This article is part of our Team Previews series.
Minus Andrew Luck in 2017, the Colts fell to 4-12 and struggled on both sides of the ball. If Luck returns to his pre-injury form, the team could be respectable, but the rest of the roster may be one of the worst in football as the team rebuilds under the leadership of new coach Frank Reich.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
THE RETURN OF LUCK
Andrew Luck's lingering shoulder injury cost him an entire campaign, and it's not entirely clear he'll be able to match the form of his first five campaigns. After undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in January of 2017, the Colts were initially confident Luck would be ready for training camp. Most medical experts subsequently agreed that he likely would be ready for the start of the regular season. However, Luck wasn't able to throw in camp and his comeback dragged on past Week 1. After experiencing a hiccup in his recovery when he began throwing in October, he was eventually shut down amidst conflicting reports surrounding the severity of his setback. A quixotic trip to Europe to rehab the injury left a further shroud of mystery over his ailment. As the current season approached, the Colts indicated that the quarterback needed to start from scratch and slowly build back his arm strength. The good news is that Luck will work without limitations in training camp, though he will mimic a regular-season practice schedule that includes routine days off. If Luck falters, Jacoby Brissett remains on hand to fill in. Acquired by the Colts shortly before last season, he ended up starting the last 15 games. He showed promise in his first year as a starter but struggled at times, en route to absorbing 52 sacks.
OPENINGS IN THE RECEIVING CORPS
While top wideout T.Y. Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle return to the Indianapolis offense, there's an open competition for passing targets that don't go their way. The secondary elements of the team's aerial attack could provide surprising fantasy value if Andrew Luck returns to form, given coach Frank Reich's goal of employing an up-tempo offense. Doyle was about the only player whose production (80 catches for 690 yards) improved in Luck's absence. Hilton's numbers plummeted in 2017, but he clearly has the skill to bounce back in short order if he enjoys improved quarterback play this year. Chester Rogers is currently the leading candidate to land the team's No. 2 wideout role. He's improved each season, although he missed five games last year due to a hamstring injury. He'll face competition from Ryan Grant, who was signed as a free agent after setting career highs (45 catches for 573 yards and four TDs) with Washington last season. Rookies Reece Fountain and Deon Cain were among the fastest receivers in the 2018 draft class and may earn significant roles. Eric Ebron was signed as a free agent after compiling an underwhelming resume during his tenure in Detroit. He could turn his career around in a new offense, but it's unclear how frequently the Colts will feature two tight ends.
LIFE AFTER GORE
The Colts will feature a new starting running back this year with veteran Frank Gore departing for Miami in free agency after three seasons in Indianapolis. Marlon Mack appears likely to be the team's leading man after the 2017 draftee emerged as Gore's backup and showed some spark last season with six rushes of 20 yards or more. However, Mack recorded a modest 3.8 YPC and is bouncing back from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. The team's coaching staff has talked about using a committee approach that will include two rookies. Fourth-rounder Nyheim Hines ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any running back at the NFL Combine (4.38) and has strong receiving skills after playing wide receiver at North Carolina State. There's been talk of the Colts using Hines frequently as a slot receiver and returner in the mold of Darren Sproles. Jordan Wilkins, taken a round later than Hines, also could figure prominently in the budding bevy of backs, as he offers a bigger option, checking in at 6-1, 216 pounds. There was a chance vet Robert Turbin would earn a fair share of the short-yardage and goal-line work, but a four-game ban to begin the season throws a wrench into that coming to pass. As a result, Mack and Wilkins are the best bets to handle those scenarios for the first quarter of the campaign and beyond.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Andrew Luck
Luck missed last season, but when available he can elevate the entire team. When we last saw Indy's franchise QB back in 2016, he racked up 31 TDs with a career-high 7.8 YPA.
RISING: Marlon Mack
Frank Gore is no longer in the mix, and the Colts failed to sign or draft a high-profile running back. Mack therefore has a chance to become the starter and earn the bulk of the team's backfield touches.
FALLING: T.Y. Hilton
No player was impacted more by Andrew Luck's injury than Hilton, who saw a sharp decline in his overall production including a career-low four TDs. If Luck doesn't return to full strength, Hilton could continue to struggle.
SLEEPER: Nyheim Hines
Indy's coaching staff has talked about using Hines as both a running back and slot receiver while seeking to create matchups to maximize his speed. He could thus emerge as a significant part of the offense's game plan.
KEY JOB BATTLE – BACKUP RUNNING BACK
Marlon Mack approaches the season as the leader of the Colts' running back committee, but the pecking order behind him remains to be seen. Speedy Nyheim Hines was used in the backfield, in the slot and out wide in minicamp, which likely indicates that the rookie will be a significant part of offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni's no-huddle, up-tempo offense. Hines looks like a solid change-of-pace option out of the gate, while fifth-rounder Jordan Wilkins could emerge as the team's top early-down backup early on, given that short-yardage specialist Robert Turbin is suspended four games to start the season. Christine Michael and Josh Ferguson are also on hand, but unlike the team's draftees, they are not roster locks.
Nyheim Hines – RB (Rd. 4, No. 104 – N.C. State)
Brings versatility to a retooled running back corps.
Jordan Wilkins – RB (Rd. 5, No. 169 – Mississippi)
A chance to win a significant role in the backfield committee.
Ryan Grant – WR (from Redskins)
Could land No. 2 wideout slot after breakout season with Washington.
Eric Ebron – TE (from Lions)
A change of scenery may recharge the No. 10 overall pick from 2014.
Reece Fountain – WR (Rd. 5, No. 159 – Northern Iowa)
Speedster may emerge as a darkhorse candidate to win a sizable role.
Deon Cain – WR (Rd. 6, No. 185 – Clemson)
Could surprise after turning in strong performance at the NFL Combine.
Frank Gore – RB (to Dolphins)
The departure of the steady veteran creates a running back competition.
Donte Moncrief – WR (to Jaguars)
The No. 2 wide receiver job is up for grabs following his exit.
THE INJURY FRONT
Andrew Luck, QB – Luck will have scheduled days off for rest throughout training camp, but he's not expected to have any limitations when he's out on the field. Moreover, he's slated to start the Colts' exhibition opener. So far, so good for Indy's franchise signal-caller.
Chester Rogers, WR – Rogers missed minicamp action in June due to a minor undisclosed injury. Assuming no setbacks, he'll compete with Ryan Grant and rookies Reece Fountain and Deon Cain for the team's No. 2 receiver role behind top option T.Y. Hilton.
Ryan Grant, WR – Grant had a four-year, $29 million contract that he signed with the Ravens in March voided by a failed physical. The ankle issue which led to that was evidently minor in nature, and the Colts swooped in and signed the wideout to a one-year, $5 million deal. Assuming no setbacks, Grant has a solid chance to emerge as the team's No. 2 wideout behind T.Y. Hilton.