Philip Rivers had a poor season in 2019, with the lowest touchdown
percentage of his career (3.9% touchdowns per attempt). He threw
for only 23 touchdowns on 591 attempts, and even worse, he threw
for 20 interceptions. On a Chargers roster loaded with skill-position
talent, many saw this poor season as the dreaded end of the road
However, Rivers seems intent on proving that sentiment wrong.
He signed a one-year deal with the Colts this offseason, and stated
that the Colts’ chances to win a Super Bowl swayed his decision.
He also expressed that he was “aggravated” with the
whispers around the league that he was done. There may be some
signs that the talk of his demise is misguided.
Although his low touchdown rate and high interception rate were
disturbing, he did complete 66% of his passes for over 4,600 yards,
good for 7.8 yards per attempt. Those are respectable numbers,
and do lead one to believe that he has something left in the tank.
The biggest negative on Rivers has always been his penchant for
throwing the ball up for grabs downfield, which only works when
you are throwing to the right spot and when you have players capable
of winning such “jump balls.” Mistakes in such scenarios
are a major chunk of his interceptions, and there is a chance
the Colts coaching staff can get Rivers to take what is there
instead of going for the home run so often.
Rivers will not have the arsenal of talent he had in Los Angeles
last season, but he will have a very capable group of skill players.
Both Taylor and Mack will take some pressure off with their ability
to run the ball, and the protection Rivers will get from the Colts’
offensive line should be an improvement over the Chargers’ line.
He has T.Y. Hilton as his new Keenan Allen, rookie Michael Pittman
Jr. as his new Mike Williams, and Jack Doyle as his new Hunter
Henry. His new group certainly has the talent to help Rivers succeed,
but the success of the unit will likely come down to whether Rivers
can make the right decisions and limit mistakes. His fantasy value
will also depend on his ability to turn drives into points, and
limit his interceptions.
Although we do not have any NFL data on Jonathan Taylor, we should
assume he will have immediate success running the ball. Not only
will he run behind one of the top “power” offensive
lines in the league (rated 7th in power run blocking per footballoutsiders.com),
but he showed himself to be a very skilled runner between the
tackles during his time at Wisconsin.
Taylor averaged over 2,000 rushing yards per season at Wisconsin,
averaging 6.7 yards per rush over his career. He also scored 50
rushing touchdowns in three seasons. During the Combine he showed
why he produced so well, as he ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.39 seconds
(at 228 pounds). He also showed great burst and agility, finishing
in the top 11 runners in virtually every drill.
It is unknown how the workload will be split up, and the Colts
have emphasized that they intend to split the workload between
Taylor and Mack. Both have skill, but over the course of the season
Taylor will likely seize more of the early-down and between-the-tackles
workload, while Mack is given more opportunities in the passing
game and outside of the tackles. Taylor did not catch the ball
much in college, and pass protection is difficult for young backs,
so I expect he will not be on the field much on clear passing
In addition, Taylor struggled some with fumbling at Wisconsin,
coughing the ball up 18 times in his three collegiate seasons.
That can be corrected, but keep an eye on his progress on that
front in the preseason, as that issue also often limits the touches
of young backs.
Marlon Mack had a very productive 2019 in his first season as
a starter in the NFL. He rushed the ball 247 times for 1,091 yards
and 8 touchdowns, and added 14 receptions for 82 yards. He did
that in 14 games, missing two weeks due to injury. Had the Colts
used him in a major way in the passing game, Mack could have been
a top-10 back in the league.
The biggest issue with Mack from a fantasy perspective is that
it has been difficult to ascertain when he will have a good game
and when he will have a dud. He had seven games last season where
he scored over 15 PPR fantasy points, but in the other seven games
he played, he scored under 10 points! This made it very difficult
to ever start him, since he posted a dud in half of his games.
If you guessed right you were happy, but that is not a game most
fantasy managers want to play.
Most of his lack of sustainable fantasy scoring is due to his
lack of action in the passing game, and that does not seem to
be because Mack lacks skill in that area. It seems to have been
part of the Colts’ coaching staff’s desire to keep
Nyheim Hines involved. Whether they will continue to use Hines
on passing downs now that Taylor is in the fold is up in the air.
It would seem to make more sense to use Mack on those downs, as
he is certainly the better overall player and has the skill required
both to pass protect and to catch the ball.
If Mack and Hines split the scraps left over after Taylor gets
the bulk of early-down carries, that will ensure neither of them
is usable in fantasy. But if the staff decides to give Mack around
10 touches a game between carries and receptions, as a true complement
to Taylor, he will certainly retain flex value in 2020.
