THE COLTS ROSTER HAS BEEN ASSEMBLED. TRADES HAVE OCCURRED, FREE AGENTS HAVE BEEN SIGNED, AND ROOKIES HAVE BEEN DRAFTED. NOW THAT WE HAVE A VERY STRONG SENSE OF THE COLTS ROSTER, WE CAN FINALLY PROJECT HOW IT WILL PRODUCE IN 2022. WE CONTINUE THIS SERIES WITH: THE COLTS’ RECEIVING PROJECTIONS.
The 2022 Offseason has brought about significant change for the Colts skill position units. Gone are veteran Tight End Jack Doyle (Retirement), Wide Receiver Zach Pascal (signed by the Eagles as a Free Agent), and Running Back Marlon Mack. Longtime Colts WR TY Hilton remains unsigned at this moment, and his return to the Colts is possible but not set in stone. Veteran WR still remains a need for the Colts, but they still have enough money left to sign one to further bolster the unit.
The Colts have spent a decent amount of resources to resupply new Quarterback Matt Ryan with new weapons. In the draft the Colts invested 3 picks on skill position talent, adding:
- 2nd Round WR Alec Pierce
- 3rd Round TE Jelani Woods
- 6th Round TE Andrew Ogletree
The Colts also addressed their RB depth needs post-draft with several undrafted Free Agents at RB (D’Vonte Price, CJ Verdell). They also signed 2 veteran RBs with solid production in the past: former Denver Broncos RB1 Phillip Lindsay & former Baltimore Ravens promising backup RB Ty’Son Williams.
Based off of both Matt Ryan’s historic tendencies at his target distribution (weighing most recent seasons more heavily) as well as Frank Reich’s offensive target distribution to positions, and my expectations for each player’s roles we can create a projection for what the Colts receiving production should look like.
Running Back Stat Projections
Nyhiem Hines Emerges
Hines has been one of the best dual threat backs in the NFL on a per touch basis since he was drafted in 2018. He has shown remarkable versatility as a runner and receiver both in the back field and out wide. With Matt Ryan in the fold, the Colts have a QB who is not afraid to take what a defense gives him and check down.
All Nyheim Hines does is catch TDs and land front flips. 🤸♂️
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) November 1, 2020
However, Hines’ role is not going to simply be a checkdown option out of the backfield. Reports from early OTAs say the former North Carolina State Wolfpack member has been lining up as a WR and participating in those drills as well as his usual role with the RB group.
From that, it sounds like Hines’ usage could be reminiscent of Ryan’s last RB/WR Cordarrelle Patterson, who had a big breakout year in 2021. If that wasn’t enough, Frank Reich has taken the Hines hype train into full steam,
“I was just laughing with [senior director of football communications Matt] Conti coming in here, talking about Nyheim and I said, ‘If I was a fantasy owner, if I was going to be in a fantasy league, I think I’d pick Nyheim this year. I think I’d consider drafting Nyheim. I think it’s worth [it] to consider drafting him.’”
Based on projections, Hines’ 185.2 PPR fantasy points for 2022 would be 24th amongst RBs in 2021. This would be high end Flex/low end RB2 territory in fantasy football depending on league size.
With Hines being further emphasized this year in the offense, I project him to be the 2nd most targeted player on the Colts offense. Due to his potential to gain more targets out wide or in the slot this season, it isn’t lofty to expect him to achieve new career highs in receiving yards and yards per catch. While his stats on their own from just rushing or receiving might not stand out too much, similar to Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer Lenny Moore, when combined the true level of his impact becomes apparent. In Nyheim Hines, the Colts have a true offensive weapon at their disposal.
Total Stats from Scrimmage:
- 145 Touches
- 912 Total Yards
- 6.29 Yards Per Touch
- 6 Total TDs
- 47 1st Downs
- 656 Yards After Catch/Contact
- 4.52 Yards After Catch/Contact Per Touch
Jonathan Taylor Transforms
In case you haven’t heard, Jonathan Taylor is pretty good at this whole football thing. The 2021 rushing champ has continued to develop not just on the ground, but as a receiving threat too. Some scouts might be surprised by this, as coming out of Wisconsin he wasn’t used much as a receiver and thus some had concerns in that regard. Consider those concerns squashed.
