Last year, the Indianapolis Colts entered the season as the ultimate defending not-champions. They ended the year with a Wild Card berth and a playoff loss, but a far cry from the unwatchable product that Indianapolis put on the field in 2011, when it found out that without a franchise quarterback, it is pretty awful.
The biggest change that everyone saw from the 2-14 disaster to the 11-5 turnaround was, well, a franchise quarterback. Not only was Andrew Luck a major college star at Stanford that also had every physical gift you can ask for in a quarterback, but he had been on the NFL radar for a long time as the one guy for whom you wanted to "suck." The Colts did all of the sucking they could handle, and in 2012, they did more lucking than anyone expected.
While Indianapolis did go 11-5 and comfortably ride into the playoffs, it was outscored during the season by 30 points. It finished 18th in scoring offense and 21st in scoring defense. Eight of its wins came by less than a touchdown and many involved fourth-quarter comebacks. Luck was great, putting together a more successful season than Peyton Manning had as a rookie, but still threw 18 interceptions and must improve upon a QB rating of 76.5.
While Luck was the focal point of the changes for the Colts last year, he was hardly the only one. The team hired a new general manager, head coach and offensive coordinator. It also added new receivers and two tight ends. More jobs changed hands last year than didn't, and 2013 will include a new offensive coordinator that is rather familiar with Luck. Chuck Pagano's new guy calling offense, Pep Hamilton, previously was the offensive coordinator at Stanford.
There is nothing that Hamilton can do for a porous defense, but can he make the offense run smoother, more balanced and continue to develop Luck into one of the best quarterbacks in the game? Will it be more successful? As successful? Or are the Colts in danger of falling backwards as a team that Football Outsiders ranked as the 23rd best in the league by DVOA?
Here's a preview of every position for the Colts and their value to your fantasy team:
Andrew Luck, 24
2012 stats: 339-of-627, 54.1%, 4,374 yards, 23 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 7.0 yards per attempt, 76.5 QB rating, 255 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns
He entered with the hype and he did not disappoint, both for Colts fans and fantasy owners. Until players like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson came along, putting up 28 touchdowns as a rookie was rather unheard of. Now it's just ... the new normal, I guess.
But Luck was far from perfect. Over a five-game stretch in November and December, Luck threw 10 interceptions. Over his last five games of the season, his highest completion percentage in any one game was 50 percent. The last time Luck was on the field, in a playoff loss to the Ravens, he completed 51 percent of his passes, had no touchdowns, one interception and 5.33 yards per attempt.
Going into your draft this year, the question isn't, "What could Luck be in five years?"; You want to know what he's going to do now. The player that he was as a rookie is a good fantasy quarterback, but is the second-year pro under his second offensive coordinator going to be great?
The Colts let Donnie Avery walk away, but he had one of the worst catch rates in the NFL. T.Y. Hilton had a similar problem, and is expected to take on a bigger role this year. Reggie Wayne is a year older. Coby Fleener disappointed hopeful fantasy owners. Are the pieces in place for Luck to get better?
Luck is reunited with Pep Hamilton, the former Stanford offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach/quarterbacks coach. It will be his first chance to be an offensive coordinator in the NFL, and his experience with that job at the college level is also very limited. It's hard to know or say what the Colts will look like in 2013, but they are expected to try to run the football more, perhaps take more shots downfield, but otherwise keep it similar to what Bruce Arians did last year.
I think that Andrew Luck will improve in year two because so many signs point to him becoming great, but we have to remember to step back, step outside of our bias, and remember that he's not superhuman. He's fallible. Matthew Stafford didn't have quite the same hype as Luck, but even with the greatest receiver in the NFL, Stafford proved fallible. Draft him to be your starter if you choose, he should be a fine one, but don't be afraid to get a high-end backup just in case.
This is particularly true if the Colts don't do a better job of protection. Luck took 22 more quarterback hits than any other quarterback in the league.
2013 Prediction: 350-of-600, 58%, 4,400 yards, 29 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 7.3 yards per attempt, 200 rushing yards, four touchdowns.
Unlikely to see him, unlikely to want to see him. Though Matty is one good looking fellow.
Ahmad Bradshaw, 27
2012 stats: 221 carries, 1,015 yards, 4.6 yards per carry, six touchdowns, 23 catches for 245 yards, zero touchdowns
It is rare to see a 27-year-old running back that's been as successful as Bradshaw get let go, but heavy is the crown that sits upon a football injury and a cheaper replacement. Bradshaw has dealt with chronic foot injuries in his career and missed two games last season with a mild knee sprain. The Giants drafted David Wilson to be their running back of the future, and apparently the future is now.
The Colts signed Bradshaw to be one of their running backs of the present, but not the running back. In interviews, Bradshaw seems content to share the load with Vick Ballard and the rest of the Colts backfield, and none of them look like great fantasy plays at the moment. If you've ever played fantasy football before, you know how quickly that can change. Most coaches aren't stupid enough to ignore a hot hand, and Chuck Pagano in particular doesn't strike me as dumb.
The key to Bradshaw's game throughout his career has been the home run play. The 50+ yard run. That means that even if he's sharing the load with two other guys, you might be benching a 200-yard performance. It's the best and worst thing about Ahmad Bradshaw.
