The 2012 rendition of the Indianapolis Colts finished the season with four running backs on the active roster, and one on injured reserve. With Training Camp looming on the horizon, there are currently seven running backs and one fullback (although one running back is likely a second FB) ready to compete for what could be four roster spots again this year.
Generally, the top two running backs are viable, versatile players who can gain some yards on the ground or catch passes out of the backfield, with a third being some type of specialist – such as passing downs or short yardage – if he isn’t another all-around running back. That leaves a fourth spot for a returner, provided a wide receiver or defensive back doesn’t steal the show on special teams. Even then, with the potential for injuries at the position, a fourth running back makes sense if the there’s room on the roster for one.
That leaves us with the fullback. The Colts traded little known DE Clifton Geathers to Philly for fullback Stanley Havili, and 240-pound undrafted free agent Dan Moore looks the part of a fullback as well. The Colts new offense should utilize the fullback some, but with some versatile tight ends on the roster, the fullbacks could still face a stiff challenge to be part of the final 53.
Competition at the Top
Last season, the one-two punch of Donald Brown and rookie Vick Ballard had some success, despite a struggling offensive line. Then Donald Brown injured his knee and saw his production drop off before finally going on injured reserve. Ballard picked up the slack, but as the season wore on, Ballard, without a reliable running back to share the load, wore down.
To avoid a similar situation and to bolster the unit overall, the Colts signed former New York Giant Ahmad Bradshaw in the offseason. Though we don’t know which player or players will get the majority of the carries this season, the Bradshaw signing does mean the top three roster spots at the position are taken.
For a quick discussion of each player, we’ll start with the new guy, and the player who enjoyed the best season last year of the group.
Bradshaw (5-10, 214, 27 yrs. old) has carved out a nice NFL career after coming out of Marshall and being drafted in the 7th round. Last year, he had his second 1000-yard season, finishing with 221 attempts for 1015 yards, 4.6 yards per carry, and 6 touchdowns for the New York Giants.
Bradshaw also looked impressive in the advanced stats department, ranking 5th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), at 15.8% and 8th in success rate (52%).
If he isn’t stymied by a struggling offensive line (I believe they’ll be better, though they may struggle early on with 2-3 new starters), Bradshaw has the potential to be Indy’s best running back in 2013, but to do so, he’ll have to exhibit some durability. Back in January, he had surgery on his right foot, his third according to NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling. He’s also had surgeries on his left foot and both ankles, but based on the same article, this most recent one was to replace a screw from a previous fracture, not for a new injury.
If the veteran back is healthy, he should have a fine season in Indianapolis and possibly get 40% or more of the carries on offense in what could be a three back system.
Last season, many fans fell in love with 5th round rookie Vick Ballard (5-10, 224, 23 yrs. old). Mostly, Ballard exceeded expectations, ending up with 211 attempts for 814 yards and 2 touchdowns, but his production, apart from his impressive yardage total, bore some similarities to Donald Brown’s. Like Brown, he averaged 3.9 yards per carry, fought through an inordinate amount of contact in the backfield, and managed to be a trustworthy receiver out of the backfield.
Ballard’s DVOA of -7.4% ranked 27th last year, and his success rate was 18th. That being said, Ballard is a big, strong, instinctive young player, who because of his age probably has more upside than Brown. If he can use his strength and power better, avoid fumbles, and be more decisive on the field, he could make a big jump this year even if he doesn’t gain as many yards as he did in 2012.
I like Brown too, but I’ll be watching for Ballard to beat him out for more playing time and possibly be the number one guy if Bradshaw has trouble staying on the field.
Ah, Donald Brown (5-10, 207, 26 yrs. old) the Colts fans’ whipping boy. While he hasn’t been a bad player the past two seasons, he hasn’t met the expectations associated with a first round pick of the Polian era. I’m a fan of the guy for his blazing speed, intelligence, and surprising ability to fight through contact, but it’s certainly understandable that many fans just expected more of him as a first rounder.
In his only healthy, 16-game season (2011), Brown ran the ball 134 times for 645 yards, 4.8 ypc, and 5 touchdowns. Then last season, he was back to his banged-up self, trying to play through a knee injury that eventually ended his season.
Brown finished 2012 with 108 carries for 417 yards, 3.9 ypc, and a touchdown. He ranked just 31st in DVOA (-9.8%) after being 5th in the league in 2011 (13.9%), and his 44% success rate ranked 30th.
Injuries make a huge difference. If Brown is close to full speed most of the season, expect him to play well, hopefully somewhere near his 2011 form, but he’ll need a startlingly impressive preseason to beat out Bradshaw or Ballard for playing time.
The Battle at the Bottom of the Roster
If the fourth running back is, in fact, a kick returner, that narrows the chances for otherwise impressive short yardage back Delone Carter, who is built more to run over people than around them. Also competing for a spot are a second-generation NFL player, two undrafted free agent rookies, and possibly a fullback (or two?).
At 5-9, 232 pounds, Delone Carter is a bruiser. He also has some impressive upper body strength (27 bench press reps at the 2011 Combine) and even some surprising quickness for such a big, stout fella. His 20-yard shuttle time of 4.07 is a number more commonly seen on much faster players’ draft profiles.
Carter will be looking to prove his worth, either to the Colts or to any NFL team in need of a running back. He has great agility, and he’ll need to use it to show he’s more than just a power back. But he’ll also need to tap into his biggest strength, which happens to be his physical strength to steamroll a few defenders if he wishes to impress upon the coaches that he is indispensable.
