32 Questions: Indianapolis Colts

Thirty-two teams, 32 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NFL team. Be sure to check out all 32 questions.

Does Joseph Addai deserve to be picked in the top 3?

Before the preseason began, it was clear that a big three of LaDainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson and Larry Johnson existed. Now that training camps have opened, we already are starting to see some fluctuations of player values, namely Joseph Addai beginning to challenge for a place in the big three. Does Addai warrant this consideration? Let's find out.

We need to first establish an expected performance for someone to be selected with pick No. 3. Since the vast majority of drafts will have running backs being selected with each of the first three picks, we set that expectation to be the average end-of-year score of the third-best running back. Over the past five years, that level of production amounts to 317 points. So, let's see if Addai reasonably can be expected to attain that level of performance.

We know that Addai posted solid numbers during his rookie campaign. Being a 1,000-yard rusher in a running-back-by-committee situation is an accomplishment that should not be taken lightly. With Dominic Rhodes no longer with the team, we can expect Addai's workload to increase significantly. Just how significantly is something we can quantify by looking at the historical role of the primary running back within the Colts offense.

In the last five seasons in which the Colts have had a true No.1 running back (2000, 2002–2005), that running back received an average 79 percent of the total touches earned by Indianapolis running backs. Last season, Addai accounted for 54 percent of the Colts' running-back touches. If we were to assume that all production is equal (it's not, but we need some sort of baseline), we can prorate his 2006 production to 79 percent of the touches to find out what he might have scored if he was a featured No. 1 back.

On the surface, any running back with 2,000 combined yards and double-digit touchdowns looks like a sure candidate for a top-3 selection, but let's remember that combination returns only 260 fantasy points, 57 below our threshold for the No. 3 overall selection. Using the past five years as a model, we should expect six running backs to exceed 260 fantasy points this season. If we were to only assume a similar level of production this season, Addai's prorated stats from 2006 warrant him being selected as either the fourth or fifth-overall selection.

Of course, taking last season's stats and saying this season is going to be an exact replica doesn't work. It would be irresponsible not to take other factors into consideration when making our projection for 2007. For Addai, the two most important factors we should consider are his performance as a second-year player versus his performance as a rookie, and the retirement of Tarik Glenn.

Most people would assume that a player that performed as well as Addai did during his rookie season likely would improve on his opportunities in their second season. Ironically, that has not occurred in the past. Of the 17 rookie running backs to rush for 1,000 yards since 1996, only four saw their yards-per-carry average increase in their sophomore season. As a whole, the group saw their second-year yards-per-carry average remain at 98 percent of their rookie-season average. While this seems impressive, the performance of two players drastically skewed the data up; Olandis Gary finished at 147 percent and Robert Edwards finished at 140 percent. Since Gary only played one game in his second season and Edwards' sophomore campaign came four seasons after his rookie year and he only had 10 percent of the carries from his first campaign, it is best to discount those as statistical aberrations. When they are removed, the group's average falls to 93 percent of the previous season's average. The newly adjusted prorated expectation:

I think we'll all agree that 267 fantasy points is a sweet level of production, however there is another adjustment that should be made, this time for the retirement of Pro-Bowl offensive tackle Tarik Glenn. While it is impossible to predict how Glenn's loss ultimately will affect the offensive production of the Colts, I think that it's safe to assume that the impact will be at least a 5-percent reduction of the total offense.

This prediction of 1,848 yards and 11 touchdowns is very close to the 1,872 yards and 10 touchdowns that we see in the ESPN.com Fantasy Football Draft Kit. My methodology is different from my peers who developed the latter, but nonetheless, they do validate each other and therefore the range of the forecasts. So if you can accept either forecast as valid, you should realize that 250-260 points represents the range of production that you can expect from the sixth or seventh-best running back.

Does Addai offer upside above these projections? Of course he does. He will be the primary ball carrier for the best offense in the league and has shown a nose for the end zone. However, the downside is just as large as the yards-per-carry trend shown above, and the loss of Glenn, should be viewed as negatives. In the make-what-you-want-of-it category, you should also note that 23 percent of Addai's fantasy production last season came in just one game, which was against a demoralized Philadelphia Eagles team which had just lost Donovan McNabb for the year. Personally, I prefer less volatile production, but I can see why others could view that as a positive by claiming it represents his "explosiveness."

At the end of the day, fairly gauge your expectations. I prefer to base my expectations on real-life data and historical trends. Based on those criteria, the earliest I'd select Addai this season is at No.6 overall, I suggest you do the same.

Ken Daube is a senior columnist for talentedmroto.com and fantasy football expert for espn.com. You can email him at KenDaube@talentedmrroto.com