Are We Ignoring Phillip Dorsett's Fantasy Football Potential?

The 2015 first-round rookie may be buried on the team's depth chart, but does he have fantasy value this year?

I feel really lucky to be able to live in an environmentally conscious city like Minneapolis. As a grad student, I don’t have the financial ability to own a car right now. Fortunately for me, Minneapolis has one of the best public transit systems in the nation and an exceptionally walkable cityscape to go along with a great system of biking trails and greenways.

This is what sustainability looks like on a large scale, and it’s wonderful.

What do hipsters on fixed-gear bikes and elevated sidewalks have to do with football, you ask? How often have you seen a team or player’s production and wondered, “Is there any way that’s sustainable?” I wonder this about the offensive environment on the Indianapolis Colts as it relates to one pint-sized receiver, rookie Phillip Dorsett.

With superstar slot man T.Y. Hilton signing a massive contract extension, can Dorsett carve out some fantasy production for himself?

Ticket, Please

First, we should assess whether Dorsett himself is worth an investment from a fantasy standpoint. Is he a player we’re missing on right now, whether in redraft or dynasty? Our own Barry Cohen wrote up Dorsett’s fit with the Colts in the wake of the NFL Draft this year, but maybe that fit has changed with Hilton staying in Indy.

In recent years, we’ve seen a huge shift away from the hulking possession receivers running crossing routes from the slot -- or “Y” -- position, and players formerly ridiculed for being too small became the choice options there. This was the birth of the “speed slot” receiver, and Dorsett fits that mold to a T.

At Miami, he did show ability to run vertical routes and really blow the top off of defenses; speed is his number-one gift in the receiving game. His elite deep speed, however, belies a concern in his college production: he was almost never the focus of the Miami passing attack and topped 40 catches once in his collegiate career.

The table below shows his college production at the U. Let’s see if you can spot the unsustainable qualities!

Year Rec Yards Rec/Yd. TD
Freshman 14 147 10.5 1
Sophomore 58 842 14.5 4
Junior 36 871 24.2 10

This is one place where we might be acting too smart for our own goods. Dorsett had an incredible 24.2 yards per reception mark in his junior season and an unbelievable 27.8% touchdown percentage that same year. Many will look at his college production and remark that he progressed annually in yardage, average, and touchdown scoring, but I am more concerned that he regressed in reception totals in his junior year.

This level of reliance -- or lack thereof -- is concerning for someone who analysts are hoping will become the next T.Y. Hilton. Many have cited that Hilton was 5’10” and 183 pounds coming out of Florida International University in 2012, and that Dorsett’s also-tiny 5’10”, 185-pound frame shouldn’t concern.

What concerns me, though, was that FIU provided Hilton with an average 57 receptions annually in his college years, which he turned into an average 883 yards and a consistent average six touchdowns. Dorsett, as you can tell, has never had that kind of workload.

His physical profile should not worry fantasy owners, but will the Colts turn Dorsett into a high-reliance slot machine, or will he be used situationally like he was in college?

Do Not Hold the Doors

This is the other big piece of the puzzle: how much value is there to go around for the Colts with Hilton remaining on the team? The front office also brought in veteran star Andre Johnson this offseason, a bit player in Vincent Brown, and a high profile signing from the Canadian Football League in former prep standout Duron Carter. With 2014 rookie Donte Moncrief also on the depth chart, where does Dorsett fit?

The table below shows the Colts’ passing production over the last three years (since quarterback Andrew Luck became the first overall selection of the 2012 NFL Draft). How much do the Colts throw, and how are those receptions apportioned?

Year Drop Backs Yards WR3 Targets WR4 Targets
2012 667 4,374 90 24
2013 616 3,952 59 40
2014 689 5,062 69 49

As we can see, the Colts’ passing offense has progressed annually with Luck at the helm, and it seems very reasonable to expect that they total around 5,000 passing yards again this season. (Our algorithms actually expect Luck to throw for 4,998 yards.) What this table doesn’t show, though, is that the Colts prefer to use two tight-end sets so frequently that the third and fifth receiving options in total last year were tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, respectively -- this despite Allen missing three weeks with injury.

The average Colts passing attack sees around 650 drop backs, but not many of those passes find their way to the depth chart receivers. The third receiver has averaged 73 targets in the past three years, and the fourth receiver has averaged just 38 targets. The average fantasy point total for a receiver with between 35 and 75 targets in the last three years is a paltry 55.29 -- just about the same production as Jeremy Kerley had for the New York Jets in 2014.

Mind the Gap

What does this mean for Dorsett? Not only is he unlikely to be higher than the third wide receiver on the Colts this year -- limiting his absolute upside to around 70 targets -- he won’t be higher than the fourth or fifth option in the receiving game and may not even see the field much when the Colts’ base offense is on the field.

With the Colts acquiring free agent running back Frank Gore this offseason, they have the option to be a bit more run-focused than previous years and may not need to spread the ball as much, thus limiting Dorsett’s impact in his rookie year even further.

Andre Johnson may not have an extremely long career left in him, so there is a chance that Dorsett will find himself starting as early as 2016, but it’s not as if the Colts’ wide receiver cupboard is bare. Donte Moncrief had a solid, though unspectacular rookie season in 2014, and Duron Carter could still be a solid player given the chance to adjust to the NFL.

In redraft leagues, his current average draft position is as the WR68, and this seems reasonable for the rookie’s 2015 prospects.

As far as dynasty leagues go, it’s always a smart idea to purchase a piece of good offenses, and Dorsett is in a position to thrive in the coming years. Sitting on the bench and learning from Hilton and Johnson will allow this deep threat specialist to develop a well-rounded game before he theoretically starts in 2016 or 2017.

Don’t buy into the idea that the Colts’ high-flying attack can sustain all players this season, but know that Dorsett is arriving on the far platform soon. As I now call him, “The Light Rail” is still a solid fantasy investment in the late rounds of redraft and in dynasty.