We all play dynasty fantasy football because the season never ends. We turn the page each year, but the quest to gain advantages over our opponents never stops. Never limited to one tool during the offseason, the best managers will remain active in trades, continue mining the waiver wire, and internally evaluate players already rostered. However, a majority of time spent over the next several months will be spent evaluating the incoming rookie class. Most analyses will focus on fantasy-relevant positions, forgetting that there is a grander NFL picture. The Draft Nerds series will aim to qualify the incoming rookie class in a fantasy and an NFL context. Reading each article will familiarize you with these prospects’ skill sets, draft ranges, and possible landing spots in the upcoming draft. Additionally, we will explore team need for each of the 32 franchises and the potential fantasy impact of incoming rookies.
We may also identify the potential for trades, but it’s important to note that trading picks will not be a part of this mock exercise. Compensatory picks have not been assigned and will not be included in this exercise either. Credit for the mock draft simulator is due to ProFootballFocus.
2022 Season Recap
The Colts finally had a disappointing enough season to be encouraged about the future. 3-5-1 at the midway point of the season, the Colts fired head coach Frank Reich. Jeff Saturday was brought in as the interim head coach and had similar success, yielding the largest comeback in NFL history on the way to a 1-7 finish. New leadership will be in store for 2023, but perhaps the most significant development for the Colts will undoubtedly come at quarterback. Saddled by veteran mid-tier passers the last several seasons, the Colts finally bottomed out under Matt Ryan. Now holding a top-5 pick, there is little doubt getting off the quarterback carousel will be the top priority for Indianapolis.
Despite current vacancies at the two most important spots in the organization (quarterback and head coach), the Colts are not a talentless team. Injuries plagued them in 2022, but Jonathan Taylor and a solid offensive line can continue to be the strength of the offense under a young signal caller. Receiver Michael Pittman took the volume step forward we envisioned, falling one catch short of 100 for the season, and is begging for a passer who can help increase his efficiency. The defense expects to get Shaq Leonard back in the coming year. He will again align behind a front-4 loaded with established stars DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart and ascending contributors Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo. General manager Chris Ballard keeps the cupboards full, and if he can finally hit on a franchise quarterback, the Colts have all the pieces to contend again quickly.
2023 Free Agent Departures
The Colts have very few impactful players likely to leave via free agency. Most notably, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, linebacker Bobby Okereke, and wide receiver Parris Campbell are unrestricted free agents and may not be back in Indy in 2023. With a projected ~$20 million in cap space, according to SpoTrac, the Colts can create depth in free agency and may also look at extensions for young players still on rookie deals. Matt Ryan’s potential retirement or inevitable release will add to that cap flexibility. However, the Colts traditionally are not splashy in free agency and will most likely remain that way. Building through the draft has been a hallmark of this front office. Armed with solid draft capital, I expect another strong Colts rookie class this year, headlined by a franchise-changing quarterback.
1.04 – CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Before diving into CJ the prospect, we should quickly look at the trade scenarios at Indianapolis’ disposal. As it stands, I have four quarterbacks graded as first-round picks; Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Anthony Richardson, and Will Levis. At 1.04, simple logic would typically implore letting the board come to you. Don’t force the issue and move up.
However, if Indianapolis sees a tier break amongst those four quarterbacks, as I do, there is an incentive to get aggressive. Add further that the Houston Texans, a division foe who pick at 1.02, are also highly likely to select a franchise signal caller. Missing out on your future star quarterback would be painful. However, facing him twice a season for a decade would be torture. The Bears, positioned at 1.01, foolishly traded their early-second rounder for Chase Claypool midseason. Moving up the three spots in Round 1 may be as simple as replacing that pick with the Colts’ upcoming 2.35. The ingredients are present for a trade, even if this exercise won’t seek to replicate it.
CJ Stroud is QB2 with a bullet, and as previously mentioned, represents a tier break for me amongst the top rookie passers. A two-year starter for the Buckeyes, Stroud has been a Heisman finalist two years running. Excellent from within the pocket, CJ is a precision passer who is equally accurate at each level of the defense. An above-average athlete, CJ is agile when navigating between the tackles and can throw accurately with a defender in his face. Supported by NFL talent at wide receiver in Columbus, Stroud also shows high confidence in anticipation and timing throws.
For most of the college season, the only pervasive negative narrative on Stroud was a lack of skills outside of play structure. However, most of the country saw that narrative largely proven incorrect in the CFB Semi-Final vs. Georgia. Stroud bought time when needed, eventually finding receivers downfield. He scrambled on late down and distances to keep drives alive. While the final score ultimately ended in defeat, it would be hard to argue anyone played better that day than CJ Stroud. He has the pedigree, tape, and measurables of a top-5 draft pick. Even if the Colts trade up to 1.01, CJ could still be the selection.