Jonathan Taylor and A.J.Dillon. Two great scouting lessons on grading receiving abilities for RBs. Just because they weren’t asked to do it much in college, doesn’t mean it should be a negative on their scouting report.
— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) November 21, 2021
Taylor’s Yards After the Catch and big play threat ability developed especially in 2021, and he continued to see an expanded target share. I anticipate a slight increase in his targets, but having a more accurate QB under center should definitely help his catch percentage return close to his league leading rookie season of 92.3%.
Jonathan Taylor was averaging 12.7 yards per catch before the passing game tailed off last year, and there were missed opportunities.
Matt Ryan’s the type of QB who won’t pass up an open Taylor.
“Backyard football… You have so much space.”https://t.co/TDaOM2m9GF
— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAErickson) May 12, 2022
While I anticipate that Taylor will regress in total yards from scrimmage and TDs, it is more so because of his decrease in touches on the ground. The fact that a 2,000+ total yards, 19 TD season is considered regression for Taylor is mind boggling.
Jonathan Taylor already has 32 touchdowns in his career
The only players EVER to have more in their first 2 NFL seasons are
▪️Eric Dickerson pic.twitter.com/0b9psVWALn
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) May 27, 2022
Total Stats from Scrimmage
- 347 Touches
- 2,015 Total Yards
- 5.81 Yards Per Touch
- 19 Total TDs
- 109 1st Downs
- 1,304 Yards After Catch/Contact
- 3.76 Yards After Catch/Contact Per Touch
Overall, Taylor and Hines form a lethal multifaceted duo who can share the field at the same time and be threats in a variety of different roles and alignments. Taylor’s unique talent as one of the best runners in the game, paired with being a top 10-15 receiving back, makes him have a strong case for best all-around RB in the NFL. Hines is an elite receiving threat as an RB/WR and should be seen as one of the best backups in the league.
Tight End Stat Projections
TE Trio Rotation Attack
Matt Ryan in the past hasn’t been shy to heavily target tight ends. Tony Gonzales and Kyle Pitts have been used as top 2 options in his passing attacks while Hayden Hurst, Austin Hooper, and Jacob Tamme all had career seasons with Ryan throwing to them. The Colts’ TE room doesn’t have a top flight receiving threat who will command consistent targets, but it will be a heavily rotated group of solid ones in a variety of skill sets.
MAC Trucks His Way To The Top
Mo Alie-Cox will hold down an inline blocking role and be used as a chain-moving possession TE, particularly in the red zone.
The Colts are about to start two tight ends each standing 7+ feet tall and weighing 300+ pounds and it’s like none of you even care
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 30, 2022
He will be solid yet unspectacular, doing a lot of little things right. An essential piece of the run game who will dazzle with some highlight catches. Since he is the most proven vet in the group, he will be the most likely TE to garner majority targets from Ryan in 2022.
Enter The Woods
— Indy Source (@SourceIndiana) May 7, 2022
Jelani Woods isn’t far behind in projected targets. The gargantuan prospect out of Virginia Tech has the chance to instantly find a role in this offense similar to how Reich previously used Eric Ebron. Expect a good amount of snaps out wide or as a “Big Slot”, as well as going to his inline blocking roots too. A threat from a variety of alignments, Jelani’s special athleticism for his size will definitely be utilized by Reich to create mismatches throughout the field.
Kylen Keeps Course
Should Colts fans expect Jelani Woods to come in and jump Kylen Granson and Mo Ali-Cox for the starting TE position? https://t.co/rw4Fi8gni7
— 1075 The Fan (@1075thefan) May 10, 2022
Kylen Granson, I foresee being used similarly to Trey Burton. A YAC specialist who can be used vertically, but his agility and route running will be used to great effect in the short passing game. He and Woods should battle it out for TE2 snaps and specialize in splitting out wide.
Fun fact: Since Eric Ebron in 2018-2019 & Jack Doyle in 2019, no Colts tight end has been targeted 50+ times in a season. The Colts TEs have been a good group as a whole, but never with an individual emerging to put up consistently relevant fantasy usage. That being said, this unit will be the unsung heroes of the offense to the casual viewer.
