The fantasy football ripple effect

We members of the Sports departments at news organizations sometimes refer to our domain as the toy store. We leave real issues from the real world outside while we play around with kids’ games.

Now, imagine that toy store has a playground inside. And within this playground is a sandbox. That sandbox is reserved for those of us who foray into the fantasy realm – a kid’s game within a kid’s game where we pretend to play real games.

We build sandcastles out of players, creating a uniquely structured roster each time we draft. We don’t like when the outside world intrudes into our toy store. We don’t like when real events impact our playground. And we hate it when these intruders come kicking down our sandcastles.

Look, we love Andrew Luck the player. We love what he has done for our fantasy teams over the years. By all accounts, he is an upstanding individual and fine human being. And we get that he made a personal decision based on his welfare and health. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t hurt when his retirement demolishes our sandcastle.

Maybe we fantasy nuts are nutty, perhaps we live a stat-driven existence. But one thing we are good at is adaptation. So as soon as the Luck news came down Saturday night, we began thinking about the ramifications to our little sandbox.

Who will take Luck’s place? That would be Jacoby Brissett, at least until the Colts make a move to possibly upgrade the position. With Brissett at quarterback, how does that affect the fantasy value of other Colts players? Will T.Y. Hilton’s production drop significantly? Will defenses be able to focus more intently on the running game, hurting Marlon Mack’s production? How does an expected decline in overall offensive production impact the fantasy value of other players?

Obviously, Brissett pings the fantasy radar. He now has an action figure to play with in the sandbox. But there are so many quality fantasy QBs, he is so far down the list that he isn’t really a factor. There are better toys in our sandbox. We’re going to leave him in the bag, with others like Marcus Mariota and Eli Manning.

Outside of Brissett, Luck’s retirement doesn’t help the value of any other Colts players. Though the major impact will be felt by Mack and Hilton, whose projections take enough of a hit to significantly alter their draft value.

It pushes Mack down into the Sony Michel range. Mack will still get plenty of carries. The Colts’ offensive line is still strong. But we do expect fewer plays by an offense that is less likely to be able to stay on the field. Though Mack even could see a slight uptick in his usage on average, that might not result in more carries. For example, using simple math, 50 percent of 12 is the same as 60 percent of 10. A larger percentage of a smaller number doesn’t guarantee more carriers. And any potential increase will likely be offset by a dip in efficiency. We would eye him in the fifth round, if he drops that far.

Hilton might take the biggest hit. He had just 57 receptions, 966 yards and four touchdowns playing with Brissett in 2017. The TDs were a career low, and the catches and yards were significantly below his career averages, with his rookie season being the only one worse.

But … there is some good news. Hilton’s draft stock had already begun to drop with the slow-drip of bad news regarding Luck’s health. Hilton had slipped from the late-second round to the late-third in the past few weeks. Now, he likely will drop even further. Our new projections would peg him in the middle of the fourth round. If he slips past the Robert Woods, Chris Godwin, Tyler Lockett tier, Hilton becomes a value pick again.

Because we expect an overreaction, at least in the short term before the draft market likely corrects, Hilton could be a value in the coming days. He likely will settle around the mid-fourth within a week or a little longer. So if you’re drafting soon, don’t be afraid to break out the T.Y. Hilton action figure and bring him into your sandcastle, if he drops to around the fifth round or later.

Sure, your castle might have crumbled this weekend. But you know the great thing about sandcastles? You can always rebuild them.

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