2.35 – Matthew Bergeron, OL, Syracuse
I view this pick as a luxury. For the Indianapolis Colts, but also for myself as the drafter. If a move-up occurs, another organization will likely make this pick. With that in mind, I took a player who fits the Colts organizational philosophy and meets a team need but isn’t essential to Indy’s overall strategy. Bergeron is a hammer in the run game and does an excellent job of anchoring in pass protection. Versatile enough to play guard or tackle, Bergeron could immediately start at right guard as a rookie and be a long-term option at tackle. Just a year ago, the Colts took offensive tackle Bernhard Raimann in a similar area of the draft. While it’s far too early to consider a second-year player a failure, Raimann struggled in 2022, and Bergeron is a solid hedge on that bet who can start in the meantime.
3.79 – Isaiah Foskey, DE, Notre Dame
Outside of any positional need, as I look at the Colts from a thousand-foot view, they need to add team speed more than anything. Foskey adds that to a defensive line that is already talented but is built on strength and physicality. Foskey fits Indy’s blue-collar mentality but adds some needed twitch and bend. A nice blend of speed and finesse, Foskey rushes with a plan and retraces to the quarterback well. Perhaps not the most glaring team need, but pass-rushers with starting talent become challenging to find as we move into Day 3.
4.106 – Marvin Mims, WR, Oklahoma
As we continue through this draft, a theme will emerge, adding team speed. Possibly the most glaring need outside quarterback is a viable field stretcher to play opposite Michael Pittman. I was incredibly tempted, as I think many dynasty drafters will be, to take Jalin Hyatt or Zay Flowers significantly higher in this mock. However, patience in this instance pays off as the Colts land a verticle playmaker that I have graded in the same tier as those previously mentioned wide receivers. Mims still feels under the radar within the dynasty and draft community, but he isn’t likely to stay that way for long.
5.139 – DJ Turner, CB, Michigan
A highly underrated player coming into the season, DJ Turner, had a breakout campaign in 2022. At 6’0” and 180 lbs. Turner is slightly built but has long arms and is an incredibly explosive athlete. Best used in off-man coverage, Turner has the make-up speed to squat on routes without risking giving up too many big plays. A player likely to test through the roof at next month’s NFL Combine, I’ll be surprised if Turner hangs around until Day 3 of the NFL Draft. This pick would be worth sending Pat McAfee to the podium while flexing in a tank top!
6.179 – Kenny McIntosh, RB, Georgia
A favorite for me in the rookie running back class, the Colts land a perfect compliment and emergency backup for Jonathan Taylor. McIntosh is a hybrid running back and receiver and can serve in such a role when Taylor is in the lineup. However, even with a better quarterback, the Indy offensive identity remains the run game. If your offensive identity links to one player, who plays the most injury-prone position, you will likely not have an identity. McIntosh, at 6’1” and 210 lbs., provides injury insurance for Taylor, and his receiving skillset replaces the loss of Nyheim Hines via trade.
6.210 – DeMarco Hellams, S, Alabama
A lack of versatility and athleticism have pushed Hellams further down the board than I may have expected. A pure box safety, Hellams was the most consistent player on defense for the Crimson Tide outside of Will Anderson. Hellams is a sound and violent tackler who will be an immediate special teams contributor. Coverage liabilities are a concern, but Hellams is a well-coached and instinctive player who has the potential to develop into a starter down the road.
7.220 – Carrington Valentine, CB, Kentucky
A surprise declaration, Valentine has first-round talent and upside but lacks starting experience. Squarely built but incredibly fluid in space, Valentine is comfortable in zone coverage and tracks the ball well from a phase position. He is a player that almost certainly won’t go as high as he might have a year from now, but the chance to get that year of development in an NFL building only amplifies the eventual upside.
2023 Fantasy Impact
The Indianapolis Colts added eight players to their already talented roster in this mock exercise. While every pick has a fantasy impact directly or indirectly, only one player massively moves dynasty value. Adding a quarterback, whether CJ Stroud or otherwise, is a near certainty for Indianapolis. We need to begin treating their dynasty assets as such.
Michael Pittman is an ascending X receiver and should be in for his first 1,000-yard season in 2023. Pittman may already be receiving a fantasy bump with the presumption of a quarterback improvement. However, I still don’t think people have fully recognized how skilled Pittman is. Second-year sleeper tight end Jelani Woods may be a season away, but he becomes a screaming buy. Jonathan Taylor is still already amongst the best three fantasy running backs, but his weekly and season-long upside stands to increase as the quarterback play improves. A frustrating season for Colts’ assets is finally in the rearview mirror.
It’s NFL draft season again, and there is no better place to be than on DynastyNerds. The film room is constantly being updated with All-22 film of your favorite prospects. There is no substitute for watching these players in action. If watching game tape isn’t your thing, supplement your analytical work with the Nerds score, a comprehensive breakdown of each fantasy-relevant player’s skill set based on tape. Both are available when you join the #NerdHerd.
Check back in the coming days as we continue the Draft Nerds Mock Draft series. Next up, the Seattle Seahawks.