Head Coach Shane Steichen
The Colts took an unprecedented route to get to their new head coach. They held three rounds of interviews, which had never been done before. Despite the unconventional path and past hires, the Colts went more conventional, hiring the offense coordinator from a Superbowl team in Shane Steichen from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Steichen has four years of OC experience. Tow with Philly and two with the Los Angeles Chargers. He has eight other years of NFL coaching experience, either working with quarterbacks or offensive quality control. He has experience working with young offenses and comes from the Eagles, who have built a solid foundation for their team to be successful for multiple years. Jim Irsay, the Colts owner, seemed to stress culture and locker room chemistry last season with his coaching moves and now brings in a guy he hopes can do that for the once proud franchise.
What will Steichen bring to the Colts’ quarterback position? Well, it would be nice to know who would be under center for them. The Colts muddled through last year, rolling out Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, and Sam Ehlinger. Combined, they only had two games where they threw for over 300 yards and only one game with three or more touchdowns.
It seems like a foregone conclusion that the Colts will be drafting a quarterback in April. They currently have the fourth pick. Rumors have been swirling that the Colts will trade to get the first overall pick and select the quarterback they want. If they don’t trade, they risk their guy being gone.
Steichen has worked for the past two years with Jalen Hurts. It would seem that the Colts will look to add a dual-threat quarterback. Steichen will have plenty of designed runs in the playbook. In the two years as OC in Philadelphia, Hurts had over 700 rushing yards and over 130 rushing attempts in both seasons.
If the Colts go against popular opinion and bring in either a veteran or a less mobile quarterback, they can still succeed. While Hurts had under 500 passing attempts in both seasons, he could still throw for 16 and then 22 touchdowns. Steichen also worked with Justin Herbert his rookie year, where he set rookie records and threw for 31 touchdowns. The year before was a sign that he could work with both types of quarterbacks. In Steichen’s first year as OC for the Chargers, he worked with Philip Rivers. Rivers finished the season as the QB15, which is the lowest finish of any quarterback in a Steichen offense. It’s a good sign for whoever has the horseshoe on their helmet in 2023.
Jonathan Taylor and the Running Backs
The Colts have one of the best running backs in the game Jonathan Taylor. Before his 2022 season was shortened by injury, his first two seasons, he was a top-ten running back for fantasy, including being the RB1 in 2021. Those seasons were built on volume. The lowest number of carries he had was his rookie season, when he had 232 carries.
Steichen isn’t known for using a bell cow back. In his four years as an OC, the most carries a rusher has had was 259. That was Miles Sanders last season. Usually, his running backs come in around 150 carries on the season. It could be a sign that Taylor is in store for a decrease in work. He was on pace to finish the 2022 season with 296 carries.
With a new quarterback coming in, the running game might be a focal point for the team. They still have Zach Moss and Deon Jackson on the roster. Both performed well in minimal work. If the Colts have a mobile quarterback and utilize the other two, it could add to the worry of fewer carries for Taylor.
Efficiency will be the key. Taylor averages just over five yards per carry in his career. The ankle injury limited Taylor’s production, and while he should be back to playing to start the 2023 season, it could be a few games before he returns to his old self. You will still draft Taylor high in drafts, but this is moving him down a few spots in my rankings and is playing a deciding factor when choosing between him and other players in his tier.
The Colts are at a pivotal point with their wide receiver group. Michael Pittman has led the team in all the significant receiver stats the past two seasons. He will be playing in the last year of his rookie deal. He could be looking to escape from the rebuild the team has been in since he was drafted.
The team’s second wide receiver Parris Campbell is a free agent, so they will need second-year player Alec Peirce to take a step up. The Colts threw the ball 60% of the time last season, while the Eagles, with Steichen as OC, only threw the ball 50% of the time. It’s not a great free-agent class, with Campbell being one of the better names available. The Colts will either have to gamble that they can sign Pittman to a long-term deal or possibly follow the trend and trade him away this offseason and draft a replacement.
I would expect Steichen to rely on the run game. He will have a new quarterback learning a new system and building chemistry with new receivers. While Pittman is a true WR1 in the NFL, he hasn’t broken through to that for fantasy football. With the question marks around the volume and the quarterback play, I don’t expect him to get there this season. Pierce has shown flashes but has also disappeared in games. He projects as a solid WR2 but will need to continue to progress in his route running and separation.
We could see a downgrade of all the wide receivers on the Colts regarding value and production. They could be great buys if their draft and trade value drops far enough. The future looks bright, but this year might be when pieces start being put in place. If the Colts shock the world, retain Pittman, and bring in a star vet, then we could see them take off as we saw from the duo of A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith. That will come down to QB play, but Steichen can design plays to fit whatever playmakers he has on the team.
The doors to the tight-end room in Indy must be oversized. They have a massive trio of tight ends in Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson, and Jelani Woods. Granson gets looked down at 6’2″ by Alie-Cox at 6’5″ and Woods at 6’7″.
Fantasy managers shouldn’t be looking down on Granson. Despite playing the least number of games out of the three in 2022, he leads them in targets and receptions. He was only ten yards behind Woods in yards. He failed to hit paydirt while the other two both had three touchdowns.
The Colts are in good shape in terms of the salary cap but could cut Alie-Cox and save just shy of three million dollars. If they trade him, he wouldn’t have any dead cap, compared to the $2.3 million he would carry if cut. Steichen has primarily used one tight end, from Hunter Henry to Dallas Goedert. It does bode well for either Granson or Woods. They ran routes on nearly 90% of their snaps, so blocking isn’t part of their assigned duties. Watching training camp and preseason could give a glimpse into which one will be the player to have. They are both young talented players who provide upside.
Was Steichen the Best Hire?
The Colts have been adrift since Andrew Luck shocked the world and retired after the 2018 season after only seven years in the league. They have tried to piece things together with veteran quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett, Phillip Rivers, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan.
The hire seemed to be a move by Irsay to fix some of the issues with the team. Steichen’s four years as OC has produced offenses that have been top 15 in yards each year and, the past two years, top 15 in points. The Colts were near the bottom in both those categories in 2022. Steichen’s success working with young quarterbacks was probably a big factor in the hire, and reaching the Super Bowl with the Eagles must have given Irsay a vision of what the Colts could be.
The Colts do not have the roster the Eagles have. They can get there, but Steichen will have to show significant progress in his first year, or it could be a short term as a head coach. I believe he can do it if he can get the right quarterback under center. He will have to revamp the team and has the cap space to do it. The Colts started building a winning culture last season, which should continue in 2023 and beyond.
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