Colts pressing fantasy questions: Andrew Luck no top-five lock

Andrew Luck isn’t an obvious top-five pick heading into 2017. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
3-Point Stance: Gore’s truth remains inconvenient

As the mercury rises, Brad Evans and Liz Loza will tackle pressing fantasy questions tied to every NFL team. Read, ponder and get a jump on your offseason research. Monday’s topic: The Indianapolis Colts

In two of his four years as a pro, Andrew Luck (52.5 ADP, QB3) has finished among the top-five fantasy producers at the position. OVER/UNDER a final fantasy rank of QB5.5 for the Colts’ signal caller in 2017?

Liz – UNDER. Behind a line that allowed 41 sacks in 2016 and coming off of shoulder surgery, Luck’s 2017 prospects are undoubtedly iffy. But the fact still remains that the Stanford product has averaged more than 20 fantasy points per game for three years running, and has ranked in the top-ten among FF points per game production since entering the league.

A lot of that has to do with the team’s deplorable defense, which newly appointed GM Chris Ballard made a point of addressing in April’s draft. While I commend Ballard’s plan of attack, it’s going to take more than one season for this sieve of a unit to do an about face. With just two starters from the previous regime set to return, the group is in straight-up rebuilding mode, which is good for potential Luck owners.

Additionally working in Luck’s favor is the healthy return of Donte Moncrief. A metrics monster and red zone raider, the size/speed specimen caught 7 TDs in the nine games he started. Interestingly, three of Luck’s single passing TD efforts came while Moncrief was hobbled. Having both Moncrief and Doyle (who emerged as another red zone weapon) on the field provides Luck with extra ammo near the goal line. He’s a stud talent and my QB4 for drafting purposes. FF: 368 completions for 4,431 passing yards and 36 TDs + 317 rushing yards for 2 TDs (assumes a full 16-game season)

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Brad – OVER. Pogonophobia? No, I don’t fear beards. My home office is located in the heart of blanketed faces (Denver) for the love of Jake Plummer. However, many concerns associated with Luck shiver the core. For starters, he’s an historically battered quarterback coming off shoulder surgery who has yet to start a throwing program. The accumulated rust could weigh heavily early in the season. Previous back ailments raise more red flags. Additionally, and probably most worrisome, he works behind a largely dysfunctional offensive line, which is toxic for the long-holding passer. Total it up, and the QB is a dice roll at his top-55 ADP.

Luck sharpened across the board after a disastrous and injury-shortened 2016. He completed passes with improved accuracy (’16 cmp%: 63.5; ’15: 55.3) and uncorked more often downfield (’16 YPA: 7.8; ’15: 6.4). His No. 4 finish in fantasy points per game suggests he’s again on firm ground. But as discussed above, his protection remains ghostlike. Among eligible QBs, he ranked dead last with a 55.6 clean pocket percentage last season. No surprise, the friendly apparitions up front collectively finished 32 of 32 in pass-blocking efficiency.

Alarmingly, the Colts did little to address their most glaring need via free agency choosing to add line depth via the NFL Draft. Ultimately, the front office is banking on its young unit to congeal. Holy #TeamHuevos! The new normal in Indy, numerous hurries and hits on Luck, will only continue.

The Colts’ receiving arsenal is entirely competent and, when healthy, Luck’s QB1 track-record is documented, but due to the risks attached he falls just outside my top-five. I’ll gladly wait several rounds later to snag the likes of Marcus Mariota (95.7 ADP, QB8), Kirk Cousins (102.9 ADP, QB11) or Philip Rivers (117.4, QB15).

BELIEVE/MAKE BELIEVE. Seemingly always outrunning Father Time, Frank Gore finally gets got in 2017.

Brad – MAKE BELIEVE. Gore may have once dated Cleopatra, but despite his ancient age, he remains quite youthful. It’s unwise to bet against him. For five-straight years I’ve predicted him to finally fall victim to Father Time, but the seemingly invincible back continues to crank out highly employable fantasy lines. He’s consistent, rigid, tough between the tackles and a sound investment at his heavily discounted ADP (89.7, RB35). His 658.2 standard fantasy points accumulated after Age 30 ranks No. 8 all-time among geriatric backs. He’ll only climb that list.

Admittedly, Gore’s secondary profile raises many questions about longevity, but all indications imply he’ll again secure roughly 70 percent of the opportunity share. The Colts’ persistent pass-blocking issues aside, it ranked No. 3 in run-blocking last year according to Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, backups Marlon Mack and Robert Turbin are expected to spell him only occasionally. If he again defies conventional wisdom, it’s realistic he bags his tenth 1,000-yard campaign while chipping in 6-8 TDs. Don’t be an ageist. Gore, the Curtis Martin (CONSISTENT!) of his era, is a viable RB2.

