Fantasy Football: Fade the Indianapolis Colts' Backfield
With the NFL preseason now in the rearview, rosters are starting to shake out and shape up, with regular season playing time all but decided for most teams. The Indianapolis Colts, however, are not one of those teams.
With a hamstring injury to Marlon Mack early in the preseason, Jordan Wilkins, Nyheim Hines, and Christine Michael have battled for the Colts' starting running back job. With Mack uncertain for Week 1, what can we expect in the immediate future and for the remainder of the 2018 season?
If any good came out of the Mack injury, it's that the Colts were able to give their second-year running back ample time to heal up for the regular season, while also having the opportunity to evaluate the young talent behind him.
In the team's dress rehearsal in Week 3 of the preseason, Andrew Luck played 28 snaps. Per Adam Levitan, Wilkins started and played nine of these snaps, with Hines and Michael playing 8 and 11 snaps, respectively. While each player saw some time with the first team, no one broke away from the pack with their performance. Wilkins led the way with 28 yards on 14 carries, while Hines and Michael failed to eclipse 10 yards on 5 and 8 carries, respectively.
In the team's final preseason game, Wilkins sat while Michael, Hines and Robert Turbin all saw time. After all was said and done, here's how things look in the rushing department after four weeks of tune-ups.
Despite sharing first team work, each of these running backs comes with red flags. Both Wilkins and Hines struggled with ball security this preseason, fumbling one and four times, respectively. Michael continues to rehab after missing 2017 with a knee injury. He brings veteran experience but has been cut multiple times in the NFL. We already know the deal with Mack, and Turbin will miss four games due to a PED-related suspension.
Overall, this looks like a situation to avoid early in the season until either Mack returns or one of these backs -- assuming no one is cut -- shows superior play.
Can Mack Reclaim His Starting Job?
Mack 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.
Mack finished 2017 as a slightly below average runner, according to 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, he finished in a tie for 30th with -0.07 Rushing NEP per carry. Mack also finished 37th in Rushing Success Rate (the percentage of rushes contributing to a positive NEP) with a 34.4 percent mark.
Despite a sub-par rookie season, Mack -- a seventh round pick, according to Fantasy Football Calculator's average draft position (ADP) data -- still looks like the favorite to lead this backfield, though. He showed flashes as a rookie, something his backfield competitors have been unable to do so far in the preseason.
A running back by committee has been and looks like the most likely the play all along,as none of the Colts' running backs appear to be a strong play for Week 1 or even the foreseeable future.
From a season-long perspective, Mack still looks to be the running back to own if you want to put your money on one of them. He flashed as a rookie and no one has been able to step up in his absence. With that said, head coach Frank Reich still could employ a committee when Mack returns, making this a situation to avoid outright if possible.