Fantasy Football: Is Marlon Mack the Back to Own in Indianapolis?

While Marlon Mack should lead the Colts' backfield, a three-way committee may limit his upside in 2018.

With Frank Gore departing in free agency, the Indianapolis Colts lose the veteran bellcow's 290 touches from a season ago. This leaves 2017 fourth-rounder Marlon Mack as well as 2018 fourth- and fifth-round picks Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins to battle it out for touches this season.

After a disappointing 4-12 finish to 2017, the Colts have a lot to be excited about. Most importantly, Andrew Luck has been throwing footballs without pain since undergoing shoulder surgery.

The Colts also revamped their offensive line with Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith in the first two rounds of the draft. So, with the return of Luck and an improved offensive line to run behind, the Colts' running game could provide value for fantasy.

It looks like Mack should get the first crack at the starting job, but can we expect him to hold on to it?

Incumbent Advantage

Playing a complementary role behind Gore, Marlon Mack finished 2017 with 93 rushes for 358 yards, and 21 receptions for 225 receiving yards. Despite an adequate finish, Mack still disappointed based on our signature Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which uses historical down-and-distance data to determine what is expected of a player on a per-play basis (you can read more about it in our glossary).

Among 48 running backs with at least 93 carries, Mack finished tied for 30th with a -0.07 Rushing NEP per play. Mack also finished 37th in Rushing Success Rate (percentage of rushes contributing to a positive NEP) with a 34.4 percent mark.

Mack also showed a boom-or-bust running style as a rookie. He had 33 percent of his carries end for either no gain or negative yards, but he also tied for 11th in the NFL with 5 runs of 20+yards on a mere 93 carries.

No matter what Mack did as a rookie, he has since ceded his incumbent advantage after undergoing shoulder surgery in early May. Mack failed to practice at all during OTAs, allowing the two younger backs to get crucial reps in the offense. Although he's expected to be ready for training camp, Mack could be brought along slowly, with shoulder injuries being troublesome for running backs.

His lack of opportunity could lead to larger windows of opportunities for others.

Offensive Additions

In the fourth round, the Colts selected do-it-all running back Nyheim Hines. At 5'8'', 198 pounds Hines projects more as a third-down back. Coming out of college, he blazed a 4.38 40-yard dash and showed playmaking ability.

In 2017, the North Carolina State star rushed the ball 197 times for 1,113 rushing yards. He showed his receiving chops the year prior with 43 catches for 525 receiving yards. He is reportedly being used all over during camp, so Hines could see the field early and often as a rookie, cutting into Mack's projected workload.

If that wasn't bad enough, the Colts doubled down in the fifth round of the draft, selecting Jordan Wilkins out of Ole Miss. At 6'1", 216 pounds, he should compete more directly with Mack for early-down work. After Wilkins had rushed for 1,011 yards in his final collegiate season, Chris Ballard noted that the 22-year-old back reminded him of Matt Forte from his college years.

To the detriment of Mack and maybe even Hines, that could amount to more than just an early-down role for Wilkins.

2018 Projections

How is the public handling this backfield (average draft positions via Fantasy Football Calculator), and how do we expect Indy's three-headed rushing attack to play out this season?

PlayerADP (PPR)Rushing YardsReceiving YardsTouchdowns
Marlon Mack6.10760.02905.7
Nyheim Hines10.05270.82933.1
Jordan Wilkins14.04101.91171.3

In 12-team point-per-reception drafts, Mack has a sizable advantage of more than three rounds. While he's going as RB31, Hines and Wilkins go off the board as RB45 and RB61, respectively.

Our projections currently peg Mack to pace the Colts' backfield, accounting for nearly 500 more rushing yards than his next-closest backfield mate and just about as many receiving yards as Hines -- the specialty back. And naturally, he owns the advantage in the touchdown category.

However, with concerns surrounding Mack's health, this situation could become a three-way committee before the first regular season snap. Coach Frank Reich has said that his plan to use multiple personnel packages within the offense, too. Despite a healthy Luck and an improved line, one of these three draftable running backs may need an injury to become a true fantasy contributor.