In my last piece, I wrote about my favorite Best Ball stacks for the Underdog Fantasy Best Ball Mania II tournament. So you may be wondering why I’m separating out a piece on the Colts as a target for drafts, and why I didn’t just include them as a stack I love?
I do, of course, like the Colts as a stack, but they are a slightly unique situation where I really want to get exposure to this team even if not stacking. That’s not generally how I think about roster construction when I go through my drafts, so I think it’s important to call it out separately.
I outlined teams like the Jets and Titans that I like stacking up in best ball tournaments such as Best Ball Mania II because of the upside they present specifically as a stack. If I don’t get AJ Brown, I’m not going out of my way to target the Titans because I’m not really benefiting from their offensive explosion if it does come. I’m probably more bullish than the field on the Jets offense, but I’m not going out of my way to load up on them even if my draft doesn’t lead me towards stacking them.
The Colts are this rather peculiar situation where ideally I do want to leave with some piece of their offense in just about every draft. It’s not more important than my roster construction or player value, but I am pushing most of the Colts up my rankings to give me much better odds at being over the field on this offense.
Here’s why –
Yes, I know Phillip Rivers is gone, and their left tackle situation is a little sketchy with newly signed Eric Fisher replacing Anthony Castonzo. But this offense is still outrageously undervalued.
In 2020, the Colts were 10th in yards per game and 9th in points per game in 2020, and other than the 2 players mentioned above, they returned their entire offense. They return one of the best offensive lines in football, a very sharp coaching staff, and a group of very talented weapons.
Before we get to those weapons, it’s clear that Carson Wentz is the key here. I know, I watched him play last year too. My goodness, that was bad.
I totally get it if that has you concerned, but I don’t think you should be. Wentz is still just 28, and he’s not *that* far removed from an MVP caliber season. Prior to his injury in 2017, he was on an MVP type path, lighting up the scoreboard en route to an 11-2 start for the Eagles. He was not quite as good in 2018 and 2019, but he still posted a 48-14 TD to INT ratio with north of 7 yards per attempt throwing to the likes of Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Greg Ward.
The fall off last year was quite bad by both the numbers and the eye test, but it’s certainly within the range of outcomes that was an outlier year of a good player on a bad team. Doug Peterson proved to be a fake sharp, and Wentz was at his best working with new boss, Colts Head Coach Frank Reich. Reich was his OC in Philly (and OC for their Super Bowl win), and he left in 2018 to become the head coach of the Colts… almost exactly when the Eagles (and Wentz) began to struggle.
The Colts have a top tier roster, and they’re in win now mode. So the fact the Reich traded for Wentz is a pretty major sign of confidence that he believes Wentz can still play. This is a coach, after all, who had Wentz playing at his absolute peak, was able to build a top 10 offense in the league around the corpse (and noodle arm) of Phillip Rivers, and even trot out a respectable offense with Jacoby Brissett after Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement.
Maybe Wentz can’t play anymore, but Reich has earned our trust, in my opinion, and he’s built an offense even an average QB can step into and be successful.
As mentioned above, the elite offensive line remains in place even as they replace Anthony Castanzo on the blind side. The stable of weapons is both deep and talented, even if lacking the perceived elite players of some other offense. For our purposes with best ball, they are also all insanely cheap, outside of RB Jonathan Taylor.
JT is the top prize of the offense, and a RB I think we should be targeting in the first round. After CMC & Dalvin, I think basically every RB has question marks this season. JT proved his upside (and ability to catch passes) down the stretch last season, and he’s going around 6th overall (and the RB6) on Underdog right now. Occasionally he can be had closer to the end of the 1st round, which is an absolute steal. JT is a rock solid floor play, assuming health, and I think he has the ceiling to finish as the RB3 given their schedule (more on this later) and his offensive line.
Beyond Taylor, this entire offense is discount shopping. The priciest player outside of JT is Michael Pittman Jr., a guy I am extremely bullish on this upcoming season. You often hear about the 2nd year WR breakout, and I think that’s what we get from Pittman this season. Pittman was a monster at USC before being picked 34th overall last year, and he posted a ‘meh’ 40 catches for 503 yards on 61 targets in his rookie season. However, he quickly became an every down player (92% of snaps in Week 2), and I think he was a pretty poor fit with Captain Checkdown himself, Phillip Rivers. Pittman is a 6’4 225 pound. 4.5 40, 36 inch vertical specimen on the outside, and his blend of downfield ability did not mesh well with Rivers’ inability to throw the ball downfield. If anything, I’d argue Wentz pushed the ball down the field too much in Philly, which is perfect for a Pittman breakout year. The uncertainty around their pass catchers is keeping a talent like Pittman around beyond pick 100 right now after the likes of Brandin Cooks, Jaylen Waddle and Marquise Brown, and that’s a pretty huge mistake.
