The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the eventual start of the 2020 draft season. Here, we’ll tackle pressing fantasy questions, #FantasyHotTaeks, and team win totals.
First up, the Indianapolis Colts.
Does Jonathan Taylor finish No. 15 or better among RBs in .5 PPR?
Liz: Top-15 is aggressive. But top-20 to 25? That I’d buy. The Colts didn’t draft a bruiser with sub-4.4 speed and over 950 colligate touches in the second round if they didn’t plan to run him. Last year, while working behind a top-ranked run-blocking unit, Marlon Mack averaged just 3.5 YPC when facing base fronts. That’s not great. And while staying mindful about an atypical offseason, there’s no discounting what the Colts spent on a workhorse back. Mack isn’t going away, but Taylor figures to get dibs on early downs and the goal line. With Nyheim Hines gobbling up the targets on passing downs, I just don’t think there will be enough opportunities to keep Taylor inside of the top-15.
Andy: The year ahead clearly isn’t going to be anything like a typical NFL season. Teams have largely scrapped their offseason programs and, as of this writing, we have no idea what training camps will look like. All of this, of course, is bad news for the 2020 rookie class. The right approach for fantasy managers is probably to fade the first-year skill players. It won’t surprise me at all if the Colts ease Taylor into the offense in September, which could impact his end-of-year finish in the ranks.
But the more interesting and important question is where we’ll be ranking Taylor on a weekly basis when we reach December. By that stage, he definitely has a shot to rank as a rock-solid RB1, a top-10 player at his position. I don’t expect him to have a significant receiving role, but I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t own the early down carries, assuming a healthy season. He has blistering speed and obvious big-play ability; Taylor averaged 2,058 rushing yards per season as a collegiate player. Indy’s offensive line is among the best in the game, so his setup is perfect.
Scott: Like my colleagues, I’m concerned about rookie ramp-up time in this unusual offseason. Perhaps it means less to running backs than other skill positions, but it’s still something I’ll be carefully considering. Taylor had a modest receiving background at Wisconsin, along with some issues with fumbling and drops. And I don’t think Mack will be completely kicked to the curb; like most teams, Indianapolis wants to deploy multiple backs. I don’t consider Taylor a complete fade, but I expect to be slightly under market on him. If the price comes to me, fine; if it doesn’t, lots of fish in the sea.
Are you buying or fading a T.Y. Hilton rebound season?
Andy: Oh, hell yeah. Of course. Hilton entered 2019 with five 1,000-yard seasons on his resume, averaging 75.0 yards per game for his career. He’s unquestionably one of the best receivers of the past decade. His issues last year were health and sketchy QB play. Hilton actually opened the year with 306 yards and five spikes in his first five games, so it’s not as if he was showing signs of decline. Philip Rivers isn’t exactly at his peak, but he’s still competent enough to support a low-end WR1. I’ll take whatever discount is available on Hilton.
Liz: BUYING. Despite unexpectedly drawing targets from the team’s anticipated back-up and injuring his quad in the second game of the season, Hilton averaged more than 16 fantasy points per game over the first eight weeks of last year. That means he was producing low-end WR1/high-end WR2 numbers with Jacoby Brissett throwing the ball and on a bad leg. Unfortunately, he suffered a significant midseason calf tear that kept him sidelined/hobbled down the stretch of 2019. That really tanked his fantasy value. But assuming health, and acknowledging that Philip Rivers is an upgrade, Hilton figures to clear 1,000 receiving yards — a benchmark he’s managed in five of the last seven seasons — and remains a high-floor WR2 for fantasy purposes.
Scott: Like Taylor, I’m not dead-set against drafting Hilton. But it will be at a reactive price, not a proactive one. Hilton heads into an age-31 season, his ninth in the league. He needs to get accustomed to a new quarterback, perhaps with significantly less practice time. And Hilton has never been a dominant touchdown scorer, although head coach Frank Reich was creative with Hilton in tight spaces last year. Generally, I’d rather be a year early than a year late when a player is on the back nine. I’m not making it a binary call, but my lean is to find someone in the same pocket who has less mileage and a little more floor.
If Hilton is Philip Rivers’ top target, who’ll be Indy’s second-leading pass-catcher?
Liz: MICHAEL PITTMAN. The Colts clearly believe they have a window with Philip Rivers at the helm and are trying their darnedest to give him some real weapons. Using their first pick of the 2020 NFL Draft on Pittman, a big (6-foot-4 and 223 pounds) and reliable (dropped just 2.8% of his career catchable targets at USC) target, is evidence of the team’s fondness for the rookie. And while Zach Pascal did admirable work in 2019, he managed a true catch rate of just 69.5 percent. Plus, his volume was inflated by Hilton’s numerous missed games. Even with an abbreviated offseason, Pittman figures to work ahead of Pascal and Parris Campbell (who shed a walking boot only three months ago).
Andy: Indy’s receiving corps features a pair of interesting young wideouts, Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman, and the least interesting fantasy tight end in recent memory, Jack Doyle. Any of those three could see significant volume in 2020. But if we’re just talking receptions here, I’ll take third-year back Nyheim Hines as a strong candidate to catch 75-80 balls. He caught 63 passes on 81 targets as a rookie in 2018, back when the Colts had a high-volume passing game. My expectation is that the team will put the ball in the air 600-plus times in 2020.
Scott: Probably Jack Doyle by default, though I share Andy’s unenthused attitude there. The late-round pick that intrigues me is Parris Campbell. Like Pittman, he was a second-round pick (though a much later one), but Campbell at least got his feet wet a little last year, spent a season in the building. That familiarity edge makes him my longshot curiosity in this offense. (I also should acknowledge that Pascal’s 41-607-5 season happened. That’s not insignificant. He might make sense at the end of a Best Ball draft.)
Liz: TREY BURTON FINDS FANTASY REDEMPTION IN 2020. Another TE bust for the Bears, Burton suffered through an injury-riddled 2019. According to current reports, however, he figures to be back to health by the fall. If he’s able to stay on the field, there’s a chance he outperforms Jack Doyle, who averaged only 3.8 targets per game while sharing snaps with Eric Ebron from Weeks 1-12 last year. A natural hands catcher with plus athleticism, Burton could flirt with a 50-500-5 stat line in 2020.
OVER/UNDER on 8.5 Win Total from BetMGM
Scott: This might come as a surprise given how lukewarm I was on some of the Indy stocks above, but I’ll gladly take the OVER on the win total. That’s a bet on Frank Reich and the team’s organization, which has built and drafted well for a few years now. The Colts have excellent overall depth, though a lot of it comes at positions that won’t directly correlate to fantasy value.
The over pick is also a statement on the mediocre AFC South, which includes a good-not-great Titans team, a Texans club dealing with Bill O’Brien issues, and a Jaguars franchise that’s driven into a ditch, heading for a multiple-season rebuild. Reich couldn’t save the Colts last year when the Andrew Luck retirement ambushed the organization in August, but he’s the ace in the hole as Indy likely returns to playoff contention.
Follow Scott: @scott_pianowski
Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF
Follow Andy: @AndyBehrens