Liz – BELIEVE. Far be it from me to predict a player’s falling off, especially one as tough as Gore. Truthfully, I’ve spent the last two seasons taking advantage of the vet’s value and owners’ concern about his decline. A closer look at last year’s stats, however, indicate a wearing down that gives me pause.

Most troubling was the dip in Gore’s red zone carries. Down from 36 to 30 in 2016, it seems as though the Colts were less willing to use the 34-year-old near the goal line. Interestingly, back-up RB Robert Turbin saw a dramatic increase in totes from 20 yards out, jumping from just 6 in 2016 to 19 (1.3 per game) this past year.

Additionally concerning was Gore’s plummeting juke rate, which is a metric provided by Player Profiler that measures a running back’s elusiveness. Two years ago, the vet’s tackle-breaking ability earned him a top-fifty-five finish among ball carriers, but last year his ranking dropped to sixty-eight.

Despite being one of the most durable backs to play the game (he hasn’t missed a game since 2010), Gore’s upside is in short supply. He’s an RB3 whose value is based solely on volume, which as previously mentioned, is beginning to wane.

OVERVALUED, UNDERVALUED or PROPERLY VALUED (2-3 sentences apiece) — T.Y. Hilton (22.7, WR8), Donte Moncrief (73.2, WR29), Jack Doyle (123.2, TE15)

Liz –  OVERVALUED. Slightly. Hilton gets extra points for being ultra-reliable and durable. He’s surpassed 1,000 yards for four straight seasons, and has managed 46 starts over the past three years. In 2016 he hauled in a career-high 91 balls. However, his target volume was inflated by Donte Moncrief’s seven-game absence. In fact, Hilton averaged nearly two more catches per game when Moncrief was out than when both receivers were on the field. The additions of Jack Doyle and Erik Swoope should also negatively affect Hilton’s opportunities. He’s my WR10 in standard formats. FF: 74-1,186-6

PROPERLY VALUED. SEVEN touchdowns in NINE games. No, you don’t want to chase TDs, but a hyper-athletic receiver with an above average red zone profile on an offense full of smaller ball-catchers is a boon to fantasy owners. Boasting the highest completion percentage (80%) of any of the Colts’ receiving weapons in the red area of the field, Moncrief is a stud regardless of his much maligned after the catch ability. He’s a WR3 for fantasy purposes and a solid pick in the sixth round of 12-team exercises.

UNDERVALUED. Everybody’s favorite “sleeper,” Doyle’s stock is on the rise. With Dwayne Allen off to New England and after earning Andrew Luck’s trust in 2016, Doyle has emerged as the Colts’ No. 1 TE. Ultra-efficient last season, the Western Kentucky product posted a catch rate of nearly 79 percent. He also ranked fifth among TEs in red zone receptions. I highly doubt Doyle remains a bargain through the end of August, but his current price is a surprisingly discounted.

Brad – PROPERLY VALUED. A true king of consistency, Hilton almost always returns on investment. From 2013-2016 he notched a 81-1250-6 average per year output. Locked into a 135-plus target role (27.1% targets share in ’16) he should come close to matching last season’s WR8 productivity. That of course assumes Luck isn’t in a full body cast by midseason. He enters camp as my WR10.

OVERVALUED. Moncrief is entirely touchdown dependent. Disagree. Here are three secondary stats from 2016 that should have you backtracking: 1) 17.4 percent targets share (WR54), 2) 53.6 catch percentage (WR82), 3) 5.5 yards per target (WR98). Putting down the cleaver, he’s a highly effective red-zone receiver (80.0 catch% in ’16) who’s scoped often by Luck in those situations (24.4 RZ targets share). But minimized volume between the 20s should extinguish the WR2 hype. He’s a fringe WR3 at best.

UNDERVALUED. Luck targeted his tight ends 27 percent of the time last season, the third-highest amount in the league. Those plays resulted in a 64 percent success rate, numero dos in the NFL, according to Sharp Football. His name may conjure thoughts of an old-timey boxer, but Doyle is no fantasy sucker punch. His reliable hands (78.7 catch%), notable red-zone presence and expected increased role sans Dwayne Allen (3.7 targets per game in ’16) point to a top-12 outcome. A year-ending tally in range of 65-650-6 is very possible.

Chuck passes at Brad and Liz follow them on Twitter @YahooNoise and @LizLoza_FF