At Utah State, Kerwynn Williams (5-8, 198, 22 yrs. old) averaged 141.4 all-purpose yards and 11.7 per play, according to his Colts.com bio. He had a productive college career, especially last season (1512 yards, 6.6 ypc, 15 touchdowns, and 45 catches for 697 yards and 5 more touchdowns), once he wasn’t buried on the depth chart behind Robert Turbin (Seattle) and Michael Smith (Tampa Bay).
Williams’s ace in the hole for making the roster is his kick and punt return ability (3408 career kick return yards and a 25.2 average, according to his bio), and the team could potentially utilize his speed and elusiveness in certain situations on offense if things work out right.
He had a nice combine, running in the mid to high 4.4’s, but he looks even faster on the football field. Williams can scoot, but he will have to prove he’s capable of absorbing the physicality of the NFL game if he’s going to be able to stick around.
Since we haven’t seen him play in the NFL yet, here are a couple Kerwynn Williams scouting videos (the good and the bad – watch for # 25):
Meet Davin Meggett (5-8, 219, 23 yrs. old) a smart, strong, between-the-tackles running back, and son of former 10-year NFL veteran Dave Meggett. Often considered too small to be taking shots up the middle in the NFL, Meggett has been bulking up, adding 8 pounds since the 2012 NFL Combine (quite a bit for a 5’8” athlete, especially if it’s all muscle).
According to his combine bio, Meggett, who spent last season with Houston, is known for relying on his vision and low center of gravity to find his way through traffic, but he has some good speed as well. His combine 40-yard dash time was only 4.59 seconds, but he managed a 4.44 at his pro day the next month. He doesn’t have a history of returning kicks, but he may possess the vision to find creases in kick coverage. If he can show some good versatility and contribute on special teams, Williams and Carter will have some even tougher competition.
Our scouting video is actually a video of the West Virginia defense versus Maryland. It doesn’t look like one of Meggett’s better games in the couple of minutes I watched, but he’s certainly in there. Watch for # 8: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3cRooNMBv8
Dan Moore (5-11, 240, 23 yrs. old, rookie) listed as a running back by the Colts, played fullback as well at the University of Montana. Moore didn’t work out at the combine, but he participated in a pro day and the Dallas Super Regional Combine, posting 40-times ranging from an impressive 4.60 seconds, to a much slower 4.9.
Moore had 76 carries for 418 yards and 4 touchdowns as a senior and 924 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns, and 38 catches for 338 yards and 2 touchdowns for his college career. Clearly, he was used situationally, and not a feature back, but unlike many fullbacks, Moore was still a big part of his offense and spent time at tailback. If the Colts keep a spot open for a fullback – and they’ve said they plan to use a fullback in Pep Hamilton’s offense – Moore could push the next and final player on the list for a position on the team.
Here is a somewhat lengthy video of Dan Moore highlights. Watch for # 35: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmpcIf-LEB4
Acquired in a trade with the Eagles, Stanley Havili (6-0, 24.3, 25 yrs. old) had 6 rushes for 22 yards and a TD, to go with 7 catches for 43 yards for Philadelphia last year, but he has the athleticism to contribute more. At USC, Havili had 1799 yards from scrimmage in 52 career games, 1290 of which were receiving yards, according to his Colts.com bio.
Havili is a smart guy and a team player who should fit right in with the Colts. His teammates at USC held him in very high regard, and he appears to be a high character player, which is refreshing in the wake of three recent Colts players’ forays into in the news. Havili also holds a degree (as do Brown, Meggett, and Carter), which is always nice to see, of course.
Character and athleticism aside – and the intention is not to diminish those traits, Havili will have to show that he can be a better lead blocker to compliment his more dynamic skills. The man can catch a football, and he is a good runner and special teams tackler, but it’s likely he’ll be working on his strength and physicality on the football field, too. Look for Havili to try to make a couple signature plays in the preseason to showcase his toughness and make an impression on the coaching staff.
Stanley Havili USC highlights. Watch for # 31: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JmHA8rkuVs
As likeable as they may be, the two players likely competing for a fullback spot, Havili and Moore, may have an uphill battle to fight if one of the backup tight ends (presumably not Weslye Saunders, now that he’s been suspended) proves he can play fullback, thus allowing the Colts to keep an extra player at a more heavily used position. The good news for Havili and Moore is they are dynamic athletes for their position, and the backup tight ends look more like big, burly blocking specialists.
As for the fourth running back, my money’s on Williams, though Meggett could be better than expected. If Meggett proves he can return kicks and punts too, he might give Williams a run for his money.
As for the top, all three of those backs ought to be playing if they’re healthy. None of them looks like an every down back, which is becoming a thing of the past anyway (aside from, say, in Minnesota). A healthy Donald Brown can be a great weapon, and the team having two other viable running backs could keep him upright and churning down the field. Watch for Vick Ballard to be better this year. He looks poised to make a jump and improve his field vision in 2013. Then there’s Bradshaw, the talented veteran. If his feet and ankles hold up, it’s likely he’ll be the number one or number two guy, but if he doesn’t, an improved Ballard and (hopefully) a healthy Brown could still be reasons for optimism.
With all three, the Colts have a better chance of having two healthy running backs at any given time in the season, and they’re much better when they have at least a one-two punch of healthy backs. Who that one-two punch will be remains to be seen. Is it time for football yet?
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