Fantasy Football: Is Jack Doyle Still a Breakout Candidate Without Andrew Luck Under Center?
A month is a long time in fantasy football terms.
At the beginning of August, Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle was a mid-12th-round pick in standard-league fantasy drafts, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. Over the last month, his Average Draft Position (ADP) jumped to a full round. In early September, he was being selected as the 12th tight end for 2017, ahead of the more established Jason Witten and hot breakout candidate Eric Ebron. We ranked him as the TE13 for 2017, the same spot in which he finished in PPR scoring last season.
What kind of value will Doyle deliver this season?
How We Got Here
Doyle scored 18.5 PPR points in the first game of 2016 -- a huge surprise as the TE1 in Week 1. He only caught three passes, but two of them were for touchdowns. In the first seven weeks of the 2016 season, he posted four weekly top-12 performances, including a second outing as the overall TE1 in a week, this one coming in Week 7 as he went off for 9 catches, 78 yards and a score against the Titans. But from Week 8 onward, he posted just one more weekly TE1 (top-12) finish (he did close the season with three consecutive top-24 performances from Weeks 15-17).
Using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which you can read more about in our glossary, Doyle was 18th in Reception NEP per target and 13th in Reception Success Rate among the 32 tight ends who saw at least 50 targets in 2016. (Success Rate is the percentage of his catches which positively impacted NEP.)
Doyle's catch rate was tops among those 32 tight ends in 2016, but that should be taken with a grain of salt, given that his average depth of target, per Pro Football Focus, was 6.6 yards, which ranked 51st among all players who saw at least 25% of their team's snaps.
Heading into this season, Doyle seems to have a favorable early schedule, with four matchups against softer defenses when it comes to tight end fantasy scoring -- three of them between Week 3 and Week 6. Dwayne Allen is now on the New England Patriots, leaving Doyle with just Erik Swoope (who landed on injured reserve), rookie Darrell Daniels and Brandon Williams (six career receptions in 45 games) for competition at tight end on the Colts' roster.
Given that 31.8% of Andrew Luck's career regular-season touchdown passes (42 of 132) have gone to to tight ends, this is good news for Doyle. And Luck's steadiness as a quarterback -- should he get to 100% health soon -- should also benefit Doyle. In his four seasons with at least 15 games played, the former number-one overall draft pick has finished in the top-five among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring three different times, and he was QB10 as a rookie.
With a star quarterback who loves to throw to tight ends -- and no major competition at the position -- what was there not to like about Doyle in fantasy drafts this summer?
The Bad News
Well, Luck's health is a big "if." And, after undergoing shoulder surgery, we now know he will not be fit to start the 2017 season, and there appears to be no set timetable for his return.
Luck needs two weeks, and possibly three, throwing to teammates in practice before he's capable of playing in a game.
— Jene Bramel (@JeneBramel) September 4, 2017
Scott Tolzien will be the man to step into Luck's shoes, potentially for several weeks, if the estimate above is to be trusted. It is worth mentioning that Indy didn't put Luck on the PUP list to start the season, so ostensibly, they think he'll be back at some point in their first six games.
As for Tolzien, in the only season in which he has attempted at least 90 passes (2013), his total passing NEP was -9.42, and his Passing NEP per drop back was -0.10 (league average was 0.07). In Indy, he'll be playing behind an offensive line with lots of question marks of its own. In general, the Colts' offense could be a fantasy situation to avoid until Luck gets back on the field.
Focusing specifically on Doyle, if Tolzien is running the offense for the early part of the season, those enticing early-season fixtures against tight-end-friendly defenses can be thrown out the window. The Colts' offense could very well go into the tank and take Doyle down with it.
We project Doyle to finish 2017 with 63.6 receptions, 574.1 yards and 5.2 touchdowns -- a total of 119.9 standard fantasy points. That would be top 10 at the tight end position in terms of touchdowns -- but it's hard to see him getting there if Luck doesn't return soon.
If Luck's absence keeps Doyle from being able to take advantage of the soft part of his schedule, it doesn't look particularly rosy for the rest of the way. Later in the year, the Colts face six matchups against the stiffer defenses in terms of covering the tight end position.
If you took Doyle as a starting tight end, you were banking on him having a high ceiling with a safe floor. Without Luck for the juicy part of his schedule, though, Doyle's floor and upside are both negatively impacted, meaning he may be a sell-high candidate right out of the gate.