Karabell: What Luck’s retirement means for fantasy

NFL

New Indianapolis Colts starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett was not a notably valuable fantasy quarterback during the 2017 season, as he filled in for an injured Andrew Luck and threw 13 touchdown passes in 15 starts, ever-so-gently easing past 3,000 passing yards while leading the sport in times sacked. Then again, Brissett was all of 24 years old at the time and clearly unprepared for the role, pushed into his first chance at regular playing time right after a trade, and with a terrible Colts roster surrounding him.

Brissett takes over from Luck yet again after the stunning announcement that Luck, mentally worn down from years of fighting injuries, has retired from the game at 29. Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, performed exceptionally well during the 2018 season, the fourth time since 2013 he was a top-five fantasy quarterback. Luck missed all of 2017 and Brissett, a third-round choice of the New England Patriots in 2016 and dealt to the Colts for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett just before the 2017 season began, did not have much of a chance to succeed. One can argue he has a much better chance now.

Look, nobody is saying Brissett is as skilled as Luck or the Colts are Super Bowl-bound, and this is not some recommendation to make Brissett a top-20 fantasy quarterback. But it is worth pointing out he finished the 2017 season as … the No. 20 fantasy quarterback. Volume played an obvious role there, but still, the point is that he was competent. Ranking Brissett better than 20th today seems ill-advised, but I do have him ranked ahead of quite a few other starting quarterbacks, and I believe those who already chose other Colts in drafts, specifically wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, running back Marlon Mack and tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, should reconsider their high level of panic. Here is how I currently value these players:

T.Y. Hilton

Hilton seems unlikely to produce the same numbers we expected as recently as a few days ago, but he has averaged more than 1,200 receiving yards per season since the start of 2013, including the 2017 campaign when he approached 1,000 yards, nearly a third of Brissett’s total. Hilton and Brissett achieved that with an underwhelming offensive line and a coaching situation in flux and ripe for change. Nobody is saying this is an ideal trend for the receiver, but Hilton was a usable flex option that season and he should remain a reasonable, though lessened, WR2 choice.

Marlon Mack

Mack was on that 2017 team, a rookie playing behind the ageless Frank Gore, and last season he received his opportunity and turned in a top-20 fantasy running back season. The Colts could now decide to rely more on the running game and Mack’s volume might increase. Mack is a talented player. Do not give up on him, either.

Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle

The tight end dichotomy with Ebron and Doyle was already a fascinating one, frankly, with the former tallying a ridiculous 13 touchdowns last season, and Doyle, due to injury, assuming a secondary role after his breakout 2017. Doyle saw a major target share that season (the same as Hilton, actually, at 23%), hauling in 80 receptions, albeit for only 690 yards. Brissett did not do a whole lot of throwing deep that season, which affected Hilton more than anyone, but again, it hardly means Brissett is incapable of doing so, or of improvement. It is hardly unusual for offensive coordinators to protect young quarterbacks from making mistakes, as the Baltimore Ravens did with Lamar Jackson last season. Brissett is capable of throwing downfield if the team allows it. Be positive.

So, you already had Luck on your roster …

Of course, it is a giant bummer for those who have already chosen Luck in a draft or auction, but then again, there is no deeper fantasy position (among the relevant ones) than quarterback. Jameis Winston, Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo and Sam Darnold are among the intriguing yet ignored quarterbacks in most ESPN average live drafts, and while I personally do not peg any as a likely top-10 performer, I was ignoring Luck in the first place, even before his most recent injury seemed likely to jeopardize his September. Waiting on quarterbacks is the right move in drafts due to the depth and opportunity cost of missing on important flex-eligible choices. Yes, it stinks if you chose Luck, but your team can recover. I am just sad we do not get to watch him play any longer.

Updated projections

Fantasy managers seem to be a generally pessimistic lot, so let us turn to ESPN Fantasy colleague Mike Clay with his updated projections, which I think are relatively positive. To Clay, Mack still rushes for more than 1,000 yards and scores seven touchdowns, a solid flex option in PPR formats. Diminutive running back Nyheim Hines remains an occasional flex choice for PPR formats. Hilton passes 1,100 receiving yards and remains a WR2 regardless of format. Ebron was not likely to sail into double-digit touchdown receptions even with Luck slingin’ it, and he and Doyle likely share the tight end targets, with one adding relevant value should the other get hurt. This was not an ideal scenario to start with.

Oh, and by the way, Clay’s projections have Brissett ending up as the No. 20 fantasy quarterback yet again, with nearly 4,000 passing yards and 26 total touchdowns. Those numbers are, to be frank, not so bad. They are not Andrew Luck numbers, but few quarterbacks could do that anyway. Sure, our first look at Brissett was nothing special, but the Colts are better now. Perhaps they can still surprise the NFL, and fantasy managers along the way, too.

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