Without a doubt, T.Y. Hilton had the worst season of his career
in 2019. It seems certain that the poor quarterback play had much
to do with it, as did his own nagging injuries. But regardless
of the cause, it was ugly. He was only targeted 68 times in 10
games, down from 120 times in 14 games in 2018. He had only 45
receptions, his lowest total since he had 50 in his rookie season.
And he averaged by far his lowest in yards per reception, at 11.1.
On the positive, he managed 5 touchdowns in those limited opportunities.
He now has a much better quarterback, since even a 38-year-old
Rivers is a huge upgrade over Jacoby Brissett. The biggest questions
surrounding Hilton are whether he still has his trademark speed
and whether he can stay healthy. While he has always gotten a
bit dinged up over the course of a season, last season was brutal,
as he struggled with a severe calf tear that would not heal. Even
when he returned, he was out of sync and could not get rolling.
Assuming the Colts season goes better than it did in 2019, and
assuming he can establish a rapport with Rivers, Hilton could
certainly bounce back. If 2019 is removed, he has averaged over
16 yards per reception over the course of his career. Rivers seems
to enjoy throwing the short and intermediate crossers and outs
we saw Keenan Allen thrive on, and Hilton is excellent in this
area. He is also excellent on deep routes, and Rivers does enjoy
What no one can really know is how healthy he will be, and it
is always a risky proposition to bet on receivers past 30 years
old, particularly those who rely on their speed to win. It is
likely that Hilton will post some great games this season, but
drafting him as a starter who must be relied on every week is
Michael Pittman had a senior season for the ages at USC. After
posting 70 receptions in his first three seasons, he exploded
for 101 receptions in his senior year, for 1,275 yards and 11
touchdowns. That certainly got the attention of NFL scouts. His
6’4” frame also piqued their interest, but it wasn’t
until the Combine that his stock really went soaring. He ran the
40-yard-dash in 4.52 seconds, which is excellent for a guy his
size. He also had excellent times in the short-area drills, showing
he has the quickness and long speed needed to play in the NFL.
It is rare for rookie receivers to post big numbers, but if there
was a situation where it is likely to happen, this is it. Pittman
has the size Rivers likes to throw deep balls to (think Vincent
Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, Antonio Gates), he is experienced for
a rookie (having played all four seasons in college), and there
is no other receiver with size who is likely to keep him on the
bench. It seems likely that Pittman will play 70% of snaps or
more from the start of the season. Rivers established a quick
rapport with Keenan Allen in his rookie season, when Allen had
105 targets, so there is precedent for Rivers quickly trusting
a young player.
The biggest question for Pittman is likely to be a mental one
– how quickly can he pick up the playbook, learn the entire
route tree, figure out the timing aspect with Rivers, and so forth?
If he is a quick learner, he could have a huge rookie season.
Parris Campbell might be the clearest representation of disappointment
of the Colts’ 2019 season. Much was expected of Campbell,
but in his rookie campaign he dealt with a nagging hamstring injury,
a sports hernia (for which he had surgery), a fractured hand,
and a broken foot! Is he prone to injury or just bad luck? That
is certainly a question that must be considered when one is considering
For now, let’s assume he’ll be able to stay healthier
this season. If so, what should we expect? Campbell certainly
showed he has blazing speed at the 2019 Combine, running the 40
in 4.31 seconds. He is also very quick and is likely to be effective
in the slot. Although Hilton does play around 35% of his snaps
from the slot, he plays a majority of his snaps outside, and Pittman
will be outside almost exclusively. That should leave a good opportunity
for Campbell, as the Colts ran 11 personnel (3 wide receivers)
over 60% of the time last season.
It is incredibly difficult to predict the intricacies of how
this offense will look with so many new or nearly-new faces, but
I would say Campbell is likely to receive 5 or 6 targets per game,
making him a viable late-round PPR draft target.
Like the rest of the 2019 Colts, Jack Doyle struggled. On the
positive side of the ledger, he stayed healthy and played in all
16 games. But he never got on the same page with Brissett, and
produced only 43 receptions for 448 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Now he gets an opportunity to play with Rivers, who may enjoy
throwing to tight ends as much as any QB in the league. While
Doyle is probably not a special talent, he is steady. He has good
hands and typically where he is supposed to be. In this offense
and alongside Rivers, I envision him getting around 6 targets
per game, which should enable him to catch around around 50 balls
for around 600 yards. If he scores a handful of times, that would
make him a viable fantasy tight end.
Playing with Rivers will not make him into a young Antonio Gates,
but he can provide a steady option who should receive regular
targets and score the occasional touchdown. The Colts did add
Trey Burton this offseason, who is more dynamic as an athlete.
However, Burton has been inconsistent and will likely play a very
limited number of snaps, either in special packages or in 12 personnel.
Doyle should remain on the field for virtually every snap, since
he’s a superior blocker and a more consistent player overall.