You just need to play your cards right.
2013 Prediction: 180 carries, 810 yards, five touchdowns
Vick Ballard, 23
2012 stats: 211 carries, 814 yards, 3.9 yards per carry, two touchdowns, 17 catches for 152 yards and one touchdown
Does the presence of Bradshaw stunt the growth of Ballard or ignite it? When he took over number one duties in Week 6, Ballard was consistently good and rarely great. His best game came against the Texans in Week 15 when he had 18 carries for 105 yards. But is that the exception or the rule?
It's tough to know whether Ballard or Bradshaw will be the better play this year, or if the Colts will truly commit to the run, so neither can be trusted at the moment to be drafted as an RB1. But both carry good enough value to be drafted.
2013 Prediction: 180 carries, 720 yards, six touchdowns
While Ballard has been a fifth-round surprise, Brown has been a first-round disappointment. Now 26, it would be surprising to see Brown figure it out, but much stranger things have happened. He is not draftable, but keep an eye on him.
Reggie Wayne, 35
2012 stats: 106 catches for 1,355 yards and five touchdowns, 55% catch rate, 40th in DYAR, 196 targets
There is no reason to think that Wayne will slow down at 35 if he didn't slow down at 34. There is reason to be concerned about catching only 55 percent of your targets, but if nobody else on the team is doing better (they aren't) then his 196 targets shouldn't diminish.
And in the fantasy game, targets are the target.
Andrew Luck has probably been admiring Wayne since he was trading PB & J's for Cheez-Its. Expect more of the same in 2013.
2013 Prediction: 90 catches for 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns.
T.Y. Hilton, 24
2012 stats: 50 catches for 861 yards and seven touchdowns, 56% catch rate, 27th in DYAR, 90 targets
Would you believe that Hilton might have been more valuable than Wayne? Is 2013 the year that Hilton pulls the same move on Wayne that Wayne pulled on Marvin Harrison years ago and bypasses him?
While Hilton was one of the big rookie surprises last year, he's not Reggie Wayne. Luck and his receivers need to get on the same page and improve these low catch rates, but Hilton had some drops last year, too. Is he going to move forward or backward? I'd feel safer saying that he just stays the same.
2013 Prediction: 55 catches for 900 yards and six touchdowns.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, 26
2012 stats: 41 catches for 606 yards and five touchdowns, 51% catch rate, 63rd in DYAR, 80 targets
Heyward-Bey comes in from the ashes of being a former top pick of the Oakland Raiders to replacing Donnie Avery. Though Avery had a bit of a breakout year in terms of yardage, he also had the dropsies and a low catch rate.
Welcome to Heyward-Bey and a receiver that only caught a hair over half of his targets last season from Carson Palmer. Will it be better with Luck?
2013 Prediction: 30 catches for 500 yards and two touchdowns.
LaVon Brazill, 24
2012 stats: 11 catches for 186 yards and one touchdown, 46% catch rate, 24 targets
A promising player that has been suspended for the first four games of the year. Don't take any fantasy trips to Brazill. Get it? Haha. Like the country.
Griff Whalen, 23
He did play with Luck at Stanford, so he's got that going for him.
Dwayne Allen, 23
2012 stats: 45 catches for 521 yards and three touchdowns, 68% catch rate, 9th in DYAR, 66 targets
Of all the players at Luck's disposal, Allen may be the most valuable. His 68 percent catch rate comes out miles ahead of his teammates, and in addition to that, he's two years younger than Coby Fleener, the guy that was supposed to be the star tight end for Indy.
You want to believe that Fleener is still going to be "the guy" but it would hardly be the first time that a team double-dipped and found that the flavor at the bottom was better. Remember when the Cardinals drafted Bryant Johnson ahead of Anquan Boldin? The Packers took Brian Brohm in the second and Matt Flynn in the seventh. Right now it's just more believable that Allen is the better, younger player than Fleener. The biggest issue standing in the way of Allen right now is a foot injury that currently has him on crutches, but Pagano says he expects him back for the season opener. Then again, he might not make it back that soon.
He also might be poised to become the next big thing at tight end. If you're the only guy catching more than 60 percent of Luck's targets, then you should assume that Luck will look for you more.
2013 Prediction: 60 catches for 800 yards and eight touchdowns.
Coby Fleener, 25
2012 stats: 26 catches for 281 yards and two touchdowns, 54% catch rate, 33rd in DYAR, 48 targets
It's still possible that Fleener and Allen simply turn into a beautiful duet, but a shoulder injury in Week 7 threw off the rest of Fleener's season and Allen showed just how promising he is in his own right. Pagano expects twice as many catches from Fleener this year, but I'm not quite that hopeful. Not when there's another tight end that's younger and possibly the most reliable skill player on the team.
2013 Prediction: 45 catches for 500 yards and three touchdowns.
The Colts were 21st in the NFL in scoring defense but Football Outsiders ranked them dead last in DVOA. Though they drafted Bjoern Werner in the first round, there is little else as evidence that they're going to get drastically better on D. Some even scratched their heads on how Werner fits on the team.
Even though they play the likes of Jacksonville and Tennessee twice each, the Colts aren't a good bet for your team defense. And even on offense, they're going to need a little more luck this year. Playing in the AFC South is a good head start.