3’s a crowd: that’s the expression, right? Ok, maybe it is actually 3 is company, but in fantasy football, sometimes 3 can be 2 crowded (too crowded I know, but let me have some fun with numb3rs). With positional committees all over the NFL, it is important to look at which players can emerge from those situations and have productive fantasy seasons in 2018.

 

This issue of the series steers us towards Indianapolis, the home of the NFL’s Colts. We shall search through the Colts running backs to determine where the value exists in that positional group.

Before we dive deeply into the RBs, let us attempt to trim the number of players we are looking at. They currently have more than 3 RBs on the team.  As the series states, I prefer to look at 3 players when analyzing and predicting production. While it is unfair to simply disregard players, the Colts RB situation offers us a unique opportunity.

Ben Pfeifer, from Full Press Coverage, projects that 4 RBs will make the Colts final 53-man roster. He estimates that Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins and Robert Turbin will be on the active roster after the pre-season. That would leave Josh Ferguson and Christine Michael on the outside looking in. Even with his 2 game suspension to begin the season, Pfeifer believes that Turbin will make the final team, but I am not as convinced. According to Over the Cap, Turbin, along with Ferguson and Michael, all have contracts that allow the Colts to cut each of them this season while saving the entirety of their contract amounts in cap space. Since all 3 of those can easily be cut, I do not advise making any of them targets in your fantasy football drafts in 2018. Instead, let us look at the 3 players you should be concerned with.

 Nyheim Hines | 1st season

Hines was selected in the 4th round (104thoverall) of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Colts. A proficient pass-catching RB, he caught at least 20 passes in each of his 3 college years, including 43 in 2016. After only getting 61 carries in his first two seasons combined, Hines had 197 rushing attempts in 2017. He rewarded his team with 1,113 rushing yards. Will he reward the Colts as well?

 

Marlon Mack | 2nd season

Mack was Colts pick in the 4th round (143rd overall) during in 2017 NFL Draft. In 14 games last season, he ran 93 times for 358 yards (3.8 Avg) and 3 TDs. Mack also saw 33 targets and caught 21 of them (64% catch rate), including 1 TD. He only accounted for just over 20% of the Colts rushing attempts. Now that Frank Gore and his 261 carries from 2017 are gone, the backfield in Indianapolis has plenty of work available. Will Mack grab a bigger share?

 

Jordan Wilkins | 1st season

Wilkins was taken by the Colts in the 5th round (169th overall) of this year’s draft. He also had a 1,000-yard season (1,011 to be exact) in his final college season, much like his current Colts teammate. However, unlike Hines, Wilkins was not used as a receiver his entire career. He only had 6 catches before the 26 he received last season. What will Wilkins workload with the Colts be?

 

Athletic Profiles

Marlon Mack was in at least the 73rd percentile for his 40-yard dash, his speed score (adjusted for weight) and his burst score.  In the bench press, however, he is only in the 13th percentile of the RBs in the 2017 draft class.

For this year’s Colts rookies, they are almost complete opposites. Nyheim Hines had impressive 40-yard dash (98th %) and speed (86th %) scores. The burst score, in the 56th percentile, is middle of the pack, while his agility (32nd %) and bench press (1st %) scores give some cause for concern. Overall his SPARQ-x (Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction, Quickness) score is 104, which lands him in the 26th percentile for this draft class.

Jordan Wilkins, meanwhile, had a much more balanced athletic profile. He is between the 52nd and 55th percentile for his 40-yard dash, speed and burst scores. He also had the highest bench press score (35th %) among these 3 players. That gives him an overall SPARQ-x score of 111.2 or 48th percentile.

What can we take from all of this information? Well, none of these players is what we would call an alpha athlete (think Saquon Barkley from this year’s class). That means that football technique is going to be an important factor for the Colts’ coaching staff to determine how to divide playing time. Wilkins is probably the strongest and most likely to handle the biggest workload, but I do not believe that there is 300+ touch RB on this team in 2018.

 

Training Camp

In the early going of training camp, the Colts RB depth chart was a fluid situation.  Not only did Hines, Mack and Wilkins all see 1st-team reps, but so had Josh Ferguson, Christine Michael and Robert Turbin. This continued to occur until August 3rd, technically the start of the 2nd week, as training camp began eight days earlier. On that day, Hines, Mack and Wilkins split the majority of the work with the 1st-team offense. Perhaps this signals the shape of things to come or it could simply be a short-term experiment. I would not be surprised if this became a 3 horse race, as I outlined in the intro. All 3 have impressed thus far at camp.

Mack has shown improvement running inside, which bodes better because of the brace bound to his surgically repaired labrum. He still bounces outside on runs, as he did during a goal-line drill. The team has had Mack running outside by design on certain plays, therefore they are embracing that attribute. The Colts have had both him and Wilkins operate as 3-down backs, which includes catching passes. Both are having success with things such as shovel passes and shallow comeback routes. If either Mack or Wilkins establishes a heavy workload, that player will play the role of a traditional lead RB.

There is nothing traditional about the way the Colts are using Hines. On top of running the football, Hines is catching passes and is being lined up all over the field. He runs sweeps and reverses, receives targets out of the backfield and lines up in the slot as well as outside. It appears that the Colts plan to use Hines as a receiver often.

All 3 players are spending time on Special Teams. Hines and Mack both have returned kickoffs and Hines has been fielding punts. Wilkins has also gotten in on the action by regularly being on the 1st-team for kickoff returns.  Teams do not normally have their workhorse RB play Special Teams. The participation of Hines, Mack and Wilkins to that extend tells me that no one will be a bell-cow for the Colts in 2018.

 

Average Draft Position (ADP)

According to Fantasy Football Calculator’s ADP information for 12 team leagues, Mack is being drafted first among the Colts RBs. In Standard scoring setting (0 points per reception) he is going in the sixth round at 6.09. He is slightly lower in PPR formats (1 point per reception) at 7.02. Wilkins also has a pretty consistent ADP between settings with 13.04 in Standard and 13.07 in PPR. It is Hines who has largest gap in Standard to PPR ADP. He is a twelfth round pick (12.04) in Standard while going two rounds earlier (10.10) in PPR. This jump in ADP indicates that drafters expect Hines to play a fairly significant role in the passing game.

 

Verdict

It seems like the Colts are headed for a full-blown committee. Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins are all going to provide fantasy value to owners in 2018. Who will provide the most value? That question is difficult to answer because they are all experiencing an equal share of playing time in training camp. Mack will probably get the first shot at starting since he has the most NFL experience. If he is not effective, the leash will probably be quite short as Hines and Wilkins appear ready for the big leagues.

When there is a crowded situation such as this, I usually prefer to grab the cheapest option. According to ADP, that player is Wilkins. He certainly appears to have the most balanced athletic profile. Wilkins’ frame makes him the most likely to handle a heavy workload. If Hines is a proficient receiver, his PPR ADP may make him a value. Either way, I think a 13th round flier is a great price to pay for Wilkins.

I can be contacted on Twitter @nyama_ks for comments and questions. Don’t forget to check out Going For 2 daily for great sports content.  

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