Marlon Mack Emerges Unscathed
The 2019 NFL draft has come and gone and with it, a new crop of talent enters the NFL. The changes brought about after the draft are a constant conversation for fantasy football enthusiasts. Speculation about which player impacts which team the most or which good player landed in a bad spot become commonplace. Like so many other things in life, change occurs and is inevitable. A change in personnel can mean reduced opportunity or competition for a role.
Sometimes, the best change for fantasy football player’s value is no change at all.
Marlon Mack Emerges Unscathed
In the landscape of fantasy football, opportunity is king. What ruins opportunity faster than anything that is not an injury? Competition. An NFL team that spends a high amount of draft capital on a running back typically signifies that opportunity is shifting. Heading into to this year’s NFL draft, there were a few teams and positions I was paying close attention to. Indianapolis Colts running back, Marlon Mack was one of them. To play this out in true Quentin Tarantino fashion, we will start at the end and work our way through how we got there.
Marlon Mack has high RB2/low-end RB1 upside heading into the 2019 season. Is he a generational talent? No. Is he a complete, dynamic, player in all phases of the game? No sir or ma’am. Is he a beacon of health than will endure endless punishment and still produce for fantasy owners? Again, nope. But he checks off some important boxes for fantasy owners.
2018 Season Wrap-Up
Mack finished as the RB21 (PPR scoring) last season. He totaled 908 rushing yards in only 12 games, averaging 75.6 rushing yards-per-game. His 9 rushing touchdowns tied him for seventh among running backs. He also tacked on 17 receptions for 103 yards and one more score. The work the Colts put into their offensive line paid dividends for both Andrew Luck and Mack.
The Colts leaned on Mack to lead the run game, and he responded by handling a moderate workload through the 12 games he played. Mack saw double-digit carries in all but one game and averaged just over 16 carries-per-contest.
With the balance of the Colts offense, Mack was able to succeed with the opportunities he was given. As shown in the chart above, Mack performed at or better than league average with his carries. Fearing the arm of Andrew Luck, opposing defenses refused to stack the box too often. This defensive shift allowed Mack some of the success he had and resulted in four games of over 100-yards rushing.
All told, Mack finished with career highs in carries (195), rushing yards (908), total touches (212), and rushing touchdowns (9).
Prior to the NFL Draft, there was plenty of speculation about the Colts possibly acquiring Le’Veon Bell in free agency. Obviously, that did not occur, but there were suitors that came through for interviews with the team. When none of those visits resulted in contracts, it was all but expected that the Colts might pull the trigger on one of the rookies in this year’s draft. They opted to forgo bringing in a three-down talent, and instead, they signed Spencer Ware, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs. Ware joining the squad does not appear to be a threat to Mack or his role. This has all the appearance of being a depth signing that would affect Jordan Wilkins before having any real effect for Nyheim Hines or Mack.
Wilkins got some early season opportunity to climb the depth chart due to an injury that sidelined Mack but was largely disappointing in the touches he received. This resulted in him seeing little to no work once Mack came back healthy.
Projecting 2019 for Mack and the Colts
Barring injury, Mack leads this backfield in 2019. There is a bit of an injury history to contend with. However, after his return last season, he carried the load he was given and did well with it. His 16.29 rush attempts per-game were 10th best in the NFL. There is little reason to doubt that the Colts have any intention of altering their balanced scheme.
Comparing Mack versus league average in PPR formats may seem unfair as he is not typically viewed as a pass-catching back. However, it shows that he even in that format, he can win a week here or there almost by himself.
In short, Mack certainly outperformed his ADP last season and became a value-priced RB2 for owners with a little patience, or for those who scooped him up off of waivers.
Bottom Line on Marlon Mack
Mack will be reunited with last season’s spectacular offensive line as all five starters are under contract through 2019. Another year in the system with Frank Reich and company coupled with that offensive line should put Mack squarely in the high-end RB2 category with plenty of upside.
The perceived upside comes from several different sources. First, being part of an Andrew Luck-led offense means plentiful trips to the red zone. Something the Colts were fourth-best in the NFL at last season. Second, this is not a full-blown running back by committee. The days of work-horse, three down backs has simmered down to having very few remaining. While Mack is not a work-horse, he has a guaranteed role and steady touches in this offense. He handles the first and second downs, while Hines operates as the passing down specialist.
Current ADP trends have Mack at the middle of the third round, as the 15th running back off the board. He is no longer the value pick he was last season, and the risk is now baked into the price. With the Colts offense looking ready to improve on their explosive 2018 campaign, Mack has double-digit touchdown upside and a clear path to steady opportunity.