After investing 3 picks at the tight end position in the last 2 drafts (including Andrew Ogletree), there is a lot of potential for one or more of these young TEs grow into elite playmakers later on in their careers if given big enough roles. The future of the position could be very bright, but at present this is going to be a committee.
Wide Receiver Stat Projections
MPJ Stays Steady
Seriously, conspiracy theorist’s are everywhere… pic.twitter.com/9Y1PrvxjjH
— Lawrence Owen (@Colts_Law) October 26, 2021
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Michael Pittman Jr is the projected Wide Receiver #1 and top target for the Colts in 2022. I expect him to have a slightly lower target share given how much Matt Ryan spreads them around the offense as a whole.
However, this is far from a regression projection, as MPJ still finishes with career bests in catches, yards, and touchdowns. This is due to having a QB with more accurate ball placement to put him in better positions to succeed at the catch point and to get more yards after the catch. Should he take a step to be even more efficient in 2022, MPJ will continue to gain notoriety as one the NFL’s top wide receivers.
Alec Pierces The Top 3
Rookie Wide Receiver Alec Pierce begins his career as a safe bet to crack the top 3 most targeted players for the Colts. The 21 year-old from University of Cincinnati should immediately be the team’s top vertical threat. With his field-stretching speed and phenomenal acceleration paired with a large frame to win contested catches, Pierce should be a downfield burner from the get-go.
— Indy Source (@SourceIndiana) June 1, 2022
A 600 yard and 5 TD season off of only 69 targets is a very solid rookie season for Pierce. Essentially, he replaces Zach Pascal’s 2019/2020 production, but as a young rookie with even further room to grow, as well as being a better downfield threat.
— Stampede Blue (@StampedeBlue) May 20, 2022
He won’t achieve numbers at the level of Ja’Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson in their own respective rookie years, but a promising beginning to a player with immense athletic potential.
The Ghost Haunts Again
Perhaps the most surprising projection, and not because of the stats. TY Hilton returns to Indy and again provides a much-needed veteran presence. While this move hasn’t happened yet, I do expect the Colts to add a veteran WR to the unit and TY is the most likely addition of the remaining free agent wideouts.
The Colts are still discussing the possibility of adding a veteran WR.
And yes, T.Y. Hilton is one of the WRs being discussed https://t.co/9Jy5ATNHTQ
— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAErickson) June 2, 2022
TY’s role has typically been as a deep threat, but I could see him being used more frequently as an intermediate route runner. Injuries have piled on in recent years, and he has noticeably lost a bit of his speed. With Alec Pierce being added, he could take away Hilton’s role as a deep threat on the outside and allow TY to slide into a shorter yardage slot role. If TY stays healthy, I anticipate him as a good bet to become the 3rd Colts WR to hit 10,000 career receiving yards with the team, joining Marvin Harrison & current Colts WR coach Reggie Wayne.
Lost In Parris
Parris Campbell has had a tough break to begin his career. Playing in 15 out of 48 games to start his career, health has limited his impact thus far. The YAC beast has flashed his potential at times, and has show flashes as a deep threat, but the sample size is still too small. With Matt Ryan spreading the ball around heavily to the RB and TE units, as well as 2 second round WRs drafted in the last 3 years ahead of him, Parris gets the short end of the stick as the WR4.
Disclaimer: I know what you’re going to say, so please spare me.
But… One of the stars of this practice so far is Parris Campbell.
— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) June 1, 2022
If he stays healthy and TY either doesn’t return or gets injured, Parris will have the opportunity to get a bigger role. He certainly has the speed to separate from any defender and has decent size to boot. The question is can he stay healthy enough to wrest some high value targets from Pierce, the TEs, Hines, and TY? Parris needs several things to swing right for him to finally break out and earn a bigger role, but if he does, he could finally give Colts fans a bigger look at his sky high potential in Frank Reich’s offense.
