Marlon Mack Lacks Elite Upside (2019 Fantasy Football)
Each year we look for that potential breakout running back who’s being drafted outside the top three rounds. With a current average draft position as the 18th running back off the board and playing for an up-and-coming offense, Marlon Mack fits that description.
After a rookie year that had him settled behind Frank Gore in a backup role, Mack was set to be the lead back for the Colts entering the 2018 season, though a hamstring injury sidelined him for four of the first five games. That’s not ideal considering he tore the labrum in his shoulder during his rookie season, which required surgery. Not just those injuries, but Mack has suffered two concussions over the last three years, which adds another level of concern.
FRANK REICH STANDING BY HIM
Despite the durability concerns, head coach Frank Reich has continually said that Mack will be the team’s primary ball carrier while Nyheim Hines will handle third-down work, and then Spencer Ware and Jordan Wilkins battle for backup duties. Saying that a running back is one thing, but backing it up is another. There were multiple running backs in both free agency and the draft that could’ve handled a big workload, but we watched the Colts continually pass on those players.
Before you believe that Spencer Ware is a threat, understand that the damage Ware did in this league was under Andy Reid, where just about every running back succeeds. In fact, Ware lost the starting job to Damien Williams last year. Wilkins is a solid three-down player, but he’s clearly not someone the Colts want competing for the job.
DOMINANT OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY
After years of incompetence, the Colts invested a ton of resources into their offensive line last year, and it paid off. They cleared out 1.80 yards before contact for their running backs in 2018, which ranked as the seventh-best mark in football. It’s a legitimate possibility that they’re the top offensive line in the game in 2019, as there were three new pieces last year. With everyone returning, the continuity should only improve between them. This is obviously a great thing for Mack, who averaged a rock-solid 4.7 yards per carry in 2018.
If you missed my article How Much Does Team Scoring Matter to Fantasy Football?, I suggest you check it out. Ideally, you want your running back tied to a high-scoring offense. Why’s that? Well, 74 percent of top-six running backs come from top-12 scoring offenses, with 43 percent of them coming from top-six scoring offenses. Despite playing under a new head coach, with a new offensive line, and a quarterback returning after a year away from the game, the Colts were able to finish as the eight-highest scoring team in 2018.
This offseason, the Colts added more firepower to their offense, as Devin Funchess was added to the wide receiver corps to replace Ryan Grant, while Parris Campbell was drafted in the second-round to replace Chester Rogers. Say what you want about Funchess, but he’s rock-solid in the red zone. Campbell is lightning in a bottle and can break-off an 80-yard play at any time. In the end, it’s hard to see this offense taking a step back. If anything, they should be expected to be a top-six scoring team.
It can’t all be good, right? If that were the case, why isn’t Mack being drafted as a top-10 running back? Did you know that the average carry equals roughly 0.47 fantasy points? How about that each target equals 1.18 half-PPR points? It’s clear that you want targets associated with your running back in order for him to present that massive ceiling. Did you know that each of the top-10 running backs from last year totaled at least 55 targets and that’s even though just four of them played all 16 games. Doing the math, they averaged 6.24 targets per game. The worst of the bunch averaged 3.93 targets per game (Joe Mixon).
Without looking, how many times do you think Mack hit four targets in a game? One. He totaled just 26 targets over 12 games, averaging just over two targets per game. At that pace, he would’ve totaled 34.7 targets over the course of a 16-game season. The last time a player finished top-10 with less than 38 targets was LeGarrette Blount in 2016 when he scored 18 touchdowns. I don’t think anyone is projecting Mack for even close to that. In fact, maybe half of that.
Nyheim Hines is going to continue in his third-down role, so without injury, it’s unlikely Mack reaches even the 40-target mark. That’s damning to his upside in any sort of league that rewards reception points. Even in standard, it’s going to limit his upside and keep him out of the top-six conversation.
As you can see, there’s plenty of reasons to like Mack in 2019, but the lack of work in the passing-game is going to destroy his chances to get into the elite conversation. When drafting Mack, you’re doing so hoping he finishes right around that RB10-RB12 range. I’d say it’s likely he does if he stays on the field for 16 games, though that’s proven to be a problem with him to this point in his career. In the end, Mack’s ADP is probably close to where it should be when you factor in everything, though if you’re having a tough time deciding between him and another running back who doesn’t catch a lot of passes (I’m looking at you, Derrick Henry), you should take Mack.