Thursday Night Football DFS Breakdown: Denver vs. Indianapolis

Thursday Night Football DFS Breakdown: Denver vs. Indianapolis

This article is part of our Showdown/Single Game DFS Breakdown series.

They can't all be winners, and even the bad games can offer profit opportunities in a showdown slate. The over/under (42.5) and spread (DEN -3.5) hint at the dreariness of this affair, which features two bad teams following the loss of a star running back on each side. Javonte Williams suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 4, while Jonathan Taylor suffered a high ankle sprain. The closest things we had to a reason for watching this game are both out, leaving not much more than a mess behind in both cases. This may be sloppy football, and lineups might cash even with some ugly picks.

QUARTERBACKS

Russell Wilson ($10400 DK, $16500 FD) is playing at a low level so far but projects fairly well in this matchup if only because the Colts run defense is much stronger than its pass defense, and its pass defense might not be especially good. If the Broncos are compelled by circumstance to throw the ball more than usual against a defense particularly vulnerable to the pass, then Wilson should at least claim a high share of whatever production the Denver offense can muster in this game. The travel to Denver sometimes takes something out of visiting defenses early in the season, so this might help offset the chance that Wilson and the Broncos offense are sloppy on the short week. It's possible that the Denver offense goes nowhere at all, but if it goes anywhere it all it seems like Wilson is more likely than most weeks to be the engine of that movement.

Matt Ryan ($9600 DK, $15000 FD) has improved somewhat the last two weeks but (A) he could not have played any worse than in the first two weeks and (B) the matchups were mostly favorable. This Denver matchup might not be tough exactly, but short weeks are often hard on passing games and Ryan appears delicate right now. Going to Denver also sometimes has an unpredictable effect on the traveling team, which could be a source of additional concern. Lead wideout Michael Pittman figures to see a lot of arguable CB1 Pat Surtain, and if Pittman is slowed it's not clear how the Colts can budget a viable passing game. The Denver defense has mostly been effective against the pass, and it's hard to see how the Colts can threaten them with their weak skill position personnel. Still, Ryan might pile up some pass attempt volume in this game if the Colts are forced to abandon the run, which they might need to due to Jonathan Taylor's absence alone.

RUNNING BACKS

Jonathan Taylor (ankle) is out, opening up a major void in the Indianapolis backfield. Nyheim Hines ($6800 DK, $11000 FD) is one of the league's highest-paid running backs, but it's not clear how much the Colts intend to scale up his usage without Taylor in the lineup. Hines has never produced as a runner in the NFL or college, and even as a pass catcher has always struggled to find open field. If he does get an opening right in front of him, though, Hines has sub-4.4 speed to capitalize. In the meantime he projects with a high floor on DraftKings in particular, and anywhere else with PPR scoring. While Hines has historically had trouble turning his touches into yardage or touchdowns, he has reliably drawn targets and receptions at a useful rate, and he might play 40 snaps in this game. If Hines' workload is capped it would be primarily as a runner, in which case Phillip Lindsay ($400 DK, $7500 FD) might be the first runner off the bench and Deon Jackson ($1600 DK, $9500 FD) might remain in a primarily special teams role as RB3. To this point Jackson has played each week while Lindsay has been a practice squad resident, but Jackson has just two carries for minus-three yards this year, and just 31 yards on 13 carries in 2021. Not just that, but Jackson is one of the most prolific fumblers of recent college football history. Jackson is much bigger than either of Hines or Lindsay and would traditionally qualify for short-yardage tasks on that basis, but it's not clear if the ball security issues registers in the minds of the Colts coaches. Lindsay never fumbles, by contrast, but again it's not clear what the Colts might prioritize here. Someone aside from Hines has to take some carries in this one, though.

The Denver backfield is a little more clearly defined in the light of the disastrous injury to Javonte Williams, but even as a tenured veteran it's not clear how solid the footing might be for Melvin Gordon ($8800 DK, $12500 FD) following another catastrophic fumble that directly cost Denver a winning opportunity in Week 4. Gordon has four fumbles in four games – a completely unacceptable stat and not a new problem for Gordon. Mike Boone ($6200 DK, $9000 FD) can absolutely play better than Gordon has to this point, though Boone's passing down background is somewhat less proven. As a pure runner, though, bet that Boone has more to offer than Gordon or free agent pickup Latavius Murray ($5200 DK). Although it would normally be odd for a panicked practice squad pickup like Murray to immediately plug in over a well-paid veteran like Gordon, Gordon's fumbling issues might cause an exception here. It's possible that no Denver runner does much of use in this setting due to a Colts run defense that tends to play well, but the Broncos are the favored team and if one player can draw double-digit carries there's a decent chance they'll get an opportunity in scoring range, even if the yardage is somewhat scarce.

