Who’s stock is up/down after Luck’s retirement?
By Cody Smith
As you certainly know by now, Indianapolis star quarterback Andrew Luck has announced his retirement from the NFL at the ripe old age of 29 due to health issues.
After struggling through injuries that caused him to miss half of the 2015 season, the entire 2017 season and most of the 2019 preseason Luck has decided to call it quits early. This comes as quite a shock to the entire football community and has certainly caused a stir among fantasy football players.
So what does Luck’s retirement mean for us? What Colts players are going to benefit from this and who’s draft stock should take a tumble?
Let’s take a look at the Colts' offense and break down what might happen by position, as well as whose draft stock I believe is up (+) or down (-):
Jacoby Brissett (+)
Obviously the biggest jump of anyone on this list belongs to Jacoby Brissett. If not for the Luck retirement, Brissett would not have seen much action in 2019. Despite Brissett perhaps jumping into the top-20 quarterback tier, I wouldn’t get too excited about grabbing him off waivers just yet.
Brissett started 15 games for the Colts in 2017 with Andrew Luck on the shelf. He led the Colts to a 4-11 record in those starts, throwing for 3,098 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions while taking 52 sacks. Brissett averaged just 193 passing yards per game and played to a QB Rating of just 41.5.
Brissett’s 52 sacks taken led the league in 2017. Part of this had to do with the Colts offensive line in 2017 which was one of the worst in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, the Colts' offensive line was ranked 25th of 32 in 2017 after injuries caused 10 different linemen to play at least 140 snaps that season.
The offensive line improved tremendously last season as the team turned to the NFL Draft to bolster the line. Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith joined the line which ended up allowing Luck to be sacked just 18 times in 16 games. The line was rated by Pro Football Focus as 3rd best in the league at the conclusion of the season.
Going into 2019, Pro Football Focus has the offensive line ranked as 5th best. This is a huge improvement for Brissett going into the season compared to 2017. The new and improved line should protect Brissett much longer and give the quarterback in his 3rd season with the Colts a better opportunity to succeed.
Brissett showed a bit of mobility on 2017, especially near the goal line. The QB ran the ball 63 times for 260 yards and four touchdowns (4.1 yards per carry.) If Brissett can improve on these numbers a bit behind his improved line, he could add even more fantasy value to your team.
In all, Brissett is now in his third year in the Indianapolis offense, which seems optimistic due to the fact he was thrown into a new offense late in training camp before the 2017 season.
Brissett has upside, but I’m not drafting him as a starter in a 10, 12 or even a 16-team league this season. He does have fantasy value however as a low-end QB2 in two quarterback leagues.
Marlon Mack (-)
I believe Marlon Mack’s draft stock takes a hit here, though it should be a relatively small one.
I was down on Mack entering the season due to the fact that he has yet to stay healthy for a full season, or crack 1,000 yards in a single season.
The biggest downside for Mack now will be the fact that Indianapolis might be playing from behind more often than not in 2019. The Colts overall projected win total dropped from 9.5 wins to 7.5 wins after Luck’s retirement, meaning the Colts are expected to be trailing late in more games than they were before.
Mack also doesn’t possess a ton of big-play ability, as he does most of his damage deep in the opponent's territory. Last season, Mack scored 10 rushing touchdowns, nine of which came from inside the 20-yard line. Eight of those came inside the 10-yard line and six of those came from inside the 5-yard line. He also tied for 14th among running backs with seven rushes on the season that went at least 20 yards.
Mack also doesn’t see a ton of work in the passing game. Mack had just 17 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown despite being targeted 26 times. This equates to a catch rate of just over 65% which was second worst among running backs last season.
On the plus side for Mack, he has been an efficient runner. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Mack was the ninth most efficient runner last season, spending an average of just 2.8 seconds behind the line of scrimmage. This type of north/south runner can rack up fantasy points, especially if he can post a high number of yards after contact.
Mack still gets a lot of touches though, as he was eighth in the league last year in rushing attempts per game (16.25).
Mack’s ADP has dropped from 4.02 to 4.10 (46th overall) since Luck’s retirement, which seems to me like a good area to take him as a potential low-end RB2 or a high-end flex.
Nyheim Hines (+)
Unlike Mack, Hines should see a bit of an increase. This will be due to the back’s pass-catching abilities. Hines averaged 9.25 touches per game last year in his rookie season, and with the Colts expected to be trailing in more games this season, those numbers may be on the rise.
Hines ranked in the top-10 in routes run, targets, receptions and average depth of target among running backs last season. Hines’ biggest downside is that he struggles to run the ball. Hines carried the ball 85 times for 314 yards (3.7 yards per carry) last season, which is less than ideal.
As a matter of fact, Hines finished near the bottom of the league in yards per carry, yards after contact and yards per target.
