Breaking Down the Potential Target Split for the 2015 Colts
In January, Aaron Rodgers was named the NFL's MVP for 2014. The only other quarterbacks garnering votes were Tony Romo and Tom Brady. And yet, Andrew Luck threw for more yards and touchdowns than all of them.
This is partly why if we had to give a quarterback the award for Fantasy MVP, in 2014, it would have been Andrew Luck.
Most of us knew it would only be a matter of time, but in his third year of professional ball, Andrew Luck finished as the top quarterback in fantasy football. He did this while expending almost 30% of his targets to the 36-year-old Reggie Wayne and a Hakeem Nicks who, although was only 26-years-old last year, has the injury history of a nursing home. In the running game, Ahmad Bradshaw -- another oft-injured former-Giant -- and the poor-man's Ron Dayne in Trent Richardson have both since been let go as well.
As good as Andrew Luck was last year, he has the potential to be even better this year.
In February, the Colts signed CFL star and son of Cris Carter, Duron Carter. In March, they signed one of the best running backs of the past decade in Frank Gore. Literally the next day, they signed a future Hall-of-Famer (hot take alert) in Andre Johnson. Then, to top it all off, last month they surprised everyone and drafted wide receiver Phillip Dorsett in the first round.
Between T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, Duron Carter, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, and Frank Gore, Andrew Luck now seems to have a surplus of options to choose from in the passing game. This makes projecting targets and production in this offense incredibly difficult.
Luckily for you, numberFire's got your back.
In 2012, Luck's rookie season, the Colts threw the ball 628 times, ranking sixth in the league. The next year, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was replaced, and Luck was reunited with Pep Hamilton, Luck's offensive coordinator at Stanford. That year, the Colts finished 15th in attempts with 582. Then, last year, the Colts finished first in the league with 661 pass attempts.
I took a look at these 1,871 targets and broke down by position where those targets went.
Wide receivers have accounted for more than half of the total targets in every year since Luck was drafted. That number, however, has also decreased every year since Bruce Arians' departure. Meanwhile, the target share for running backs has more than doubled, while the target share for tight ends remained stagnant in 2013 and then jumped by six percentage points in 2014, despite Dwayne Allen playing in only 14 of those 32 games due to injury. Finally, outside of fullback Stanley Havili's 21 targets in 2013, Luck rarely ever looked at anyone other than a wide receiver, running back, or tight end.
These numbers are interesting but need to be broken down even further. For fantasy purposes, I've divided these numbers down from just "wide receiver" to WR1, WR2, etc., where WR1 represents the wide receiver who accounted for the most targets and WR2 represents the wide receiver who accounted for the second most targets.
In 2012, T.Y. Hilton's rookie year, Reggie Wayne finished as the WR1 (remember we're talking only in terms of targets here), Donnie Avery was Indy's WR2, and Hilton finished as the WR3. In 2013, Hilton finished as the WR1, Darrius Heyward-Bey finished as the WR2, and Reggie Wayne (who only played in 7 games due to injury) finished as the WR3. Last year, Hilton finished again as the WR1, Wayne finished as the WR2, Nicks as the WR3, Moncrief as the WR4, and then interestingly enough, there were really no other relevant fantasy wide receivers on the team.
If we were to take their most recent season as a sign of things to come in 2015, this could potentially spell bad news for Duron Carter and Phillip Dorsett's fantasy relevance in their rookie seasons this year.
What do the splits indicate for the team's tight ends and running backs?
In 2012, the rookie year of both Fleener and Allen, Allen finished as the TE1 while Fleener finished as the TE2. In 2013, with Allen playing in only one game, Fleener finished as the TE1 while Weslye Saunders finished as the TE2. In 2014, Allen again missed three games due to injury (and apparently was playing at only 70% when on the field) yet finished as the TE2 while Fleener again finished as the TE1. Due to these injuries Fleener has accounted for more targets than Allen, but it is important to note that the team's true TE1 is in fact Allen, so if the team moved towards more "11" (three WR) packages than "12" (two TE) sets, it would be Fleener who would be losing snaps.
