Prior to launching Colts Authority, I took the time to break down some of the issues that will face the Colts in the coming off-season as the team prepares for the 2012 NFL season. New developments, such as the firing of Bill and Chris Polian and hiring of new General Manager Ryan Grigson have occurred that make the stories worthy of re-publication and revision. We hope you will enjoy the series as the 2011 season moves closer to its conclusion.
When the Indianapolis Colts entered the 2011 season, there was some concern regarding the team’s depth at running back. It’s not that there were not enough options, even Darren Evans and Chad Spann showed enough in preseason to inspire confidence in fans.
The problem lied in the fact that three of the backs competing for a spot were rookies — two went undrafted — and the other backup was a first round pick discussed by most everyone as a bust to that point in his career. Joseph Addai was the only sure-thing on the roster, and he was re-signed primarily because the team was unable to solidify the position over the off-season.
With Addai missing time early in the season due to a hamstring injury, Donald Brown and Delone Carter had their chance to carry the load. Carter did relatively well early on but developed a fumbling problem that will have to be corrected if he hopes to have an NFL career. Brown, on the other hand, had a fantastic season on limited carries.
Brown finished the season with 645 yards on 134 carries, good for an average of 4.8 yards per carry. FootballOutsiders.com lists him as the fifth best running back in the NFL based upon DVOA, which judges a players value against others in the same position making plays in the same situations. Despite the fact that Brown had such success, he received only 19 carries in the final two games of the season.
The reasons for limiting Brown’s carries are not entirely clear. The team may have been protecting him for 2012, knowing that him getting hurt in the final two games of the year didn’t make sense. No matter the case, there is now reason to believe that Brown is a legitimate NFL running back who is ready to start making a name for himself.
While it is too early to know whether Evans and Carter will end up being the change-of-pace or short-yardage answers next to players like Brown or Addai, one thing is clear: the team has invested a lot at running back — including two first round picks and a fourth — so the likelihood that running back will be a priority in the off-season is relatively low. If any move happens with the running backs it will more than likely be a trade.
The Colts have a history of allowing running backs to depart via free agency, as opposed to signing them to large contracts that will keep them on the roster past their primes. Without any known quantities behind him, Indianapolis felt compelled to retain Addai for 2011 and beyond.
There is a chance that if new general manager Ryan Grigson is comfortable with Brown and Carter, Addai could be shopped for a draft pick — likely in the fourth round range. Another possibility is that the team capitalizes on Brown’s rising stock and parts ways with him before his contract year with an eye toward the draft or free agency for another veteran.
The offensive line has noticeably improved under since-released coach Pete Metzalaars. While no replacement has been named, and may not be named until the head coaching spot is filled, owner Jim Irsay has discussed wanting to find more balance. If that includes having a more prominent running game, the young improving offensive line could be a sign fo a positive future for Colts ball carriers.
On a team that has numerous holes that put the short-term future in doubt, running back is one position of relative security at this point.