Do the Colts Have the Best Offense in the NFL?
Despite unimpressive showings against Denver and Philadelphia in Weeks 1 and 2, the Indianapolis Colts currently have one of the best offenses in the NFL according to our metrics. With a rag-tag group of wide receivers and Trent Richardson (don't get me started), how is this offense even scoring points and performing at an elite level?
The Aerial Attack
It should come as no surprise that Andrew Luck is the top quarterback in terms of Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) so far this year, and he's second only to Philip Rivers within the metric on a per drop back basis. He's currently on pace for over 5,000 yards of passing and 52 touchdowns. Extrapolations are pretty useless, but it does show how well Luck has been playing thus far.
Colts receivers have performed about as well as you would have expected. Reggie Wayne is a top-12 pass-catcher in terms of Reception NEP and Target NEP (points added on catches only versus points added on all targets by a player). Wayne's done nearly as much for his team on all of his targets as nearly any other wideout in the league, but with only catch resulting in a touchdown. To put it shortly, Reggie Wayne is performing at a fantastic level in real football, though it might not be showing up on the fantasy stat sheet.
T.Y. Hilton hasn't been the explosive player that we became used to seeing in 2012 and 2013. He's not getting as many of the long throws that were his bread and butter. Hilton is ranked 11th in Reception NEP, 28th in Target NEP, and 33rd in Reception NEP per target. What's taken over a lot of those deep players are more short-yardage, high-percentage throws that help sustain longer drives. This makes sense, as his per target Reception NEP is far lower than his actual Reception NEP ranking. This is beneficial for the Colts' game plan and general success, but it may be costing Hilton his flashy games.
Colts tight ends have been doing very well in the red zone so far this season. We're seeing a ton of two-tight end formations, with healthy doses of both Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. They've combined for five touchdowns, and are proving that they can get it done when the Colts are within 20 yards of scoring. Despite catching two touchdowns this year, Fleener is the less productive of the two. He currently ranks 18th in Reception NEP, 27th in Target NEP, and 24th in Reception NEP per target. To give you some context, he's performing about as well as Eric Ebron and Levine Toilolo.
Dwayne Allen, on the other hand, has looked fantastic this season. He's currently a top-12 tight end in all of the metrics I mentioned for Fleener, and is a top-3 tight end in terms of Reception NEP per target, behind Travis Kelce and Julius Thomas. Unfortunately, Allen's upside may be capped as long as the Colts continue to involve Fleener in the offense. The Colts have not made it a priority to get Allen the ball and they may not do that this year.
We're seeing the Colts spread the ball around a lot. It's not uncommon to see Hakeem Nicks get as many targets as TY Hilton in a game. This is simply how the Indianapolis passing game has evolved. Andrew Luck is more comfortable than he has ever been and he's not locking in on Reggie Wayne or Hilton. He's finding the open receiver. In fantasy football, this can be a headache. However, in terms of long-term success and development, this is a huge step forward for Luck and every Colts fan should be happy with what they've seen so far.
The Ground Game
The Colts' ground game has been a bit surprising this year, though it's not as good as Jim Irsay probably expected it would be when he traded for Trent Richardson a season ago.
Ahmad Bradshaw has been great. He ranks 17th in Rushing NEP among running backs with more than 20 carries and 15th on a per rush basis. Where Bradshaw has truly shined is in the passing game. He currently ranks first (yes, first) in Reception NEP among that same group of running backs, and is second per target. He's always a fantastic pass-blocker and this is likely why he continues to get looks in the passing game.
Trent Richardson, on the other hand, has continued to look awful while running the ball despite his top-20 fantasy football rank. He ranks 50th in Rushing NEP and 47th in Rushing NEP per rush among backs with more than 20 carries. He does fare a bit better in the receiving game, as he ranks seventh there among all running backs. Some of this can be attributed to the overall productiveness of Pep Hamilton's offense and the fact Luck and company are able to sustain drives.
The Offense as a Whole
When you adjust for strength of schedule (you know, so folks don't complain about their last two opponents), the Colts rank fourth offensively on a per play basis. This shows that, regardless of how you feel about the passing game or the running game, the Colts are simply getting it done. They are an extremely effective offense, ranking better than Denver and Cincinnati.
They're the top unit in terms of Passing NEP per play (again, adjusted for strength of schedule), and it shows when you watch them play. As you can probably guess, the Colts are really lacking in the running game, as they rank 26th running the ball on a per rush basis.
Are the Colts the best offense in the league? Probably not. They do, however, have an elite passing unit that showcases the talents of one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. They have a star veteran in Reggie Wayne who is elevating, and sometimes making up for, subpar play from others around him. They have budding stars in TY Hilton and Dwayne Allen who are giving us glimpses at connections that could be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. And from a developmental standpoint, Colts fans should be extremely happy with what they're seeing from Luck this season. He's not a gimmick quarterback who is running all over the place. He is showing his skill as a pocket passer and an intelligent game manager. Luck is the real deal in every way.