Among the running backs, you'll notice a major lack of consistency at the position. In 2012, the RB1 was Vick Ballard, the RB2 was Donald Brown, and the RB3 was Mewelde Moore. In 2013, the RB1 was Trent Richardson, the RB2 was Donald Brown, and the RB3 was Ahmad Bradshaw (while only playing in three games). Last year, Ahmad Bradshaw was the RB1 (although he only played in 10 games), Trent Richardson was the RB2, and Dan Herron was the RB3.
Looking at these numbers, a fair estimate on target share would be something along the lines of 20 for 25% for T.Y. Hilton, 18 to 20% for Andre Johnson, 15 to 25% for any combination of Moncrief, Dorsett, and possibly Carter, 20 to 25% for a combination of Allen and Fleener, and 10 to 15% for any combination of Frank Gore, Josh Robinson, and Dan Herron. I think that rough estimate is pretty close to the truth, but I decided to dig deeper into this below in my final data table.
|Player||% of Targets||Targets per 661 Attempts|
For the total amount of targets projected above, I used the same number that we saw last year which I thought that was a fair baseline number for 2015. Although we should see a more effective running game this year -- yes, even though Gore just turned 32 he should still be much better than Trent Richardson -- a more efficient total offense could also result in more overall plays.
The investments the team made to the passing game this offseason could even be an indicator for more passing attempts this year. Indeed, some some arguing that that number will increase, but because it was already so high I don't think it's necessary to increase it here.
Hilton should easily be the most productive receiver on the team, but that doesn't mean he's a lock to lead his team in targets by a significant margin. Andre Johnson was signed as the possession receiver and should see an increase compared to Wayne's 18% from last year.
I'm projecting a bounce-back year for Dwayne Allen who, as I mentioned earlier, is the team's true TE1. Beyond that, Allen has outperformed Fleener by a significant margin each year in terms of Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target. (NEP is our signature metric for quantifying a player's production above or below average; read more about it in our glossary.)
I dropped down Fleener slightly in these projections because I believe the Colts' decision to draft Dorsett could be a sign they want to run more three-wide receiver sets this year.
While I do think Dorsett will be playing meaningful snaps in 2015, and I don't think he's just a T.Y. Hilton replacement for 2016, I don't see him pushing Moncrief too heavily for the WR3 role. Moncrief performed extremely well last year and posted the fourth most efficient season in terms of Reception NEP per target since Luck took over, behind only Hilton (2012 and 2014) and Wayne (2013). With another year of experience under his belt, I do think he improves on last year's rookie season. If Nicks received 11% of last year's total targets while splitting time with Moncrief as the WR3, I think 15% is a relatively safe number for Moncrief.
When Pep Hamilton was asked if Phillip Dorsett would have an immediate impact, he replied simply, "Absolutely." It is possible Dorsett cuts into more of Moncrief's targets, but based Moncrief's level of efficiency last year and the level of complexity in Pep's system, I don't see him getting more than 7%.
Perhaps the most controversial projection is Frank Gore at 10%. Typically, Indianapolis running backs have controlled a relatively equal share of targets. At the NFL owners' meetings in March, coach Chuck Pagano said that he envisions Frank Gore as "a workhorse and every-down back." While you shouldn't take everything a head coach says in the offseason to be fact, I tend to believe him in this case.
Colts running backs have averaged more than 100 targets per year since Pep Hamilton took over as offensive coordinator. Since Greg Roman took over as offensive coordinator of the 49ers in 2011, Frank Gore averaged just 1.75 targets per game. Before Roman's arrival, between 2006 and 2010, Gore averaged 5.25 targets per game and consistently ranked near the top among running backs in terms of Reception NEP per Target. Meanwhile, according to that same metric, Dan Herron ranked 55th out of 59 qualified backs.
I think it's safe to assume that rookie Josh Robinson can beat out Dan Herron as Gore's back-up. I don't see Robinson eating too much into Gore's overall touches though, maybe just filling in each time Gore needs a breather, but he could still see close to 3% of overall target share. The other 2% of the total target share I have going to Herron, Carter, maybe a fullback, and anyone else on the roster.
In fantasy football, it's important to know who the most productive passing teams are going to be, who the most productive players on that team are going to be, and then buying into those players come draft day. What we've done here is built a nice baseline for your projections. The next step would be to project yardage and touchdowns, but I'll leave that up to you.