Welcome to a very thought provoking Devil's Take. Today's article targets one of the sore subjects of the Colts recent draft struggles, Mr. Donald Brown. Now, you may ask why would I do this? The answer is simple: He's better than he's given credit for.
Donald Brown was the 27th pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. With Marvin Harrison being released, the consensus by most mock drafts had the Colts going after a WR or possibly a DT. Instead, the Colts drafted Brown, a speedster from UConn. This got a WTF moment from virtually the entire fan base. The ever-lovable Brad Wells hated the pick. Guys that were passed up by the Colts were Hakeen Nicks-WR, Kenny Britt-WR, and Ziggy Hood-DT. Ironically, this was only the 2nd worst decision by the Colts that night, as they would draft Fili Moala in the 2nd round ahead of guys like Shonn Greene-RB and Mike Wallace-WR.
In both instances, the Colts made questionable picks on players that made no sense. In Brown, they passed up a few DTs and WRs, and in Moala, he was essentially an afterthought. Now hindsight is always 20/20, but the players the Colts passed on were the bigger issue here. Greene has shown his mettle as a Jet, Wallace is the NFL's version of Flash, and Nicks just won a SB after pulling his version of Larry Fitzgerald's 2008 playoff run. Hood has proven himself to be a decent NT in the Steelers lineup.
Bottom Line: Your #1 pick has to be a day one starter. There are a few exceptions to this, such as when the Packers took Aaron Rodgers to sit behind Brett Favre. In general however, you don't waste a first round pick on a position that's already filled with a capable starter.
So Donald Brown was drafted and no one liked it. The problem as I see it though, is that Brown is being hated on for Polian's screw up of a draft. Had Brown been drafted in any round but the first or maybe the second round, I seriously don't think anyone would be as down on him as they currently are.
So why would I defend Donald Brown? Simple: Talent. The kid can play football, and he does not get any love from the Colts fan base in general. This isn't about whether Donald Brown is the next Edgerrin James, it's about his ability to actually be a productive member of the Colts offense. Of that, I'm certain he can do.
Before I defend him however, I want to put a few things into perspective.
- From 1999-2005, Colts running backs would average 1757 yards per season, roughly 110 yards per game. It was good for an average of 4 yards per carry. The Colts would generally rank around 16th in rushing. Only once did they finish below 19th, and that was when Edge went out with his knee injury. They would still finish with almost 1600 yards that year.
- Since Edgerrin James was released by the Colts, the player picked to replace him would generate 100 yard rushing efforts 7 times in six seasons, and only once in the last 3 years. His backup, Dominic Rhodes, would generate 3 100 yard rushing efforts and just miss on a 4th by 2 yards.
- In 2006 and 2007, the Colts went with a running back by committee approach. In both seasons, the Colts would gain about 1700 yards and finish 18th in the league in rushing. They have not finished higher than 26th since.
- Since the 2008 season to current, the Colts have gained an average of 1136 yards, averaging less than 75 yards rushing per game every season. They have finished in the 29th-32nd positions in 3 of the last 4 seasons.
So why did I point out all of this? The Colts rushing offense has been essentially atrocious for the last 4 years. Even the 2011 season, which was the best season in the last 4 years, still finishes 3rd worst in the last 13 seasons. The problem for the Colts rushing woes, starts with the offensive line, not the running back.
Starting in the 2007 season, All Pro LT Tarik Glenn retired abruptly, leaving the team scrambling for a replacement. We all know how that turned out. The following season, the Colts had to choose between Ryan Lilja or Jake Scott, and in my opinion, chose wrongly. The loss of Scott would start a downward spiral that would only accelerate an issue that was started by the loss of Glenn.
What the Colts would deal with for pretty much the last 4 years is a rolodex of has-beens and rookies that would make one of the better pass blocking O-lines in the league. As for running the ball, well, let's just say a group of high schoolers would have done as well. During this time, the Colts O-line would feature only 2 players that played generally every game (Diem/Saturday).
Donald Brown's 3 year stats are not impressive, hell, they're rather pathetic. However, given what he's had to work with in terms of blocking, I'm not really surprised. Every single one of us has seen game footage time and time again of a Colts RB being tackled, hit, or flat out mauled before he takes a single step after being handed the ball. How can you succeed at running the ball when one of out two carries ends up with you being tackled for a loss before you have a chance to do anything?
- Donald Brown has accounted for 2 of the 9-100 yard Colts rushing games since 2006.
- Led the Colts in 2010/2011 for rushing.
- Accounts for 2 of the 3 longest rushing TD's in Colts history (tied for 1st)
- Has improved his yards per carry every season, from 3.6 to 4.8
- Has only 1 fumble in almost 350 attempts
- Was a highly touted college RB - was considered 1 of the top 3 backs in his draft
Brown is not a great back in the mold of guys like Sanders, Smith, or even Edge. Still, the thing I think most people are overlooking is that without decent blocking, none of the other backs for the Colts have done much better. Had the Colts offensive line blocked better, had the Polian drafted better, the running game would not have suffered.
The guy has shown flashes of promise, and last season, showed he was capable of playing a bigger role. Is he destined for greatness? In the NFL, it's possible. Remember, Marshall Faulk was just a 1000 yard runner here, but in St. Louis he was the All World RB. Reggie Wayne was a dud his first year, barely average his next two, and then he broke out for a great 4th season.
Someone mentioned in another post that Brown only generated good stats in garbage time. In 2010, with a Jaguars win, they would win the division. In the 1st quarter, opening possession, Brown goes for 49 yards in a single run. Later in that game, he'd score on a 43 yard TD. Both runs showcased his speed and his ability to hit the hole. The following week, in a division winning game, Brown would run for 28 yards on 6 carries against a tough Raiders defense. That's not even including his receiving capabilities. I don't even have to mention his 2011 runs, as he was far more impressive with an 80 yard icing in our first win of the season over the Titans.
Given a decent blocking line, which he had for parts of the 2011 season, Brown was far more effective. He has the potential and the talent, but the NFL eats both for breakfast. If he wants to belong, he'll have to prove it.Keep in mind Brown is a speedster, designed to burn defenses. He's not going to play 30 snaps a game.
The Colts looked to shore up their line issues by adding several linemen both before, during, and after the draft. Adding in the addition of two quality rookie TE's and a well touted rookie QB, this could be the best offensive line the Colts have had in 7 seasons.
Before I end this, I just want to point out that there was a guy who pulled off a similar feat not to long ago... Michael Turner. And no, I'm not saying Brown is going to do it. I'm saying there's a previous example and that Brown has the potential to do it. Turner was primarily a KR and backup RB for the Chargers. He had one semi decent rushing season and signed with the Falcons. In an offense designed for his style of running, he had a monster break out year.
What I'm trying to say with this article is not that Brown is a great RB, but that he deserves a chance to have a clean slate with this new offense. He has shown flashes of greatness and if he can get the blocking that any RB in a Colts uniform deserves, he may very well show you a different guy.
As always, your thoughts and comments are appreciated. I'd however appreciate if the conversations about other things, including other members, stayed out of this. Thanks!