Andrew Luck's Sudden Retirement Has Big Fantasy Football Ramifications
In 1999, when a 30-year-old Barry Sanders retired and left the Detroit Lions to continue their 50-year long dark age, the football world was forever changed. When a 30-year-old Calvin Johnson left the same franchise 17 years later, people genuinely shed tears at the announcement.
The news of Andrew Luck's sudden retirement due to a litany of injuries will be thought of in these same breaths as it will go down forever in football lore as a moment that altered the landscape of the NFL.
What Luck Meant to the NFL
Luck’s career wasn’t a long one. But that didn’t stop him from being one of the best quarterbacks we’ve seen in recent years by nearly every metric.
Luck finishes his career ranked 17th in the history of the NFL in adjusted net yards per attempt. He has the third-most passing yards since he’s been in the league (2012) despite missing a an entire season and more due to various injuries over those years. In the history of the NFL, Luck has the eighth highest approximate value through seven seasons -- above guys like Jim Kelley and Brett Favre -- according to Pro Football Reference. According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Luck’s 2018 season put him seventh in Passing NEP per drop back and third in Pass Success Rate among high-volume signal callers.
At just 29 years old, it's arguable Luck still had his best seasons ahead of him. While some may refer to Luck’s career as unrealized potential, fans of the NFL must also be thankful for the time they got to enjoy Luck's play.
What Luck’s Absence Means for the Colts
The odds at FanDuel Sportsbook make plain the catastrophic impact this has on the Indianapolis Colts' title chances this year as Indy's odds have fallen to +6000, the same as those of the New York Jets.
Historical evidence supports this adjustment. The Colts have a 61.6% winning percentage when Luck plays. When Luck sits, the Colts win percentage has dipped to just 38.5%. The Colts average a yard more per play with Luck, and their points per game mark last season (27.1, fifth in the NFL) was a full 10.7 points above what it had been in Luck’s lost 2017 season.
The ripple effects of this announcement are monumental, and though the Colts still find themselves within a shout of a playoff berth in an unsettled AFC South, some tough decisions need to be made soon.
Where Do The Colts Go From Here?
The Colts already have the best cap situation in the NFL, sitting comfortably with $55.6 million left to spend against the cap this season. according to the numbers at Over the Cap. Next year, their cap space rises to $85 million when taking Luck’s $6.4 million dead cap charge into account.
Key players such as Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, and Anthony Castonzo are in contract years. T.Y. Hilton is one season away from needing to be extended or franchised to secure his long-term future. If he performs well, Jacoby Brissett will also need to be paid this offseason. If the expectations for this team are lessened (as they should be), don’t be surprised to see some quality Colts players find themselves on the trading block soon.
Anything and everything should be in play for the Colts as they look toward their future, and they may end up drafing one of 2020's quarterback darlings next spring.
What About Your Fantasy Team?
The simple, if inconvenient truth, of the matter is that all fantasy owners who were relying on strong contributions from Colts players experienced a no-good-very-bad night last night.
Without Luck in 2017, Hilton’s yards per game dipped to 60.4. It was 90.7 last year. He scored only four touchdowns that year (his lowest single-season mark) and recorded the worst catch rate of his career (52.3%). Sans Luck, Hilton drops from WR1 (top-12) territory to, at best, the WR2 range.
Ebron finds himself in a slightly different situation. It’s not the greatest of news for him, but there may be a positive takeaway or two. Though, anecdotally one would assume that Ebron’s touchdown ceiling is capped because of the downgrade in passer, Ebron systematically wins in the areas Brissett is best in.
Ebron’s most efficient targets came from the short right and left areas of the field. Brissett’s strengths as a passer mesh well with that type of usage.
Still, combined with Ebron’s impending negative touchdown regression, the loss of Luck will do nothing to stop drafters already wary of Ebron's price tag, and he likely fades out of the TE1 conversation entirely.
Mack’s value is the hardest to pinpoint of Indy's trio of top fantasy assets. Though scoring opportunities will be harder to come by in 2019 and beyond, the Colts may be forced to lean on their run game a bit more than planned to lessen the load on Brissett’s shoulders.
Though it must be stated that the lack of a proper offseason grooming period for Brissett in 2017 may have led to these numbers, in that year the Colts rushed the ball 28.2 times a game (ninth-most). In 2018, the Colts were just the 17th-most run heavy team in the league, averaging 25.4 attempts per game.
When this potential increase in touches is coupled with the fact that the Colts boast the fourth-best run blocking offensive line by adjusted line yards. per Football Outsiders), Mack’s floor seems secure. While expecting him to be the borderline RB1 he was thought of as before the Luck news may be a bridge too far, a high-end RB2 season is still very achievable. All this news does is lower Mack’s ceiling.
The fantasy outlook for guys like Parris Campbell, Devin Funchess, Nyheim Hines and Jack Doyle, all of whom had varying levels of fantasy appeal prior to this news, takes a big hit. Each of them fall from the ranks of late-round sleepers to guys who should probably go undrafted.
A Comment on the Boo Birds
If anyone is to blame for Luck’s early shelving, the first men who should go under the microscope are the ones who worked in the Colts' front office early in Luck’s career. Jim Irsay, who owns the team, and former general manager Ryan Grigson did very little to protect their young star quarterback, drafting only three offensive linemen of note between the years of 2012 and 2015.
Any boos directed toward Luck should have been reserved for Colts management, despite the better job Chris Ballard has done recently in this regard. Unfortunately, this is an example of a career cut short by poor planning and too-little-too-late investments in the line (most notably Quenton Nelson and Mark Glowinski). Had these things been different, it is fair to wonder if Luck would have “lost (his) joy” for playing the game of football. Perhaps we’ll never know.