. He did that with Wayne hurt for much of last season, Bradshaw for even more, and Ballard and Allen out for the full season. Trade addition Trent Richardson was a disaster, and second-year tight end Coby Fleener didn't exactly wow anyone. Basically, Luck finished fourth among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring last year with only Brown and T.Y. Hilton even coming close to expectations among skill players.

There's really not much to say about Luck that we don't know. In two seasons, he's accounted for 55 touchdowns against 27 interceptions - cutting the latter number from 18 to 9 from Seasons 1 to 2. He completed four more passes in 2013 than 2012 despite attempting 57 fewer. He rushed for nearly two more yards an attempt - again, with few other weapons and with the rest of his running game doing not much.

So if you'll excuse me, I'll stop worrying about Luck here and move on to the rest of the Colts' fantasy-relevant roster, which stands to be much more interesting:

Running Backs

As a Colts fan, I wasn't as gung-ho about the Trent Richardson trade as many of my compatriots last year. Running backs are so very replaceable, and Richardson hadn't exactly been as impressive as the buzz beforehand. That said, even I thought the addition of a recent first-round draft pick would portend good things.

It so very, very didn't. Richardson ran for 458 yards in 14 games with Indianapolis - never topping 64 in a game - and accounted for only four touchdowns. He only averaged as much as 4.0 yards per carry in a game once, in Week 6 against San Diego, with his season-long average falling hundreds of a yard below three.

Unlike, say, Ray Rice, who struggled mightily last year as well, I'm not so inclined to forgive Richardson his sins. Rice saw his yards-per-carry average plummet last year, but so did his backup, Bernard Pierce. When two previously talented guys suffer similar struggles, I'm more inclined to blame the offensive line than individual struggles. But Richardson saw his YPC average go down while Brown's went up, and even Bradshaw's, in only three games before his injury, basically held firm.

No, the blame for Richardson's struggles have to fall mostly on Richardson himself.  Maybe he rebounds back to at least decency - as a Colts fan, I hope so - but you certainly don't want to be relying on him in fantasy. I have him ranked as my 50th running back, 143rd overall, and while that might be a little conservative, it isn't by much.

Do you remember why the Colts went and got Richardson, though? Entering the 2013 season, the team was supposed to run with Ballard as its primary running back, with Bradshaw the change-of-pace and rest back. Ballard had rushed for 814 yards and two scores in 2012 despite now really becoming a big part of the offense until the season's second half. There was reason to trust in him for 2013. That trust lasted as long as the season's opening game, when Ballard ran the ball 13 times for 63 yards - 4.8 yards per carry, so eat that, Trent Richardson - before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season.

That meant Bradshaw had to step up and carry the load and, considering his injury history, that was asking a lot. He was the Colts primary back in Weeks 2 (before Richardson) and 3 (Richardson was there, but hadn't really had a chance to learn the offense). He managed 186 yards on 41 carries (4.5 YPC *ahem*) and two scores before hitting injured reserve with a neck injury.

Basically, the team had Ballard as its No. 1, and he got hurt. Then Bradshaw was No. 1, and he got hurt. Then Richardson was No. 1, and he got awful. Brown finally took the reins late in the season, and he did well, but he was so very much a last-ditch effort.

Entering 2014, the Colts should have all three of Ballard, Bradshaw, and Richardson in the fold. That bodes well for Indianapolis, though it makes it difficult for fantasy players - it's hard to picture any single guy of the three being anything more than a flex play to start the season.

Wide Receivers

So if you put 2013 T.Y. Hilton on a roster with the Hakeem Nicks and Reggie Wayne from, say, 2010, you'd really be on to something. Such a shame you can't.

Which is not to say the Colts' receiving corps in 2014 will be bad by any means. They do have the current Hilton, and the current Hilton is coming off of a thousand-yard season, and has 12 touchdowns in two NFL years. Wayne, before his ACL injury in Week 7 last year, had been on pace for 1,150 yards. And Nicks amassed 896 yards in 15 games in New York - while somehow scoring zero touchdowns, and no I can't explain that.

In my way-too-early top 200, I had Hilton and Wayne ranked close together - Hilton 45th (WR17) and Wayne 55th (WR23). Nicks, meanwhile, was much lower - 157th, WR60. Only, that was before we knew where Nicks would be playing next season. Putting him as a third receiving option in that offense, with that quarterback, means Nicks will shoot up the ranks. If I had to do it over, I might bump both of the top two guys down five or eight slots, but Nicks would be in the top-100 range, and would be in the mid-30s among wide receivers.

(This ignores the potential contributions of late-season come-uppers like Griff Whalen and Da'Rick Rogers. Barring injury to others on the roster, these guys are nothing more than what-if guys to start the season, but they are worth keeping eyes on.)

Tight ends

Maybe it was too much reliance on soft factors, but I had really high hopes for Fleener in Indianapolis, hanging out with his Stanford buddy Luck. But Fleener and Allen shared the Colts' tight-end slot in 2012, both as rookies, and Allen dominated Fleener, going for 521 yards and three scores against Fleener's 281 and two.

Fleener developed more in his sophomore campaign, going for 608 yards and four touchdowns, after Allen hurt his hip in the season's first game. Still, despite the team not exactly being laden with other offensive options, Fleener finished only 13th in fantasy scoring among tight ends. He barely beat out Brent Celek and barely-played Rob Gronkowski.

Assuming Allen is healthy for 2014, he has a higher ceiling than Fleener. Of course, his floor is lower as well, as Fleener clearly has the history with Luck and the track record now.

I ranked Fleener 94th overall, 12th among tight ends. I left Allen off my rankings altogether, and for the life of me I can't remember why - if I had to guess, I'd say I just forgot him, which would be pretty sad. Honestly, if I were doing it again now, I wouldn't move Fleener much, if at all, but I'd slot Allen only a few spots behind him.

The Colts will be relying on a lot of recently injured and/or unproductive guys in 2014. Bradshaw, Ballard, Wayne, and Allen are all expected to return healthy, while Nicks and Richardson are the "please don't suck again" guys. This is a mixed proposition. On the one hand, you don't want to have so many wild cards in one offense - basically, it's Luck and Hilton and please-oh-please-oh-please. On the other, though, these aren't guys with everyone hoping they can maybe be something again someday. For the most part, these are guys who got hurt (or unproductive) and everyone said "Okay, 2014 it is."

You don't love having to rely on a whole host of question marks, but if you have a bunch of maybe-cooked noodles, your chances are better throwing six or seven of them at the wall than just one. Something's gotta stick.

At least, the Colts have to hope so. Because they can't count on adding a whole lot through the draft.

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