Hines scored four offensive touchdowns, scoring twice on the ground and twice on receptions.
Hines had seven games last season where he posted over 10 fantasy points and never had less than 4.5 fantasy points. Due to this, I believe Hines is a player that depending on the week should have flex value.
Hines spike in ADP hasn’t been as dramatic as Mack’s drop, as Hines has gone from pick 14.02 to 13.12 since Luck’s retirement.
I see Hines as a deep league PPR stash, as I would expect him to see quite a bit of the field this season.
T.Y. Hilton (-)
I believe T.Y. Hilton may take the biggest hit in fantasy due to the Luck retirement. In 2017, Hilton posted the lowest number of receptions, receiving yards, and yards per game since his rookie season in 2012. The 2017 season came on the heels of Hilton’s best career season when he posted 91 catches for over 1,400 yards in 2016.
In 2017, Hilton caught just 57 passes for 966 yards and a career low four touchdowns.
One plus for Hilton is his durability. Hilton missed two games last season, but has only missed four games in his seven-year career. Hilton is also obviously a talented receiver. He has yet to finish outside the top 27 in fantasy wide receivers in his seven-year career and has scored an average of 5.7 touchdowns per season.
Hilton will have a high floor due to his nose for the endzone, and should also benefit from Brissett’s ability to throw the deep ball. In 2017, Brissett had a QBR of 121.5 on deep passes (20+ yards) down the middle which was well above the league average QBR of 89.5. Brissett was also above average on deep passes to the right side of the field with a QBR of 97.7.
Hilton’s draft stock has dropped nearly full two rounds, making him an enticing mid-round pickup. From the time of the Luck news, Hilton’s ADP dropped from pick 3.06 to 5.01. I would grab Hilton at this price and play him as a low-end WR2 until we see how things shake out in Indy.
Devin Funchess (-)
We’ll keep this one quick because Funchess is currently only rostered in 45-percent of ESPN leagues.
Funchess didn’t have a ton of fantasy value before the Luck retirement as a 5th-year receiver is in a new offense that has never caught more than 63 passes for more than 840 yards.
One nice thing about Funchess is that he is rarely hurt, but I can’t see a second wide receiver producing much fantasy value in this offense. Last year’s No. 2 receiver in the Indianapolis offense was Chester Rodgers who caught 53 passes for 483 yards.
Funchess probably doesn’t need to be drafted in eight or 10-team leagues, but as leagues get deeper, he may be worth a stash on the back end of your bench.
Eric Ebron (-)
I was low on Ebron coming into the season. It just doesn’t seem possible for him to replicate the huge numbers he produced in the Indianapolis offense last season.
Last year, Ebron hauled in 66 passes for 750 yards and an unbelievable 13 touchdowns. Ebron will certainly regress this season, as his previous career high in touchdowns was five. He only scored 12 touchdowns in his whole four-year tenure in Detroit!
Ebron was the preferred target in the red zone as he finished as the third most targeted tight end in the red zone behind Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz with 22. This was the ninth most red zone targets in the entire NFL. Ebron caught 12 of those targets for 11 touchdowns. His 12 catches ranked 13th in the league and his 11 red zone touchdowns was second to just Devante Adams.
Unfortunately for fantasy owners, all of that came with Luck throwing the ball and now Brissett enters the fold having never thrown a pass to Ebron in a regular season game.
We have yet to see how the split will work out with Ebron and fellow tight end Jack Doyle, but as you’ll read later, I’m a bit more confident in a Doyle investment than hoping Ebron replicates his near unreplicable 2018 season.
Ebron’s ADP has dropped significantly, falling from pick 7.12 to 9.10 - nearly two whole rounds. Ebron is going as the 10th tight end off the board and I believe this is still too high. If you’re waiting that long to draft a tight end, you may as well grab one of the likes of Delanie Walker, Jordan Reed or another veteran at the end of the draft. Heck, maybe you could even grab…
Jack Doyle (+)
Doyle had quite a disappointing 2018 season, which in part led to the breakout of Eric Ebron. With Doyle back in the fold and healthy, I’m expecting big things.
Doyle missed the majority of last season - 10 games - with various injuries. This season Doyle returns after being Brissett’s favorite target in 2017.
Back in 2017 Doyle posted career highs with 80 receptions and 690 yards. He also hauled in four touchdowns. This was good for TE9 numbers.
Also, in the six games where Doyle was healthy last season, he ran more routes and was targeted more times than Ebron.
I expect Doyle and Brissett to have some chemistry to start the season. I wouldn’t draft Doyle as my lone tight end and trust him to lead my team, but I’m certainly interested in seeing how the split with Ebron works out. I believe if Doyle stays healthy, he produces more fantasy points than Ebron this season.