Marlon Mack vs. the Colts Backfield…and the Fantasy World

Editor’s Note: This article was written before Mack sustained an injury in Week 1 of the preseason. Mack sustained a hamstring injury, and is expected to miss multiple weeks of the preseason, but is not currently expected to miss any regular season games.

Marlon Mack is a player that people in the fantasy community seem divided on. He is expected to be the lead back to start the season in Indianapolis, but people are worried since the Colts drafted 2 RBs in the 2018 NFL draft and some of the numbers in Mack’s rookie season were below average. He did see a limited workload in a situation that will be very different than this season, so the question remains is Marlon Mack going to be a good fantasy RB in 2018? These are the decisions in fantasy drafts that will impact your team’s chances at competing for the title and here I am going to try to answer that question by looking at the Colts’ backfield situation and Mack’s statistics.

Fantasy Opportunity for Colts’ Backfield

The first thing to determine is whether or not the Colts’ backfield role is valuable for fantasy. It is easy enough to say the starting RB for an NFL team is always valuable, but let’s dive a little deeper. In PPR leagues here is where the top Colts’ fantasy RB finished in PPR scoring starting with 2017 going back to 2013: 19, 12, 14, 22 & 28. It is also worth noting in 2013 & 2014 Trent Richardson was the player that received the most volume, but he finished in the 30s both season. In 2014 Ahmad Bradshaw finished as the RB22 on only 90 rushes and 47 targets, in 2013 Donald Brown finished at RB28 on 102 carries and 35 targets. Richardson over that time so 316 carries and averaged only 3.1 yards per carry. Which means the lower finishes in those seasons can be attributed more towards Trent Richardson’s inefficiency than the Colts’ situation, especially given the success of the other RBs on the same teams. It seems realistic to project the lead back for the Colts to finish in the mid RB2 range.

Mack’s 2017 Season

The number that stands out when looking quickly at Mack’s season is that he averaged only 3.8 yards per carry. There are some who look at this and go “well he is too inefficient” or say he’s “not talented enough.” However, looking at the factors surrounding him in 2017 might tell a different story. The first thing to consider is according to Pro Football Focus, the Colts finished 2017 with 25th ranked offensive line, going into the 2018 season they are 17th. While that only puts them in the middle of the pack, it shows how the Colts prioritized their line this off season. That effort was highlighted by taking offensive guard Quenton Nelson out for Notre Dame in the 1st round, he profiles as a great player who will make an immediate impact.

Also according to Pro Football Focus: on average offensive lines allowed their RB to gain 1.47 yards before contact in 2017, the Colts were the 3rd worst in the league averaging only 1.02 yards before contact. Which means Mack, on average, was at a disadvantage of almost half a yard per carry all season. He made the most of this opportunity finishing 9th in yards per carry after initial contact.

When this is combined with the fact that he played with Jacoby Brissett instead of Andrew Luck, it shows that Mack was not put into a situation to succeed in 2017. After looking at these statistics, I expect him to be north of 4 yards per carry in 2018, which when combined with averaging 10.7 yards per reception in 2018 it looks like Mack has solid upside that is being ignored.

How Mack Compares to His Teammates

The backfield in Indy has a few names to be aware of, a mix of a few names that have been around for a while as well as younger players. The idea of a crowded back field and a committee is a legitimate concern. The following are the players the notable RBs that the Colts have Marlon Mack, Robert Turbin, Christine Michael, Jordin Wilkins and Nyheim Hines. That many names may seem intimidating to fantasy players, but if you look at each player there are less threats to Mack’s volume than it seems at first glance.

Robert Turbin: Has been a solid but not spectacular player who has been in the league for a while. He is now 29 and suspended for the first 4 games of the season. His suspension gives the other players on the roster the ability to establish their role; by the time he is back it will likely take an injury for him to be relevant.

Christine Michael: It would surprise me if he even ends up on the roster. He has bounced around the NFL with various teams and has trouble really sticking anywhere. He might only survive the preseason because of the Turbin suspension.

Nyheim Hines: Hines is being brought in to be a 3rd down back; he is not going to be eating into carries. His limited early down role will still provide pass catching opportunities to the lead back in this offense. He will likely be useful for fantasy in 2017, but will not have the upside needed to be difference maker without enough volume.

Jordan Wilkins: This is the most interesting one and probably the guy some fantasy owners are talking themselves into. People see him being drafted as a sign that Mack might not be the new regime’s guy. If he was drafted in the first 3 rounds I could see this argument, but I don’t think they will feel committed to either guy because of their draft cost. People love rookies, but Mack is actually 2 years younger than Wilkins, entering this season at 22 while Wilkins is going to be a 24 year old rookie.

Mack tested as faster and a more explosive athlete at the combine. They are similar sized players, Wilkins is a little taller but they are only separated by a few pounds. Mack starts as the lead guy and Wilkins needs to beat him out to take the role. With the improved line and the return of Luck, Mack has the job to lose and I don’t think he will let it go unless it gets hurt.

Conclusion

While Mack does not have the upside of a top 5 RB, the situation and his talent indicate he has the potential to be mid RB2. His current PPR ADP is at the beginning of the 7th round as the 32nd RB overall. That means a gadget player like Tarik Cohen that people are hyping up is going ahead of him. The clear 2nd RB in Atlanta Tevin Coleman is going ahead of him.

These seem like mistakes to me, Mack is a great value in this spot. Drafting a guy who should finish as an RB2 as your 3rd or 4th RB is a steal, taking Mack is great part of a draft strategy to build a deep and flexible roster. If you have the early RB that goes down he will keep your team from cratering, when another team thin at RB is looking to trade you will be in strong position, or if Mack is the guy you slide into your flex most weeks you will be happy with the results. To answer my initial question, Yes Marlon Mack is going to be a good fantasy RB in 2018.

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