WIDE RECEIVERS + TIGHT ENDS

Michael Pittman ($10600 DK, $14000 FD) has much of the Indianapolis play structure devoted to specifically freeing him up, but Indianapolis is still struggling to get him open. Will Pat Surtain help that trend? Not likely. Pittman's high usage gives him substantial reassurance even in tough matchups, but he might need garbage time or a busted zone coverage to get loose here, and Pittman isn't a big-play wideout built to outrun a defense even if the coverage is busted. It might be a touchdown-dependent setting for Pittman to pay off in showdown slates, or maybe if the rest of the game's players are so unproductive that Pittman ranks as a cashing pick almost just on the basis of catch count. Troubling as Surtain might be for Pittman, the other Colts pass catchers don't project any better. The Colts don't dial up looks for Parris Campbell ($3600 DK, $7000 FD) despite the godsend his yards-after-the-catch would be to this stagnant offense, and the downfield-oriented Alec Pierce ($5400 DK, $7500 FD) is at risk of outrunning Ryan's popgun range. Pierce is a good prospect, though, and he could pose a jumpball risk to corner Ronald Darby, good as Darby is in general. Pierce also might be your best candidate among Colts receiver to exploit a busted coverage – unlike Pittman, Pierce has the speed to run away from defensive backs. Mo Alie-Cox ($4800 DK, $8000 FD) was predictably very productive in Week 4 when the Colts made any effort to get him targets, but this exact scenario occurred in the past and the Colts chose to immediately go back to worse ideas in subsequent weeks. Alie-Cox is a good player, if the Colts decide at some point that they have any use for those. Alie-Cox had previously been denied opportunity as the Colts tried to subsidize usage for Kylen Granson ($3200 DK, $6500 FD), who can't block and therefore has his playing time justified on the basis of pass-catching utility. The problem is that Alie-Cox is still the better receiver, and the Colts aren't good enough to get cute to the point of deliberately limiting the usage of their best players. Granson and Alie-Cox can coexist to some extent, though – Granson's production predictably improved following a decrease in workload, as in the last two weeks he has just 31 routes compared to 30 in Week 1 alone. Alie-Cox not coincidentally saw his first 20-route game of the year in Week 4, when he not so coincidentally produced like the standout talent he is. Wideout Ashton Dulin ($4600 DK, $6500 FD) will play 15-to-20 snaps and is a candidate to make a big play. Third tight end Jelani Woods ($2200 DK, $6000 FD) is emerging as a Jody Fortson-like goal-line specialist for the Colts, and they might look to subsidize more usage for him going forward at the expense of Alie-Cox.

Courtland Sutton ($9400 DK, $13000 FD) might have the cleanest from-scrimmage projection in this game. The Colts run defense encourages teams to throw against its much-weaker pass defense, and Sutton boasts sky-high per-snap usage going into the game. It makes sense that his usage would shake out this way, because Russell Wilson has long struggled to throw to the middle of the field, where Jerry Jeudy ($7800 DK, $12000 FD) often finds himself running from the slot. Jeudy will get his usage too and arguably projects as the second-best producer from scrimmage in this game, but in the baseline play-to-play functions he just doesn't project as solidly as Sutton. Picking both may well prove the correct answer, especially since Denver lacks a third pass catcher. KJ Hamler ($4400 DK, $7000 FD) is talented but apparently not healthy, Montrell Washington ($200 DK, $5000 FD) is a returner, and Kendall Hinton has drawn only five targets on 103 snaps so far. Hinton should be the WR3 in function for Denver, for whatever it's worth. Albert Okwuegbunam ($2800 DK, $6500 FD) is clearly the third-best target on the Broncos but for personal reasons Nate Hackett has tried to sabotage him. Eric Saubert ($1200 DK, $5000 FD) is a bad blocker and a worse receiver, but Hackett prefers Saubert's aesthetic to Okweugbunam's results. (Results don't seem to be Hackett's strong suit). Andrew Beck ($200 DK, $5500 FD) is a fullback who sometimes gets targets.

KICKERS

Brandon McManus ($4000 DK, $9000 FD) is time tested and has 50-yard range when kicking in Denver. In a Thursday home game where both offenses look sketchy, this could be a busy game for McManus. The Broncos offense could at once see short fields and struggle to move the ball, which could lead to the offense idling in McManus' range. Chase McLaughlin ($3800 DK, $8500 FD) is somewhat less convincing on the other side, but he could benefit from the same trends as McManus – the Colts could be the ones who see preferable field position, and the offense is certainly capable of sputtering out in field goal range.

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

The Broncos ($4200 DK, $10000 FD) defense doesn't really have any teeth but Matt Ryan has been a fumble machine through four weeks so the chance of sacks and turnovers is higher than usual here, especially on the short week. Perhaps the Denver defense will have no use all year, but if it only has one useful game in it this might be its week. Investors in the Broncos DST might want to consider pairing with Montrell Washington, the Denver returner.

The Colts ($3400 DK, $9500 FD) are road dogs and have struggled to stop the pass so far, but Russell Wilson is predictably taking a lot of sacks and the Broncos are certainly capable of choking for no good reason. It might require that sort of outcome for the Colts to get the better of Denver here, though.

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Mario Puig plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DraftKings: rotwireyasiel, FanDuel: rotowireyasiel, FantasyDraft: rwyasiel, DRAFT: rwyasiel.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mario Puig
Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.
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