Beyond that 2nd year breakout in Pittman, the Colts have even more weapons for cheap. They brought back T.Y. Hilton, who is unlikely to produce like prime T.Y., but he was still an effective downfield player last year. With Pittman on one side, T.Y. on the other, and a QB more willing to push the ball down the field and to the boundaries, defenses are going to struggle with this vertical offense, which leads to big plays and spiked weeks for us in best ball. T.Y.’s ADP is 138, after players like Rondale Moore and Jalen Reagor.
The Colts have 2 more WRs that you can scoop up in the last 1-2 rounds of drafts that offer as much, if not more, upside than anyone in their range. Zach Pascal is legitimately going undrafted right now on Underdog, and he’s probably the favorite to be the starting slot receiver for this team right now.
The only reason he’s not going higher is because of another young WR for this team, Parris Campbell. Campbell didn’t get much time as a rookie in 2019, but he looked to be a prominent part of the offense in week 1 of 2020 with 9 targets and a carry on 82% of snaps. Unfortunately he made it all of 2 plays into their week 2 game before suffering a season ending knee injury.
There’s no way to know exactly how things would have shaken out amongst these WRs last year if Parris hadn’t gotten hurt, but that’s precisely what is keeping all of their ADPs so low (as well as noodle armed Rivers).
If you don’t get Taylor in the first, the Colts also present multiple quality zero RB picks later in drafts. Nyheim Hines is a bit better on full point PPR sites, but he’s going after dust balls like Kenyan Drake and James Conner, and he has shown spiked week upside in this offense when the game script favors his receiving acumen.
Marlon Mack was going far, far higher than this entering last season, and should return to backup JT this year. JT is clearly the top dog here, but if anything were to happen to him, Mack is just one year removed from a 1,000 yard season in this exact offense, and we know how valuable the lead RB can be behind this OL.
Finally, maybe my favorite pick of them all (and currently my highest owned player on Underdog) is Mo Alie-Cox. Trey Burton is gone, and the former VCU basketball star only has Jack Doyle and rookie 4th round pick Kylen Granson to compete with at the position. Alie-Cox has done is perform in any action he’s received for the Colts, so much so that they placed a 2nd round tender on him this offseason in order to keep him. He was the 6th highest rated offensive TE via Pro Football Focus last season, and he was 4th in yards per route run amongst all TEs in the NFL. He even graded out as one of the top passing blocking TEs in the league. Jack Doyle will still get snaps in this offense, but the loss of Burton combined with his continued growth puts the 6’5 260 pound former basketball player right on the verge of a huge breakout this season. We know Wentz (and Reich) love to use their TEs over the middle of the field, and Alie-Cox is going to be going much, much higher than his ADP of 208 once camp breaks later this summer. He can be had in the last couple rounds of drafts right now, but that won’t be the case when we start getting reports about him running with the 1s.
The final cherry on top for the Cotls is their schedule. They have one of the weaker schedules in the league by a myriad of metrics, and that makes sense when you consider just their division. The Texans are a laughing stock, the Jags defense should still be quite poor, and the Texans defense is likely to be in the bottom half of the league. They also draw the Jets, and their schedule is quite perfect for Best Ball Mania on Underdog. Week 15 they have the Patriots, but in Week 16 and 17 when we make our money, they get the Cardinals and the Raiders. Everything is set up for offensive success for this team, particularly at the exact time we need them for best ball purposes.
Clearly I am a fan of the Colts stack, but unlike many stacks I like to target in best ball, the Colts are a lot more than that for me this year. This is an offense that has all the factors we look for in an offense with elite upside for fantasy, but for various reasons is being extremely undervalued by the market. You can absolutely stack up Wentz/Pittman/TY/Alie-Cox or any other combination of Colts on your best ball teams, but this offense is also one of the rare teams where I think we should be actively looking to get exposure to them as much as we can in our best ball portfolio, even if it’s not just in stacks. Every single one of these players from JT all the way down to Campbell, Alie-Cox Mack and Pascal has tremendous appeal at their current draft prices, and we should take advantage as long as we can.