The Colts under Frank Reich have been one of the lowest WR target percentage offenses in the NFL, so naturally the unit doesn’t gain the same amount of cumulative stats as some of their counterparts in the NFL. New QB Matt Ryan has been on both the high end and low end of that WR target % spectrum in his career. However the Colts don’t have a WR yet of prime Julio Jones’ caliber to command that insane target share, and in 2021, Ryan had the lowest WR target share in the NFL.
WR Pierce 6’3”
WR Pittman 6’4”
WR Strachan 6’5”
TE Alie-Cox 6’6”
TE Woods 6’7”
— Peyton2Luck™️ (@Peyton2L) April 30, 2022
In spite of low volume, the Colts WRs are projected to have really good production. MPJ cements himself as a WR1 and top 15-20 overall in the league. Pierce shows enough promise to grow into an even bigger threat, especially from the deep zone. TY returns for one last ride and helps mentor the young unit. Parris has a role when healthy that could expand. It remains to be seen however, if Ashton Dulin, Michael Strachan, Dez Patmon, or anyone else who makes the roster as the WR5-6, gets an expanded role in the event of injuries ahead of them on the depth chart.
The Jelani Woods Passing TD
Astute readers of this series will note that thus far I have projected only 29 receiving touchdowns. While Matt Ryan is responsible for throwing each of those, there is one last TD left to project: the Jelani Woods passing TD.
.@NateAtkins_ was just saying that Jelani Woods beat Davis Mills as a high school QB, and then it hit me:
Jelani Woods, Wildcat QB.
— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAErickson) April 30, 2022
While Jelani Woods very well could throw the TD to a WR, a RB, or a fellow TE, what’s the fun in that? The Colts do have 2 former TEs turned OL in Bernhard Raimann and Danny Pinter who could be used as eligible receivers downfield for a trick play, but I project Reich brings back one historic play into the playbook for a different target: The Philly Special.
“WHAT DID WE JUST SEE?!” 🚨👀
The “Philly Special” is written in history for Super Bowl LII. #NFL100
📺: NFL 100 GREATEST PLAYS | Now on NFL Network pic.twitter.com/2jWgj5skdF
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) September 21, 2019
And who better to receive this target than the greatest pass catching QB in Super Bowl history, Nick Foles? Whether or not this occurs vs the Patriots again is to be determined (though I have doubts the Colts could fool the evil hoodie with the same trick play twice). Nevertheless, Frank Reich loves to use misdirection and trickery at times in the red zone and short yardage situations. Bringing back a Philly Special play call could occur at some point in 2022 during one of those situations.
In these projections, Matt Ryan is not afraid to spread the ball around. He targets 9 different players 34 or more times, while giving the ball at an above average rate to WR1 Michael Pittman Jr, RBs Nyhiem Hines & Jonathan Taylor, and his Tight End unit in particular.
The Colts balanced attack is more accurate and predicated in Yards After the Catch than in years past, but still can create big plays. The 2,291 total YAC and 5.81 YAC per Catch would have each ranked 4th in 2021. The Colts’ playmakers would be highly adept at creating for themselves once they are put in better situations to do so with improved ball placement and throw timing in and out of breaks.
“like you turn your head and the ball is gonna be on point.”
— Colts Coverage (@Colts_Coverage) June 1, 2022
The Colts overall would also have around a below league average drop rate, with 16 drops ranking t-22nd in 2021. While this is a 2 drop increase from the team’s 2021 drop count, this is in part due to a higher volume passing attack and a solid target share for two rookies in Alec Pierce and Jelani Woods. Woods in particular is the biggest culprit, with 4 projected drops leading the team on just 45 targets. However the rest of the targets should have low drop rates, meaning Matt Ryan will have no shortage of players to throw to, reliably come down with the ball.
— Brandon Saho (@BrandonSaho) December 20, 2020
Ultimately, the Colts passing attack will be multi-faceted and versatile. Using a strong TE rotation as well as a dynamic RB duo to full advantage, while having a solid WR1 in Michael Pittman Jr, and a good mix of YAC and deep ball specialists at WR, the Colts will hit opponents in multiple ways. With a ton of speed at all three position groups, the Colts pass game will threaten opposing D’s vertically and horizontally.
Should these projections hold true, it will be a fun year for the Colts offense in 2022.
Check Out Our Previous 2022 Stat Projections