This is the second in my series taking a deeper dive into the fantasy ramifications of some of the top positional battles in the NFL. This week, we are looking at the Indianapolis Colts fantasy running back battle between rookie Jonathan Taylor and incumbents Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines. Two will enter, but only one will leave victorious! FIGHT!
Colts Fantasy Running Back Battle: Taylor vs. Mack vs. Hines
2019 Recap: Marlon Mack’s inconsistencies
This time last year, Marlon Mack was locked in as a high-upside RB2 in fantasy football with an ADP in the late fourth round of drafts. He was playing alongside Andrew Luck and behind a terrific offensive line. Colts fans everywhere had high hopes for a playoff run in 2019. That was until Luck retired out of nowhere right before the season and threw everyone for a loop.
Mack was never the most durable running back in the NFL, but with the QB position suddenly being in transition, the team had to lean on their running game more in order to win. Unfortunately, Mack only started 12 of the 14 games he played in, getting 1,091 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground along with a meager 14 catches for only 82 yards through the air. Over the entire season these stats put him at RB17 in PPR leagues, smack in the middle of the RB2 discussion from a fantasy standpoint. But was he a reliable RB2 for fantasy owners?
The problem Mack had was his week-to-week fluctuation. Mack had two weeks where he missed the field entirely due to injury and had four other weeks with fewer than seven PPR fantasy points. This means that six of his 16 weekly scores were very disappointing or entirely unusable. On top of that, Mack finished as RB43 in OSM (Offensive Share Metric) for the year, meaning he didn’t do much at all with the opportunities he was given in comparison to other backs. Inconsistency and poor individual performance like Mack’s can wreck a fantasy team’s production and inevitably lose championships.
One big piece of Mack’s game that was missing in 2019 was his usage in the passing game. The Colts preferred Nyheim Hines for that, throwing to him 58 times for 44 receptions and 320 yards through the air alone. This is a stark comparison to the almost non-existent numbers Mack put up as a pass-catcher himself and a sign of things to come as the Colts entered the NFL draft. Clearly they were looking for an upgrade.
A new challenger has entered the arena: Jonathan Taylor
When the Colts traded up in the second round to select Taylor with the 41st overall pick, PFN’s Tony Pauline said that Taylor “immediately jumps to the top of the depth chart” and that he was “a terrific fit for the offense.” Brad Kelly called the Taylor pick “a slam-dunk for the Colts.”
According to the pre-draft scouting report, Taylor is “(b)est as an inside power runner” and that he “will be very productive at the next level in the proper scheme.” All of this analysis reinforces the idea that not only did the Colts feel a need to upgrade at the position, but that they did so in a major way by drafting Taylor.
Prior to the draft, Taylor was widely considered the best rookie running back in the class from a fantasy standpoint. However, with the Kansas City Chiefs selecting Clyde Edwards-Helaire at pick 32, a fantasy debate was born: should I take Taylor or CEH at 1.01 in rookie drafts? For me, Taylor was the 1.01 before knowing where he’d be playing and knowing his new team only improved his stock.
The writing is on the wall: this is Taylor’s team now, and he has the talent to be a top-5 RB in fantasy eventually. But what about 2020 specifically?
Taylor vs. Mack vs. Hines in 2020
Looking ahead to this next season it’s difficult to project exactly how this offense will look. One thing is clear, the Colts did not trust their backfield with Mack and Hines alone. Head Coach Frank Reich recently made waves when he said that Hines would definitely have a role in the passing game, but he didn’t exactly have much to say about Mack’s role going forward. That silence speaks volumes to me.
In terms of fantasy, Mack’s value is trending in the wrong direction. but Hines is likely still worth what he was in March. If you’re desperate at RB and can get either of them on the cheap I think both are worth acquiring for bench depth if nothing else. Neither player is going to be a reliable RB2 for your team, but both still have flex appeal in a pinch. Depending on the cost, they could prove valuable stashes on your team.
The one guy you’ll have a hard time buying is Taylor. It’s very likely that he went early in the first round of your rookie draft to an owner who couldn’t wait to draft him. If you were one of those lucky enough to get a share, he’s definitely a hold until we see more about how this offense shakes out. He’s by far the best asset in this backfield and should be a valuable starter for you for the next few years, perhaps even in 2020, therefore making Taylor the winner of this battle, hands down.
Winner: Jonathan Taylor by a mile
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Andrew Hall is a writer for PFN covering the NFL and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewHallFF.