Thursday, Sep 5th
Monday, Sep 9th

AFC SOUTH

Written by :: Hilow

Indianapolis Colts

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Head coach Shane Steichen and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter return for their second year together
  • Defense: Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley enters his third year with the franchise

Personnel Changes::

  • The Colts re-signed eight players at the beginning of free agency this season, most notably WR Michael Pittman.
  • They watched as backup QB Gardner Minshew departed in free agency, only to sign veteran gunslinger Joe Flacco
  • Added DT Raekwon Davis
  • Drafted WR Adonai Mitchell in the second round, a player many had given a first-round grade this offseason
  • Drafted DE Laiatu Latu in the first round, adding youthful athleticism to an already strong front seven that includes Kwity Paye, Grover Stewart, DeForest Buckner, Samson Ebukam, E.J. Speed, Zaire Franklin, and Ronnie Harrison.
  • Second-year QB Anthony Richardson is reportedly ahead of schedule following multiple injuries in his rookie season, the most notable of which was the shoulder injury that required surgery to address
  • RB Zack Moss and WR Isaiah McKenzie departed via free agency

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • Jaguars x2, Texans x2, Titans x2
  • AFC East (4)::
    • @Patriots, @Jets, Dolphins, Bills
  • NFC North (4)::
    • @Packers, @Vikings, Lions, Bears
  • Other (3)::
    • Steelers, @Broncos, @Giants

Bull Case::

Shane Steichen proved to be one of the better forward-thinking, up-and-coming head coaches to fall outside the Gary Kubiak // Kyle Shanahan coaching tree. Steichen served for two years under Nick Sirianni in Philadelphia before getting his first crack at head coaching duties last season, notably adept at designing an offense built to maximize the talent he has on the field.

Rookie Anthony Richardson finished as the QB4 and QB2 in the two games that he started, leading the team to 21 and 23 points in those weeks. His dual threat abilities should be on full display in his second year in the league, and he now gets the added benefit of a skill position group consisting of a healthy Jonathan Taylor, a newly re-signed Michael Pittman, a second-year wide receiver that flashed when given the opportunity in his rookie season in Josh Downs, and a thought-to-be first-round rookie that slipped to the second amidst rumors surrounding his off-the-field demeanor in Adonai Mitchell.

The Colts managed to put up 23.3 points per game in 2023, with backup quarterback Gardner Minshew thrust into the starting role for most of the season. Taylor also missed seven games a season ago and now appears to be fully healthy heading into the new season. Gus Bradley’s zone-heavy defensive scheme led the league in Cover-3 utilization in 2023, a defensive alignment that typically does a lot of things good but nothing great. That defense allowed a robust 24.4 points per game in 2023, 28th in the league. Add it all up, and the dynamic offense plus a defense better on paper than they are at suppressing points should give this team every opportunity to participate in routine shootouts in the coming season. Finally, Sharp Football Analysis gives the Colts the seventh easiest strength of schedule for 2024 with four games on tap against NFC North opponents that can put up points in a hurry.

Bear Case::

While the Colts have a solid mix of athleticism, speed, youth, and veteran savvy, they are not particularly deep anywhere on their roster outside of the front seven on defense (except for maybe tight end – man, these Colts love their tight ends). Some ill-timed injuries could leave the franchise once again limping toward the finish line after a once-promising start to the season. That is true for almost any team in the league, so take this bear case with a grain of salt. If we’re getting really nitpicky here, the secondary is not on the same level as the front seven on the defensive side of the ball, which is honestly a likely boon to the offense more than a negative, as it is likelier to lead to more competitive and high scoring contests this season, similar to what we saw last year.

Expectations/Takeaways::

Yes, a two-game sample is not enough to immediately anoint Anthony Richardson as the next coming of Michael Vick. But at the same time, Richardson averaged 25.75 fantasy points per game in his two healthy starts in 2023, a mark that would have left him as the overall QB1 on the season if he maintained that production throughout a fully healthy year (I get it, extrapolation is a slippery slope). Overall QB1 is well within Richardson’s range of outcomes for the 2024 season – let’s just leave it at that for now.

Michael Pittman finished the 2023 season as the WR16 in fantasy points per game in a PPR format and is currently drafted as the WR17 in early best ball contests. He accomplished this while scoring just four touchdowns. There is room to grow into further upside considering his borderline elite underlying metrics.

Considering Alec Pierce led the team in snap rate amongst pass-catchers and Adonai Mitchell is a more complete wide receiver, I think it’s not out of the question to expect the electric rookie to begin the season in a robust role in this offense. As in, it is more likely we see Josh Downs maintain a heavy slot role while Mitchell locks down the starting perimeter role opposite Pittman. At cost, Mitchell brings immense upside to the table and makes an elite team stacking partner with Pittman in a Best Ball setting.

Jonathan Taylor’s underlying metrics were slightly skewed to the downside in 2023 considering he fought through a multitude of injuries, playing over 70 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in only three games. In those three contests, however, the dominating back saw 23, 24, and 32 running back opportunities, averaging 22.3 running back opportunities in the seven games in which he started and finished. That, my friends, is an elite workload. If this man can stay healthy in 2024, on this offense, we’re looking at a legitimate path to top-three upside in all formats. Taylor is currently being drafted as the RB6 in early Best Ball drafts, behind Kyren Williams, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Bijan Robinson (surprise, I would take Taylor over all three).

Houston Texans

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