NFL Fantasy: Is Marlon Mack a Week 6 must-start?

Marlon Mack is this week’s waiver wire darling after gaining 91 yards last Sunday. Does that make him a must-start in Week 6?

Indianapolis’ offense has new life since Jacoby Brissett took over at quarterback. TY Hilton regained his status as a premier wide receiver. Defenses’ respect for the passing game opened things up for Frank Gore, a top-15 rusher over those weeks. Winning two games has fans re-engaged as the prospect of a season without Andrew Luck doesn’t seem as dark as it did at 0-2. 

This week, something new was added to the equation. Rookie running back Marlon Mack exploded onto the scene, gaining 91 yards on just 9 carries against the San Francisco 49ers. His effort included a 35-yard scamper that helped the Colts move into position for their game-winning field goal. A touchdown made Mack a top-five NFL fantasy running back. 

Naturally, NFL fantasy fans went gaga over this. Mack was a popular sleeper option after a good preseason. Prognosticators feel like they are about to get one right. Surely, after such a breakout performance, Mack will see more touches. At ten yards per carry, he only needs one or two more to get 100 yards every week! 

So, Marlon Mack is a must-start?

Let’s take a step back and see just how this all came to be. What changed in the Indianapolis attack in Week 5 that allowed Mack to be the star of the show? For one thing, Mack played – he sat out the previous two weeks with an injury, so we only have the first two weeks to compare. 

On opening day, Mack touched the ball 11 times, including a 21-yard catch. His 45 total yards were one thing, but he also had exactly as many carries as Frank Gore. For the touches and a 4.4 yards-per-touch average, Mack was a popular waiver wire pickup heading into Week 2. But those NFL fantasy players who really look at box scores did not jump on board: we knew all 45 yards came on two plays. Besides the nice catch and run on his only target, Mack also had a 21-yard run, which means his other nine carries netted a grand total of zero yards. Gore had a 16-yard run but averaged just under 4 yards on his other 9 carries. 

In Week 2, Mack caught another pass for 11 yards. He ran the ball seven times and lost three yards. 

This past week, Mack had several impressive rushes. Besides the 35-yarder in overtime, he ran for 11, 22, and 16 yards in the second half. His other five carries included three for negative yardage, but the big gainers have everyone excited. 

So… Mack’s a must-start? 

Even after his fourth 10+ yard run put the Colts near field goal position, coach Chuck Pagano went to Frank Gore and Robert Turbin to finish the drive. In fact, Pagano went to his veterans 23 times to Mack’s 10. The incumbents don’t rattle off as many long runs as they used to, but they provide reliable positive yardage more often than not. Pagano is old-school when it comes to treating his veteran players with respect. That includes not giving their jobs to a rookie when they are still functioning well enough. 

Marlon Mack can explode for long runs at any time, but he is an all-or-nothing back. Without a long run, his stat line is disastrous. Pagano prefers the slow but steady pace of his tortoises more than the Marlon the hare. Ten touches a game is what we can expect from Mack. He does not get goal-line touches, so unless he explodes for a long scoring run, he will not get more than the yardage points his ten touches garner. 

Unless the Colts change that mixture, or if there is an injury to either of the veteran running backs, Mack is too much of a risk to be a must-start. Even the folks who called him a sleeper in the preseason said his success would be predicated on an injury to a runner in front of him. That has not changed. 

Keep Mack on your bench unless you are desperate enough to play a coin-flip. 

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Pat Opperman

Pat recently retired from real life to watch sports and write. Look for references to games and events from ancient times as memories of an earlier Age of Sport tend to pop into his head.