The Colts don't need a free agent running back, but it's my job to illustrate the viable option at each position, so here goes nothin'!
I was surprised with how well the running back core performed this season. I'd become used to slamming my head against the coffee table and throwing remotes and china across the room while watching Joseph Addai get tackled for a loss by someone half his size. I was fully prepared for another season of the same when I realized that the Colts were moving forward with a running back tandem of Donald Brown and rookie Vick Ballard.
However, I'm the kind of person that gives credit where credit is due, therefore, I commend those two for their performances this season.
Ballard had just under 1,000 all-purpose yards (814 rushing - 152 receiving), 3 TD's and a sweet dive to beat the Titans in overtime. He had just three fumbles in 228 touches. He was durable, reliable and, in my opinion, rarely looked like a rookie.
Brown, in 10 games (injury), had just under 600 all-purpose yards (417 rushing - 93 receiving) and a TD.
I know he's just 26, however, I feel as though Brown's reached his peak. This is more of a gut feeling than anything, but I trust it. Brown is adequate and he's someone who is able to consistently get the job done, but he should be spending the rest of his time in Indianapolis as a number two behind Ballard. Vick has earned the number one spot and, in all honestly, I think he's better/has a bigger upside than Brown.
We don't need to sign anyone at RB and our money is better spent elsewhere, however, it's my job to illustrate to you what free agents, at each position, I believe the Colts should consider. So, that's exactly what I'm going to do.
When he's healthy, Bradshaw is among the most complete backs in the NFL. He runs in a way that results in him getting more than his blocking gives (which ain't bad when you look at how well the Colts OL does its job), he's deadly as a receiver out of the backfield and he's as good a blocker as you'll find. However, it's not a mystery why the Giants parted ways with him, and why he's just as much of a gamble as he is an asset. Though he's 26, Bradshaw has ankles that rival the Curry's, and he's had a number of risky surgeries on 'em. That is something to be worried about.
So, while you'd most definitely be getting a player who is capable of being your number one, every-down back, you have to be aware of the chances that he might be watching on the sideline with a barrage of problems. It's a problematic decision to make, but, it's worth noting: Bradshaw's finished in the top-10 of Pro Football Focus's running back rankings each of the last three years.
The soon to be ex-Steeler is young enough (25) and far enough removed from a devastating injury, that his upside (more than Ballard's, in my opinion), makes him an interesting prospect. After flattering to deceive in the early part of his career, he was really starting to find his stride behind a terrible offensive line (bells should be going off) when his ACL turns into nothing more than a rubber band in 2011.
My problem with Rashard is what that ACL injury means. In a what-have-you-done-for-me league, Mendenhall does more through his yaps and actions off the field than he does through his play on the field. That may have been due to his health, but it offers little to no comfort for a team looking to spend that beautiful green on a sure thing.
Jackson is turning 30 before the 2013-2014 starts which will be enough for a lot of teams to pass on him, especially when you consider the amount of weight he's had to carry over the last five years (285 carries over that stretch). However, when you consider his 2012 (1,042 yards rushing - 321 yards receiving - 4 TDs - zero fumbles) and the team he plays for (the Saint Louis Yams...Rams...whatever), those statistics are nothing short of a miracle.
He isn't a threat to take it to the house (just 20.4% of his yardage came on runs over 15 yards, 13th-lowest of all running backs with at least 100 carries) and he's not the most elusive back in the league. However, his 2.7 yards after contact per carry are a cherry on tap for a guy that can still drive the pile. Paired with a more explosive option (Ballard), there's no reason he can't continue to be the work horse.
I'll reiterate, there's absolutely zero reason the Colts should sign a running back unless they can get one of these three guys for an insanely cheap price. Brown and Vick are going to be just fine in Pep's new scheme. After QB, RB is the next most secure position. We don't need to be spending any of our $43M on a RB. If we're spending money on a running back, it needs to be a number one guy, which would move Ballard to number two.
I just want to make that clear.