Saturday night brought the stunning announcement that Andrew Luck has decided to retire from the NFL. After dealing with injuries for most of his career, it’s understandable but shocking nonetheless.
Andrew Luck already has met with Colts’ owner Jim Irsay to tell him that he is retiring, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 25, 2019
The impact of Luck’s retirement on the fantasy football landscape can not be understated. Let’s look at some of the ripple effects of this announcement.
Jacoby Brissett steps into the starting role under vastly different circumstances than he did when he took over the position in 2017. Brissett joined the Colts via trade just eight days before the season. He saw his first game action in the fourth quarter week one and became the starter in week two of the regular season. Under the best of circumstances, that’s a difficult situation to step into. Brissett did not step in to the best of circumstances, though. He had little time to learn the playbook before he took over starting duties. Brissett also had a woeful offensive line and lacked the offensive weapons needed to excel.
Per Football Outsiders the 2017 Colts offensive line was the worst pass-blocking line in the league with a 10% adjusted sack rate. Their 56 sacks allowed were the worst in the league. Last year Football Outsiders ranked them as the second-best pass-blocking offensive line with a 4.1% adjusted sack rate while allowing the fewest sacks in the league with 18. Luck was able to drop back 239 straight times without being sacked starting in week five through week 12.
The offensive line improvement isn’t the only difference from 2017. Take a look at the target leaders from that season below, courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
Out are Donte Moncrief, Frank Gore, and some other riff-raff. They’ve been replaced with Eric Ebron, Devin Funchess, Parris Campbell, and Nyheim Hines. Marlon Mack is also a vastly improved player from his 2017 rookie season. Brissett was able to post four top 12 QB weeks and an additional three top 17 weeks despite the lack of weapons and a terrible offensive line. While many believe that coaching doesn’t matter, the improvement the Colts made in 2018 under rookie head coach Frank Reich begs to differ with that assessment. The Colts ranked in the top 10 in yards per game, passing yards per game and first downs per game. Luck was fantastic last year, but some of that improvement must be credited to Reich.
With a new coaching staff, playing behind one of the best lines in the league with a plethora of weapons at his disposal it’s not out of Brissett’s range of outcomes to post a low-end QB1 season. Even if he doesn’t hit that mark, Brissett seems to be at least a viable second streaming option for your superflex leagues.
If you already rostered Brissett as Andrew Luck insurance, it may not be as bleak as it initially appeared. If you own Brissett and can afford to move him, I would do so today. His early-season matchups are not conducive to a spike in his value. He matches up against the Chargers to start the season and the Titans in the second week of the season. The Chargers gave up the seventh least points to the QB position in 2018, while the Titans gave the sixth-fewest points. This could allow for a buy-low window on Brissett though, which would line up nicely with his schedule. His next three opponents the Falcons, Raiders, and Chiefs all ranked within the top eight in points allowed to QBs last season per FFToday. The physically gifted Chad Kelly is the new backup and should now be rostered in all superflex formats.
The 2017 season was also a difficult one for T.Y. Hilton. His 966 receiving yards were the fewest outside of his rookie season. His four touchdowns were the fewest of his career. He posted the second-worst catch rate of his career at 52.3% and his 8.9 yards per target is the third-worst of his career. He finished as the WR37 while scoring a career-worst 11 points per game. Hilton had 10 weeks were he finished as the WR45 or worse, making him a liability to anyone that owned him. Brissett operating under better conditions should preclude a repeat of Hilton’s 2017 season. Hilton is someone I will target in my leagues, under the assumption that most Hilton owners are panicking with Luck’s retirement.
The Colts attempted just 30.7 passes a game in 2017 (3rd fewest) compared to the 39.6(3rd most) they attempted in 2018. The combination of having a low-volume passing attack, lack of viable weapons and Brissett’s inexperience led to a lack of targets for the other Colts receivers in 2017. Donte Moncrief was the second most targeted wide receiver behind T.Y. Hilton with just 47 targets. Even if the Colts decide to attempt more runs in 2019, Devin Funchess should still be able to provide a WR3 season. My confidence in Funchess doing so is certainly less than it was yesterday, so he isn’t a player I’m going out my way to target. Parris Campbell is a long term investment. I’d shake the trees of whoever owns him in your league to see if they might be willing to sell low.
Eric Ebron broke out last year catching passes from Luck. Most of the fantasy community is already fading him based on an anticipated regression in touchdown scoring. Jack Doyle is still recovering from multiple injuries and is expected to be ready to start the season. Doyle set a career-high in 2017 in targets, receptions and receiving yards with Brissett starting 15 games during the 2017 season. Neither player interested me before Luck’s retirement, but this doesn’t move the needle either way for me.
I’ve touted Marlon Mack repeatedly these last few months, and he’s the player most assume will be adversely affected with Luck’s departure. As noted by Scott Barrett, Mack’s fantasy scoring was compiled largely while the Colts were winning handily.
70% of Marlon Mack's fantasy points came in games where Indianapolis won by 14+ points https://t.co/p8HQBbmP8G
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) June 12, 2019
Checking in with 14.5 points per game last year Mack was the RB15 in average scoring in 2018. If the Colts struggle in Luck’s absence and fail to lead in many games, Mack may struggle to produce at that level this year. If the Colts backfields mirrors last year’s usage then Nyheim Hines, and not Mack, will be the back that’s featured in a receiving role. Hines averaged a little over five targets per game on his way to 81 targets compared to Mack’s 2.1 targets per game. Though Mack is not the receiver Hines is he’s a significantly better runner and blocker. The below Tweet from Evan Silva provides a reason for cautious optimism that Mack will be in for more of a three-down role in 2019.
Were signs of #Colts transitioning Marlon Mack into true 3-down role late last season when his routes run per game spiked & Nyheim Hines’ usage dwindled.
Mack headed for 3-down role this year. https://t.co/yhKtmbDCpG
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) August 20, 2019
Hines decrease in usage during the regular season as the year progressed was manifested in a corresponding decrease in targets and fantasy points scored per game. As we see using FFStatistics Player Splits tool Hines saw almost three fewer targets per game the final 11 weeks of the season compared to the first five weeks. This trend continued in the Colts two playoff games when Hines wasn’t targeted once and had only two rushing attempts. Conversely, Mack had 33 rushing attempts and an additional three targets.
Silva’s Tweet piggybacked off a Tweet from Jared Smola noting that Mack received all the third-down work with Jacoby Brissett during the Colts week two preseason game. Based on the available evidence I believe Mack is still inline to be a three-down running back. Hines possesses just one skill, receiving, whereas Mack is the more complete player. Mack showed himself to be a capable receiver during his college career at South Florida, with 65 receptions in his three seasons and averaged 2.3 receptions per game in his final season. Based on the fear the Colts offense will take a huge step back and they will be behind in most games many owners will target Hines as the “receiving back”. Use this fear and sell high on Hines right now.
The retirement of Luck is going to open a buying window on T.Y. Hilton, Marlon Mack and maybe even Parris Campbell. It’s your job as a dynasty player to go out and take advantage of this window. If you have QB depth send out offers to Luck owners in your leagues to see if you can capitalize on their misfortune.
Thanks for reading! If you’re still drafting may I suggest you purchase the Factory Fantasy Football Guide? We’ve already updated our rankings, cheat sheets and 2019 projections to reflect the Andrew Luck retirement as well the Lamar Miller torn ACL injury news. Get it now for just $5!