In the mad rush between the Annual release and my trip to Indianapolis for training camp this week, I’ve yet to lay out all of the implications from Vick Ballard’s season-ending Achilles tear. On one hand, Ballard is not an especially talented back, and losing him is not as big of a blow as losing a starter.
On the other hand, with the iffy depth at running back and the Colts’ continued desired to run the ball, Ballard’s injury has ripple effects across the team. It’s those that I want to address today
Effects on the Roster
On paper, Ballard’s torn Achilles hasn’t directly affected the roster yet, because the Colts have yet to place him on the injured reserve list. Nevertheless, we’ve already seen some change (which, in the four days since the injury, has already been changed again).
- First, let’s note why Ballard is not yet on IR. It’s not because the Colts believe he can recover soon. It’s because they cannot put him on IR without making him go through waivers first, since he’s not a “vested veteran.” While Ballard’s bounce back from injury is unlikely after back-to-back season-ending Achilles and ACL tears, the Colts clearly like him enough to not want to risk him to waiver claims.
- Since the injury, the Colts have signed running back Davin Meggett, cut Chris Rainey (for violating team policy) and signed Phillip Tanner. Neither Meggett or Tanner are expected to make the roster, but with the depth so depleted, nothing is impossible.
- Meggett did suffer what looked to be a minor knee injury (he was putting weight on it a few minutes later) on Monday, which may impact his practice time.
- Rainey was a favorite to make the roster before what apparently was an off-the-field issue this weekend resulted in his immediate release on Monday morning. Rainey’s release is a blow both to the running back and kick returner depth.
- Running backs currently on the roster: Ballard, Trent Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Dan Herron, Meggett, Tanner and Zurlon Tipton.
The original favorites to make the roster at halfback were Richardson, Bradshaw, Ballard and Rainey. Ballard and Rainey are now both out of the picture, leaving the door wide open for what will likely be two more players (Colts have had at least four backs on the final cuts every year since 2009). With all the depth questions, it would be odd to see them only keep three backs.
Who will those players be? Currently, Herron and Tipton seem to have the advantage. But don’t discount Meggett, who was mixed in a few times on Monday’s practice before his knee tweak.
Fantasy Football Ripples
With Ballard out for the season, the onus for the Colts’ power-running game is on Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. Even though the Colts want a “bell cow” to emerge, I expect both backs, if healthy, to receive their fair share of touches.
Last season, the Colts gave their top running backs (Bradshaw, Brown, Ballard, Richardson) a combined 313 carries and 63 receptions. That’s 376 total touches in the season.
I don’t expect that number to decrease this season. Even with the instability at running back, the Colts will remain committed to running the ball, especially behind what should be a healthier offensive line with a higher ceiling.
If Bradshaw and Richardson stay healthy, I’d expect both to eclipse 150 touches. Now, which will be more valuable in fantasy? Well that’s dependent on your thoughts on the following two questions:
1. Do you think Trent Richardson improves dramatically in 2014? Some improvement is all but guaranteed, but will it be enough to make him a viable starter?
2. Do you trust Ahmad Bradshaw to stay healthy for even the majority of the season? You can live with him missing a game or two, but he’s not worth drafting if he’ll be gone by Week 5.
If he stays completely healthy, Bradshaw should be the better overall back. But Richardson is going to likely be force-fed the ball regardless of his performance, especially earlier in the season. Bradshaw’s skill set, especially his top-rate history in blitz pickup, makes him the more likely choice for a change-of-pace back.
Richardson also has a higher ceiling than Bradshaw, although that is certainly contingent on drastic improvement in ’14. He’s worth a higher pick than Bradshaw, with the injury history considered, but Bradshaw should still see opportunity. Had Ballard been healthy, both backs would have been affected, but especially Bradshaw. The coaches love Ballard, and would have given him every opportunity to earn his way back into regular rotation.
The Colts offensive line will still be a hindrance, but a commitment to running the ball makes both of these backs worth drafting in middle and later rounds. Evan Silva of Rotoworld currently has Richardson as a sixth-round pick, and Bradshaw as a 10th. If you believe in the Colts’ commitment to the run, keep an eye on them as the drafts go on.
“Real” Football Factors
As mentioned above, the Colts coaches love Vick Ballard. He was the starter last season over Bradshaw and Brown, and coaches have raved about him.
— Tom James (@TribStarTJames) July 29, 2014
He would have seriously competed for snaps in 2014 had he been healthy, and given the Colts some insurance behind Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson. Granted, not great insurance, but another body with a history of producing.
Without that layer of insurance, the Colts’ reliance on the run game may take a blow. If Bradshaw gets hurt, if Richardson doesn’t blossom, the Colts won’t have anybody else to turn to and lay a heavy burden on. Even if Herron, Tipton or another unknown is better than expected, the likelihood of them being a starting-capable back is low.
No, Ballard wasn’t the most talented. But he was somebody the Colts trusted.
That’s significant when the other two-thirds of the “trusted” group has major questions as well. Now, Ballard won’t have a chance to bounce back and prove doubters wrong. Instead, the coaches will look at Bradshaw and Richardson with a bit more urgency.