This article is part of our Team Previews series.
With their franchise QB healthy and a youthful defense that far exceeded expectations, the Colts returned to the playoffs after a four-year absence. They'll have to sustain the dramatic improvement on defense, but the team has plenty of available cap space and could embark on a multi-year postseason run led by Andrew Luck.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
UPGRADED RECEIVER TALENT FOR LUCK
In his return to action last year, Andrew Luck finished second in the NFL with 39 touchdown passes, despite working with a motley crew of pass catchers. In the process, he tossed scoring strikes to 13 different players, including a rotating group of receivers behind top option T.Y. Hilton. Luck also survived injuries to tight end Jack Doyle (10 games) and Hilton (two games). In Doyle's absence, Eric Ebron blossomed, making 14 trips to the end zone. This past offseason, the Colts sought to upgrade the receiving talent around Luck by signing Devin Funchess to a one-year, $10 million contract and selecting Parris Campbell in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. At 6-4, Funchess provides another viable red zone target, and Campbell's 4.31 40-yard dash is a rare mark for a receiver of his size (6-0, 205). Their arrival is supplemented by the expectation that both Doyle and Hilton will be fully healthy by the start of the regular season. Meanwhile, the likes of Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal, Deon Cain, Marcus Johnson and Daurice Fountain will jostle for depth chart slotting. Should Luck mesh well with Funchess and Campbell, who look like clear upgrades over the departed Ryan Grant and Dontrelle Inman, Indy's franchise QB could thrive, especially considering his offensive line gave up the fewest sacks in the NFL last season.
CAN MACK HANDLE THE LOAD?
Marlon Mack began last season as Indy's starting running back but proceeded to record just 18 snaps over the team's first four games due to lower body injuries. When finally healthy, he rushed for 874 yards and nine touchdowns over his last 11 contests, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Mack then added 194 yards rushing and averaged 5.9 yards a tote through the Colts' two playoff games. After a lengthy spell in which 100-yard rushing efforts were a rarity for the team, Mack topped the mark five times last season, playoffs included. The Colts gave their top rusher a boost of confidence by not spending a significant chunk of their league-high cap room on the backfield and also by declining to select a running back in the 2019 draft. Spencer Ware was signed to an affordable deal to add depth, but Mack remains the clear-cut starter. He'll need to improve in the passing game (17 catches for 103 yards last season) to stay on the field on third downs, after logging three drops on just 26 targets. Nyheim Hines played about a third of the team's snaps in the backfield when Mack was healthy, amassing 63 receptions with an excellent 77.8 catch rate. Additionally, Jordan Wilkins showed flashes when Mack was hurt – for example, he tallied 61 rushing yards on 10 carries Week 2 – but was otherwise entrenched as a complementary option.
DEFENSE SEEKS SUCCESSFUL ENCORE
The Colts approached the 2018 season with low expectations on defense after the unit ranked 30th in total yards allowed each of the two previous campaigns and welcomed few high-profile additions. However, new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus engineered a dramatic improvement to 11th in total yards allowed. This was accomplished by an innovative approach of creative blitzes and defensive line stunts, along with some surprising performances such as the one turned in by 2018 second-rounder Darius Leonard. The linebacker led the NFL with 162 tackles and was named a first-team All-Pro. The defense, which had previously struggled against the run, improved to sixth in yards per attempt last year. Surprisingly, a secondary led by unheralded cornerbacks Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore helped the Colts finish fifth in allowing pass plays of more than 20 yards. A mediocre pass rush and thin depth in the secondary, though, were exposed in the team's playoff loss at Kansas City. To boost the pass rush, the Colts signed end Justin Houston, who logged nine sacks last season. The team also spent a second-round draft pick on promising pass rusher Ben Banogu. To boost the secondary, the Colts spent another second-rounder on cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, along with fourth and fifth-round picks on safeties Khari Willis and Marvell Tell.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Andrew Luck
Luck amazingly didn't skip a beat in 2018 after missing a full season with a shoulder injury. He threw for 4,593 yards and 39 TDs, while setting career highs in completion percentage (67.3) and passer rating (98.7). Luck could be even better this year, with upgraded talent in the receiving corps and a stout offensive line in front of him.
RISING: Marlon Mack
After a slow start due to injury, Mack rushed for 1,068 yards and 10 TDs over his final 13 games (including playoffs). He's the clear lead back and could cement an every-down role if he improves as a receiver.
FALLING: Eric Ebron
Ebron will remain a mainstay in the offense, but 14 TDs will be hard to repeat. He'll face more competition for targets and red-zone looks from a healthy Jack Doyle, as well as wideouts Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell.
SLEEPER: Parris Campbell
Campbell has the speed (his 4.31 40 time at the combine topped all receivers) and athleticism to make an immediate impact as a rookie. Just look at the success Andrew Luck has enjoyed with burner T.Y. Hilton.
KEY JOB BATTLE – SECOND AND THIRD WIDEOUTS
T.Y. Hilton is the Colts' undisputed top wideout, but there's still fantasy value to be mined behind him. Big-bodied Devin Funchess is coming off a down season, but he flashed potential with the Panthers in 2017 en route to a 63-840-8 stat line. His prime competition for the attention of Andrew Luck comes in the form of rookie Parris Campbell, a second-round burner with big-play potential. Based on current ADP, Funchess has a slight leg up in the eyes of fantasy observers, but a strong camp and preseason out of Campbell could tilt things in his favor.
JUSTIN HOUSTON – DE (from Chiefs)
Provides the Colts with a needed edge rusher.
PARRIS CAMPBELL – WR (Rd. 2, No. 59 – Ohio State)
Has the speed to earn a sizable pass-catching role.
DEVIN FUNCHESS – WR (from Panthers)
Faltered in Carolina but could thrive with Andrew Luck.
SPENCER WARE – RB (from Chiefs)
Enters a crowded backfield situation.
ROCK YA-SIN – CB (Rd. 2, No. 34 – Temple)
Profiles as an eventual starting outside cornerback.
BEN BANOGU – DE (Rd. 2, No. 49 – TCU)
Could see work as both a linebacker and end as a rookie.
RYAN GRANT – WR (to Raiders)
Never really got on track during his stint with the Colts.
DONTRELLE INMAN – WR (to Patriots)
The team revamped T.Y. Hilton's supporting cast.
THE INJURY FRONT
Andrew Luck, QB – Luck was held out of OTAs and June minicamp while recovering from a calf strain, which will limit his practice reps at the outset of training camp. Last year at this time, he was just getting back into the swing of things after sitting out the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury that lingered for quite some time. He seems well past that once-concerning issue and, when healthy, can focus on building a rapport with newcomers like Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell.
Spencer Ware, RB – Ware, who had a lengthy injury history during his stint with the Chiefs, will open training camp on the Colts' preseason PUP list with an unknown muscle injury that's expected to keep him out of practice for two weeks. That's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but the free-agent addition will need to do some catching up upon his return, with an eye toward securing a complementary role behind starter Marlon Mack. With Nyheim Hines set to work in a change-of-pace role, Ware's main competition will come from Jordan Wilkins and Jonathan Williams.
Jack Doyle, TE – Doyle missed five games with a hip injury early last season and then suffered a lacerated kidney four games after his return. He's reportedly moved past his 2018 woes, but he lost some weight in the process. He'll therefore be eased back into practice at training camp, at which point he'll team with Eric Ebron in a prolific offense that hopes to find regular targets for both skilled tight ends.