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What does Sam Ehlinger do for the fantasy-viable Colts around him?

Sam Ehlinger

Sam Ehlinger

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Colts replaced Matt Ryan with Sam Ehlinger and the results didn’t notably change their passing offense.



Ehlinger did complete one deep ball to Alec Pierce, but for the most part this offense still ran through a Michael Pittman-focused short game. It’s probably too soon to say that absolutely nothing will change here -- in fact, I’m almost positive it’s too soon because as I was writing this article the Colts fired offensive coordinator Marcus Brady. But I think regardless of the consistency and production of the offense that most of the target volume will still hover close to what it was before Ryan was deposed. Ehlinger did a better job of moving in the pocket than Ryan was doing and made some nice tosses. I don’t think he’s a superstar in the making, but he’s got a chance to be a decent backend superflex QB2.

What I was more curious about -- and what I’m sure has the most impact for the fantasy community -- is the question: What does this do for Jonathan Taylor? Taylor, you may have heard, has not lived up to his fantasy billing this season. His lone RB1-caliber game was against a Texans defense that hands out RB1 games like a well-off suburban family hands out full-size candy bars on Halloween. Since that Week 1 game, Taylor had not rushed for more than 71 yards in a game despite attempt totals of 21 and 20 prior to his ankle sprain against the Titans.

Week 8 was a step forward for Taylor, even at only 76 rushing yards, and Ehlinger’s addition to the run game mattered a lot in that way. The Colts schemed up a lot of extra plays to hold some outside gap players -- end arounds, read-options with Ehlinger, they even mixed in some pure Ehlinger runs. And Taylor’s best carries of the game wound up being off this sort of trickeration.

So here you have both the end-around threat from the wideout and the threat of Ehlinger holding on to the ball. You’ve taken two defenders out of the play. All Taylor has to do at that point because of the Commanders sending their linebackers is run to daylight. Nobody’s near him. Bobby McCain has to rally from the other side of the field to get a piece of Taylor. This could have gone all the way if the safety didn’t get a small piece of his leg.

It needs to be noted here that 76 yards isn’t a lot, but that the Colts offensive line struggled badly in this game. Quenton Nelson -- of highest-paid guard in the NFL Quenton Nelson fame -- got his ass kicked. He had a 45.2 PFF run block grade. Ryan Kelly was barely better at 46.1. The Commanders are second in the NFL in rush defense DVOA though eight weeks and, as bad as they can look in the back seven at times, nobody ever accused them of lacking defensive line talent.

Now I’m sure Ehlinger will run into a touchdown or two this season, but I’ve got to say that I didn’t think he looked particularly threatening as a runner. He can certainly pick up yards, but I think he was a touch slow at times.

This is just a straight quarterback keeper to the outside and Ehlinger both is no cutback threat and simultaneously is too slow to actually get to the edge. This is an NFL athlete, but Ehlinger might not even be a plus-runner. Or, I guess I should say he’s not a plus runner moving laterally. North and south is fine.

Look, eye test is the eye test. I don’t know who was hurt, I don’t have the full details on what was happening. But I thought Taylor Heinicke looked faster than Ehlinger. I don’t think that’s actually a good thing for Taylor because I think defenses that watch this game will come away thinking “Let’s stop Taylor, this kid can’t punish us that badly.” Taylor’s fantasy readout could have looked a lot better, but the Colts fumbled twice in the red zone -- one from Taylor -- and kicked field goals on fourth-and-3 at the WAS 21 and fourth-and-goal at the WAS 2. The playcalling has changed because Frank Reich, normally an aggressive coach over the past couple of years, simply can’t trust his run game. That’s why Ehlinger is playing in the first place!

We also don’t know precisely what firing Marcus Brady will do for this offense yet. I imagine we’ll get a dose of explanation on Wednesday when Reich speaks, but I’m not sure if we’ll get coachspeak or real answers from Reich on that one.

My lean after watching the first game is that Ehlinger will make Jonathan Taylor‘s rush yardage look better than it was for the first six games of his season. I think he’s still going to be hard-pressed to show the RB1 overall form that he did in 2021 because the offensive line is just playing too poorly for the Colts to bully real NFL teams in the red zone. Maybe that changes, or maybe they shuffle it up and find a combination that works better than what we’ve seen so far, but if they haven’t fixed it after two months I have my doubts that the light will just turn on. It’s time to just say it: The Colts offensive line may be vaunted, but this year they feel haunted.

Regardless, Ehlinger’s insertion is probably a good thing for this run game. The option games will help relieve some stress on the offensive line, so at least Taylor’s drafters have that going for them.