Donte Moncrief Is Primed for a Breakout Season in 2016
While most fantasy footballers knew of the uber-talented Donte Moncrief heading into the 2015 season, he was -- for the most part -- an afterthought.
Prior to the season, the Indianapolis Colts brought in Andre Johnson through free agency and used their first-round pick on Phillip Dorsett. Along with two usable tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, it appeared there would just be too many mouths to feed, even for the offense that led the league in passing attempts in 2014.
Well, through the first three weeks of the season, the 6'2", 220-pound monster used his 4.40 speed and 39.5 vertical to remind everyone that he is clearly the most physically talented target Andrew Luck has -- posting 17 catches, 200 yards, and 3 touchdowns.
He also appeared to be Luck's second-favorite target, as his 8.7 targets per game during that stretch trailed only T.Y. Hilton's 9.3 mark.
Moncrief wasn't just using his physical tools, though. The second-year receiver had made a noticeable improvement to his route-running, which was his only issue coming into the NFL. NFL.com's Matt Harmon, who is well known for his evaluation of wide receivers, was impressed enough by Moncrief's more concise and intricate route tree that he highlighted him in his Reception Perception series.
With what looked like a clear grasp on the number-two receiver role, Moncrief appeared ready to enjoy a huge statistical season in one of the league's most prolific passing offenses.
Then Andrew Luck got hurt.
The rest of the season was a mess, as Luck struggled with injuries and eventually gave way to the 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck for the remainder of the season. Moncrief was still able to put up modest production, totaling 64 catches, 733 yards, and a team-leading 6 touchdowns: not bad for his second season but certainly not what people were hoping for after the first three games.
There are certainly reasons for optimism heading into year three, which is notoriously known as the breakout year for NFL receivers.
Improved Passing Efficiency
By no means do I want to slight Mr. Hasselbeck -- the 8-8 Colts were actually 6-3 under his leadership. That's not bad for a man old enough to be Moncrief's father.
He is no Andrew Luck, though.
After leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns in 2014, the Colts' passing game took a major step backwards last season, throwing for 1,190 fewer yards and 16 fewer touchdowns. Indianapolis also ranked dead last in completion percentage and 29th in passer rating in 2015. Indianapolis posted an Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play of 0.18 in 2014 (6th-best in the NFL), a mark that dropped to a putrid 0.04 in 2015 (24th-best). For more on NEP, check out our glossary.
Luck has had an extended offseason to rehab his injuries after sitting out the final eight games of the regular season. Assuming there's no setbacks, he should be expected to again be a top-10 quarterback in 2016. Even if Indianapolis doesn't return to their league-leading ways, their passing attack is certain to improve on last year's putrid numbers.
Increase in Opportunity
In addition to playing in a high-octane passing attack again, Moncrief will almost certainly benefit from additional volume in 2016.
Only 63.9 percent of Indianapolis' target share and 55.5 percent of their red zone target share from 2015 is returning to the team after the departure of Coby Fleener (84 targets and 11 red zone targets) and Andre Johnson (77 targets and 11 red zone targets). After the Colts have made no notable improvements to their receiving corps, it is clear that they trust their in-house options such as Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, and Dwayne Allen to take on larger roles.
They also didn't draft a single offensive skill player, instead focusing on beefing up their offensive line, which should help Luck and Indy's passing attack return to their dominant 2014 form.
Last season, Moncrief averaged 7.7 targets with Luck under center, as opposed to just 5.6 targets with Hasselbeck at quarterback. He also saw six red zone targets and scored five touchdowns in seven games with Luck, as opposed to six red zone targets and one touchdown in nine games with Hasselbeck.
To be fair, Indy was 2-5 in the games with Luck, which led to him throwing 41.9 times per game. However, a larger sample size shows that you should expect similar volume in 2016. In 2014, the Colts went 11-5. In the 11 games they won, Luck threw 38.5 passes per game.
In the five games they lost? 38.6 passes per game.
While Dorsett and Allen will surely see their role in the offense increase, neither has proven themselves in the way Moncrief has. Allen scored 8 of his 13 career touchdowns in 2014 and is likely to take on a big role in the red zone next season. But, due to an inability to stay healthy, he has just 46 catches and 524 yards in 27 games over the past three seasons.
Dorsett, the team's first-rounder from last season, certainly has the talent to be an effective receiver but struggled to get on the field in his rookie season. Between his spot on the depth chart and a mid-season broken ankle, Dorsett was limited to 18 catches on 39 targets last year.
Next to Hilton, Moncrief is clearly the most proven pass-catching commodity the Colts have.
Moncrief's Improved Efficiency
Despite horrific quarterback play, Moncrief was able to put up very impressive numbers according to our advanced analytics here at numberFire. His 0.79 Reception NEP per target was the highest mark among Indianapolis pass catchers last season and ranked eighth among receivers with at least 100 targets.
His 95.31 percent Success Rate -- the percentage of his catches that led to NEP gains -- also led the Colts and was second only to DeAndre Hopkins' 95.5 percent Success Rate among receivers with at least 100 targets. His 60.95 percent catch rate was also the highest among Indy's qualified receivers, but ranked just 18th among 32 receivers with at least 100 targets.
Indianapolis receivers' collective catch rate was down from 59.5 percent in 2014 to 55.4 percent in 2015, which is largely a result of the not-so-great play at quarterback.
Many don't realize it because Moncrief's numbers were deflated due to poor quarterback play, but he was quietly one of the most efficient receivers in the league.
Even with the poor quarterback play and the competition for targets, Moncrief finished 36th in PPR scoring among wide receivers last season. Despite this, Moncrief is currently ranked as the 30th wide receiver according to ESPN's Fantasy Football Rankings Summit.
His impressive size and athleticism combination, along with his improved route-running, has allowed Moncrief to develop into one of the most promising wideouts in the league -- as evidenced by his advanced stats. With the additional looks he is set to get going forward, as well as the return of Luck, he is almost certain to post improved numbers next season.
He's still somehow just 22 years old and has the talent and opportunity to post an Allen Robinson-like breakout next season if things fall in his favor. Considering his immense potential, he is quite the steal as the 30th-ranked receiver. He makes for an excellent high-upside second or third receiver in redraft formats and an extremely enticing target in dynasty formats.
His breakout seems imminent, and his draft cost doesn't account for his upside.