Everything was fine for a time in Indianapolis. As fans have come to expect, their starting quarterback got off to a fast start, hitting Donte Moncrief with a 55-yard pass that led to a Frank Gore touchdown. The Colts went on to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers behind some solid passing and timely defensive turnovers. Just like things are supposed to work out.
But the reality is that the quarterback was not Andrew Luck present. Apparently, the quarterback will not be Andrew Luck come opening day. In fact, no one seems to be able to tell the fans exactly – or roughly – when Andrew Luck will be healthy.
Instead, it was Scott Tolzien going 7-10 for 123 yards this weekend. Then an undrafted free agent named Stephen Morris came in and went 12-16 for 143 more yards. Respectable numbers they were and far better than they managed in the first two preseason games. But their efforts did little to calm the anxiety of Colts fans everywhere who wonder what is going on with their star passer.
Fantasy fans want to know, too. Without Luck, all bets are off on most of Indianapolis’ other assets.
What did we learn
We learned it is possible to win a game without Luck. Tolzien looked much sharper and more confident running the offense. He has good receivers to aim for and a solid runner to support him. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that Tolzien or Morris or Luck, if he returns, still has to play behind the same offensive line that allowed a franchise quarterback to endure 41 sacks last year and got him injured in the first place.
If Colts’ fans are relying on the defense to improve, they probably will eventually, but it is not unreasonable to expect the seven new starters on that side of the ball to still be adapting and familiarizing themselves with each other for some weeks into the season.
Frank Gore still looks reliable and he has a potential helper this year in rookie Marlon Mack. But unless Tolzien continues to improve to the point of being considered a passing threat, teams will undoubtedly stack the box against the Colts runners all year. Gore has defied Old Man Time for quite a while, but age and eight in the box may prove to be too much this season.
As Luck’s expected return went from “by the opener” to “questionable for the opener” to the current “no timetable,” his ADP dropped from top five to its current QB12. Some owners may use the same logic they are using when contemplating Ezekiel Elliott. That is, he can be a big boost when they get into the playoffs. Here’s a better idea: pick another quarterback.
There is no guarantee Luck will be back at all this year. There is less guarantee he will be the same Andrew Luck if he does come back. This is not a drug suspension we are talking about. It is a throwing shoulder that is obviously not healing as initially expected. Wait until next year on Luck.
We have to assume Tolzien will be the quarterback, even though the Colts insist they have made attempts to sign an older veteran and will certainly be analyzing the waiver wire Saturday. T. Y. Hilton has seen his ADP drop from an early second round pick to a third round WR12. That will continue to drop as Luck’s unavailability becomes more widely recognized.
Donte Moncrief has already fallen from the sixth round to a late ninth round pick as the WR42. Neither should be a total bust as the Colts don’t seem set on abandoning the passing game even with Tolzien. But they are certainly risky. I would think Hilton may level off as a WR20 with Moncrief going in the upper 40s or low 50s. With a decent quarterback signing or a miraculous recovery by Luck, they could both look like sneaky bargains later in the year.
Gore will undoubtedly face the biggest challenge he has had to face in a while. Teams who would never stack the box against Luck will certainly play much closer to the line with Tolzien behind center. The rookie Mack may get a share of the load just to show Gore some mercy. Gore can certainly run through contact as we have seen all his career, but we can’t expect him to do it on every carry at age 34.
Neither back has seen much of a fluctuation in their ADP. The difference is that I listed Gore as a bargain at RB35 earlier in the year. Now I think that is about right. I wasn’t buying in on Mack, but he may be worth a late round flyer (RB50) as Gore will certainly need some help this season.
Those other fantasy guys
Dwayne Allen averaged 5.6 points per game with the Colts last season. Now that he is with the Patriots, some owners seem to think they can simply add those points to Jack Doyle’s 2016 per game average to predict what Doyle will do this year (11.0 combined). 11 points per game would be two more points than Rob Gronkowski averaged. It wasn’t going to happen with Luck. It certainly won’t happen without him. The Colts still use two tight ends who will split whatever Tolzien throws at them, making Doyle not-quite the TE12.
Adam Vinatieri is a top ten fantasy kicker even with a questionable quarterback. He finished at number five last season.
The Colts are working hard to improve their defense. But lots of new faces and lots of time on the field will be too much to make them draftable. Maybe next year.
So… that’s that.
The Colts ownership and management owe an apology to their fans. Not only have they failed to ever address the offensive line charged with protecting their franchise quarterback, they also failed to plan for the worst-case scenario after his shoulder surgery.
But that’s not important. What we need to know is this: what can a Tolzien-led team do to put me in the fantasy playoffs? Not as much as a Luck-led team, but the state of chaos in Indianapolis might offer some shrewd bargains by draft day. We’ll be watching carefully, so feel free to check back in with us daily for the latest updates and advice.
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