Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack — you woke up this morning and just couldn’t stop thinking about them, could you? Myself, I want to rank their main actor Jonathan Taylor as my negative 12 RB on the year because I want to draft a full round of him before I touch any other player. But what if Taylor gets hurt?
In 2020, Saquon Barkley got hurt, and you learned about Wayne Gallman. Christian McCaffrey got hurt, and you learned about Mike Davis. Nick Chubb got hurt, and you remembered Kareem Hunt. Leonard Fournette got traded, and you discovered James Robinson. You get the idea — it’s good to have a backup plan, and in the Colts’ case, they’ve got two viable backup plans for your best ball team. Let’s take a look at who you should prioritize in your best ball drafts.
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The Colts are in an intriguing position to be a volatile team for best ball offenses in 2021 because they suffered through injuries in 2020 and had significant roster turnover to start 2021. Most notably, quarterback Philip Rivers retired following the 2020 season, and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz came in to take over the signal calling duties. However, as training camp broke, so did the bones in Wentz’ feet, and he recently underwent surgery to remove a bone in his foot that’s been bothering him for years. Wentz’ recovery will take 5-12 weeks, leaving second-year quarterback Jacob Eason as the play-caller for the Colts. which will give the Colts an enormous amount of volatility in their starting offense that could be ripe for your best ball drafts.
For half-PPR and full-PPR fantasy football formats, Nyheim Hines serves as a middle-round floor play that serves as a stopgap against getting goose eggs in your FLEX spot when your other RBs are hurt or on bye weeks. Because you’re likely aiming at upside plays elsewhere on your roster, a player like Hines can chip in some targets every week regardless of Jonathan Taylor’s health or usage. Because Hines is best suited to a scatback role — like Tarik Cohen or James White — you can see that Hines’ snap count might be low, yet his output high.
The Team Rise or Fall Underdog Projections envisons Hines as RB35 in 2021 despite a meager 20% rush share in the Colts backfield. But you’re more interested in Hines’ target share, which is buffeted by an astounding 66 projected targets, which places him in the range of tight ends like Robert Tonyan or Jack Doyle. Imagine if Jack Doyle could garner an additional 300 rushing yards on the year — sounds pretty nice, right?
What’s stopping Hines from being ranked higher than RB35 for Underdog best ball drafts 2021? It’s the fact that Hines doesn’t star in the ground game whatsoever. The Underdog Projections show that Hines is projected for a meager 5 rushes per game. This is what makes Hines a floor play even in the event of a significant injury to Jonathan Taylor: Hines simply won’t grind on the ground enough to make him a true RB1. Hines is much more like a Tarik Cohen or James White — the kind of running back you only consider in PPR leagues. Meanwhile, the secondary ground and pound role will go to Marlon Mack, who might be one of the steals of your best ball draft in 2021.
Everybody is asking, “Who’s the next James Robinson?” Certainly, the emergence of the undrafted free agent who hurdled over multiple running backs on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ depth chart in 2020 is something fantasy managers all loved. But the truth is, almost no late-round or undrafted rookie running backs play meaningful snaps in their first NFL season. James Robinson was the exception, not the rule. The typical kinds of backup running backs who replace the RB1 are the likes of Mike Davis, Wayne Gallman, and Marlon Mack.
See, Marlon Mack was like a less-beefy Jonathan Taylor before JT came around with his massive quads to fill up the Colts’ depth chart. In 2018, Mack raced to 908 yards on a 4.7 yards per rush average and followed that up in 2019 with 1091 yards on a 4.4 yards per rush average. Unfortunately, Mack tore his Achilles tendon in the first game of the 2020 campaign — after starting out with 6 yards per attempt! — and the pathway for Jonathan Taylor became a reality.
Reports out of the Colts’ training camp indicate that Mack is healthy and not limited in practice. Should Taylor miss significant time — or even struggle — we could see the re-emergence of one of the more productive running backs from the 2018-2019 NFL seasons.
But that’s the trick to Marlon Mack: he’ll need Jonathan Taylor to falter before he gets meaningful snaps. Nyheim Hines is the Tarik Cohen-style scatback, and JT muscles through defenders. The Underdog Projections show Mack with 4 rushes per game right now, but if Taylor gets injured, then he would walk into the nearly 20 touches per game that Taylor currently occupies. With that kind of volume, Mack becomes the James Robinson of 2021 — all at the low, low price of one of your last-round picks.
Marlon Mack’s ADP of 212 is basically the last round in all your drafts, and you can feel free to have an 80-100% exposure to him for all you like because the cost is so insignificant. If the pathway to meaningful snaps opens for Mack, he could be on his way to another 800-1100+ yard season. My friends, that is this year’s James Robinson.
Nyheim Hines, however, is a tougher puzzle to solve. With an ADP of 140, he’s going in the 12th round in many leagues, and would be the RB3/4 on most standard teams, or an RB2 on a Zero RB build. Scatbacks are much tougher to project; who remembers drafting Chris Thompson everywhere last year? And what about James White in 2020, did you get burned by him? I’ve been getting Hines as an RB3 floor option in my drafts, particularly when getting a riskier RB2 like Darrell Henderson. If you have a more secure RB2 option — perhaps by starting your draft with 2 or 3 RBs, I’d pass on Hines entirely.
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