According to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, if the NFL was adding a new expansion franchise this offseason, two Indianapolis Colts would be selected: quarterback Jacoby Brissett and wide receiver Ashton Dulin:
My pick: QB Jacoby Brissett ($21,375,000)
WR Chad Williams ($825,000)
TE Matt Lengel ($825,000)
LB Matthew Adams ($775,395)
My pick: WR Ashton Dulin ($675,000)
Our most expensive player and our likely Week 1 starting quarterback will be Brissett, whose 50.1 Total QBR in 2019 was actually better than that of his replacement, Philip Rivers (48.6). Brissett has been a low-risk, low-reward option over his two stretches as a starter with the Colts, averaging 6.6 yards per attempt in 2017 and matching that rate last season. I’d also argue he was playing behind a struggling offensive line in 2017 and was hit by injuries at wide receiver last season. He is going to protect the football and avoid putting our defense in terrible situations, and while that’s not really a quarterback worth $20 million per season, there still might be upside with the 27-year-old. The Colts would free up nearly $16 million in guaranteed money by letting their backup behind Rivers leave in this draft.
We’re also going to take a flier on Dulin, who is 6-foot-1 and ran a 4.43 40 at 215 pounds last year. An undrafted free agent out of Division II Malone University, he spent 2019 on the back of the Indy roster, mostly playing special teams and eventually seeing time on kick returns. Our roster already has three wideouts — and more to come — but Dulin is an interesting dart throw.
Barnwell followed the most recent NFL expansion draft rules—when the Houston Texans held theirs way back in February of 2002.
That means that each current NFL team has to make five players available in the expansion draft pool, and only one of those players can have 10 or more years of NFL experience.
The critical difference is that for Barnwell’s expansion draft, each player made available for the expansion draft must have played at least one snap for their current team in 2019—which eliminates 2020 rookies and UDFA’s from consideration, newly signed free agents, as well as players who suffered season-long ending injuries (i.e., quarterback Alex Smith).
Kickers and punters were also deemed ineligible, while Barnwell limited his total selections to just two picks from each pre-existing NFL team.
Barnwell described his overall selection criteria as follows:
“For each team, I chose the five players I felt each team would be most comfortable losing as part of an expansion draft,” Barnwell writes. “In some cases, those were players who were already on the fringes of making their respective teams. In other cases, I picked players whose contacts would be considered a burden their old team would love to escape, even if it meant losing a veteran contributor.”
Regarding Brissett, last year’s starting quarterback for the Colts completed 272 of 447 pass attempts (60.9%) for 2,942 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and a passer rating of 88.0 during 15 starts in 2019.
Brissett also rushed for 224 rushing yards on 56 carries (4.1 ypc. avg.) and 4 rushing touchdowns this past season.
With Brissett unexpectedly thrusted back into the every week starter’s role again, the Colts started out red hot—going 5-2 to start the season, including a Week 5 road upset win against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Brissett threw for 14 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions during that same span.
However, Brissett suffered a knee injury against Pittsburgh in Week 8 (which cost him both the remainder of that game and the following week’s game when the Colts were stunned at home by the lowly Miami Dolphins)—and their season derailed soon thereafter.
Specifically, the Colts would lose 6 of their final 8 games, their season hindered by both Brissett’s injury—and his ensuing ineffectiveness among other underlying factors.
At 6’4”, 238 pounds, Brissett has a big arm, impressive pocket poise, and the ability to mitigate turnovers, but he showed a general reluctance to throw the ball downfield, take chances, and anticipate open throws—while his accuracy could improve as a whole.
He was demoted this offseason with the Colts signing veteran quarterback Philip Rivers.
That being said, he’s still regarded as one of the league’s best backup quarterbacks from a playing perspective—and also possesses strong leadership skills in the Colts locker room.
While QB wins shouldn’t be considered a stat, the Colts went 7-8 with Brissett in 2019 (and probably could’ve won a few more games without kicker Adam Vinatieri’s season-long struggles), showing that he gives a franchise a ‘fighter’s chance’ to finish around .500 as a spot-starter—which is about all you can reasonably ask for from a top backup quarterback.
In Barnwell’s mock expansion draft, the 27 year old quarterback would be the projected starter for the NFL’s newest expansion franchise (*hopefully for Brissett’s sake, they’d build a better offensive line than the Texans initially did with David Carr—although Deshaun Watson has recently run into a similar issue).
The Colts would shed Brissett’s ~$16 million of guaranteed salary in the process.
Regarding Dulin, the 6’1”, 215 pound wideout caught 2 receptions for 17 receiving yards (8.5 ypr. avg.) in 13 games in 2019, as he made the majority of his impact during his rookie season playing special teams—where he was a key contributor (recording 7 tackles and playing 42% of the available snaps).
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription), Dulin received a +72.1 kickoff grade (including defensive coverage and offensive returns) this past season during 70 total snaps.
Dulin has some intriguing athletic traits, but he faces a highly contested training camp battle for the wide receiver spots lower on the Colts depth chart—competing against the likes of Daurice Fountain, Marcus Johnson, and rookie Dezmon Patmon among others.
Still, his added special teams’ versatility could give him a bit of an advantage—should everything else be relatively equal regarding his competition for the Colts’ 53-man roster.
Of course, Barnwell’s mock expansion draft is ‘just for fun’, and there apparently are no imminent plans for the NFL to add another expansion franchise into the mix beyond the NFL’s current 32 teams.
That being said, it makes for a fun exercise during an NFL offseason period of sheer boredom, and one that’s an intriguing possibility to think about when considering what would actually happen on the Colts’ end—should such fiction become a reality.