No position on the entire Colts roster has been as talked about as the running back position has in recent weeks, so this comes at a good time. With the signing of Ahmad Bradshaw, many people have been discussing who the starter will be and who the "odd man out" will be. Let's look at the position and the talent they have, and then we'll discuss what is likely to happen. And to top it all off, this year we get to include fullbacks in this section because, for once, the team is actually going to use them!
The returning starter from last year, Vick Ballard, finished out his rookie season by starting the final 12 games and ended up gaining 814 yards on 211 carries (3.9 yards per carry) and scored twice. He also caught 17 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown (the game winner in overtime against the Titans). His rookie season was an absolutely impressive one, especially considering the fact that not many people expected much of him. As the preseason went on, however, it became more and more apparent that he might make a push for a starting spot by season's end. That starting opportunity came earlier in the year due to injuries to Donald Brown, and Ballard never relinquished it. He isn't the most physically gifted back, but he is a hard worker and he will continue to improve.
Donald Brown has been nothing short of a disappointment in his NFL career. The Colts' first round pick in 2009, Brown has played four seasons for the Colts and still the thing he is most well known for is for the whole "Dammit Donald" thing. Well, he's either most known for that or his injury issues. He's known for both, but regardless he has not impressed in his career so far. In 2011 he began to show tiny glimpses of possibly living up to a first round pick, but 2012 didn't show any of that and once again had Brown getting injured. In his career, he has gained 1,840 yards on 449 carries and has scored 11 times while averaging 4.1 yards per carry (an average of just 460 yards per year). He has caught 56 passes for 553 yards. In 2012, Brown carried the ball 108 times and gained 417 yards while scoring once. He started 4 games and played in 10, but after he was injured early in the year he never regained the number one back spot from Vick Ballard.
Delone Carter was drafted by the Colts in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Syracuse and has shown potential when he gets on the field. The problem is, he hasn't gotten on the field that much. 2011 was actually a promising year for him, as he played in every game and started 3, getting 101 carries and gaining 377 yards and scoring twice. The problem, however, was his fumbling. He fumbled three times that year and that led to him seeing much less playing time down the stretch. After the new regime was brought in for the 2012 year, Carter became something of an afterthought. He played in only 10 games due to injuries and got only 32 carries all year. He was impressive in the limited opportunities, gaining 122 yards and scoring 3 touchdowns, but the coaching staff seemed to have no wish to play him. The coaching staff still doesn't seem to support Carter at all, as the coaches haven't mentioned Carter once this offseason despite mentioning the others. Tom James also told me that Carter had shoulder surgery this offseason, meaning that he hasn't gotten the chance to earn back the trust of the coaching staff (or perhaps earn it for the first time).
Ahmad Bradshaw is the guy everyone has been talking about. Head here for my free agent profile on him, but in this article we'll just cut to the chase and say that Bradshaw is easily the most complete back on the Colts' roster and when healthy is clearly the best back, too. The two-time Super Bowl champion is one of the league's most underrated runners and is rather fast, but at the same time he is one of the best pass catchers out of the backfield and one of the best pass protecting running backs as well. His concern is injuries, as he has had several lingering foot and ankle issues over the years (including another surgery this offseason), but when healthy he is a very underrated back near the top of the league.
Kerwynn Williams was drafted in the 7th round of this year's draft by the Colts after having an absolutely tremendous senior season at Utah State in which he rushed for 1,512 yards and 15 touchdowns while also catching 45 passes for 697 yards and 5 scores. He ran a 4.48 40 at the Combine and figures to make a big push for the Colts kick returner spot.
Ok, so who makes the roster? Let's just start off by saying Davin Meggett really doesn't have shot. He has approximately a zero point one percent chance at making the final roster. He's just a camp body - that's not so much about him as it is about the other players the Colts have.
Secondly, Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw will both make the roster. That leaves Donald Brown, Delone Carter, and Kerwynn Williams. The Colts will likely keep four backs, which means that one of those three will have to go. I think that Williams will make the team as a kick returner, so that leaves Brown and Carter for the final spot. That's exactly what we all thought would happen when Bradshaw was signed, too. The question is which one will be kept. Opinions differ on that question. Some say that Brown should be the one gone because of his salary, which is $1.7 million this year. Carter's is $555,000, so cutting Brown would indeed do more from the salary cap standpoint. But the Colts aren't in a position where they need extra money right now, and they likely won't be in a position where they would have to make this decision due to the cap either. Even though I agree that releasing Brown is the right decision, I don't base it off of the money. Carter proved last season to be a very capable short yardage and goal line running back. With Ballard and Bradshaw likely getting the overwhelming majority of the carries (again, it all depends on health), the team won't need another back like Brown who is more suited for a starting or featured role. What they will need more is a power back like Carter. Besides, if they truly desire a speed back, Bradshaw is a fast guy and so is Kerwynn Williams. All of that said, however, I fully expect Delone Carter to be the one released.
Why? Well, the coaching staff doesn't seem to like him. As I mentioned earlier, they haven't talked about him this offseason. And add to that the fact that he underwent shoulder surgery this offseason and his case gets weaker. This new regime hasn't given him many chances to show his skill and I don't expect that to change much. He will stick around for much of training camp, but I don't expect Delone Carter to be on the roster when the Colts host the Raiders to open the season on September 8.
The other question at this position is who the "starter" will be - Vick Ballard or Ahmad Bradshaw? Can I just say neither? I mean, seriously, they will split time nearly equally and the one who gets the designation of "starter" will likely just be the one who is on a hot streak at the time. The NFL is a two-back league, and the Colts will use both Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard equally. But, if you must insist on determining a starter for week one, I'm in the minority that says Vick Ballard will be it. I know, I know, earlier I said that when healthy Bradshaw is easily the best back on the roster. But the coaches really like Ballard, he has a year under his belt with the team as well as offseason workouts, and he has a lot of potential. He will enter training camp as the starter, and I don't think he will lose that designation when the Colts host the Raiders. How long he remains the starter, I don't know, but I still say he starts week one. Again, though, the starting back will be the starter by title only. He will split the carries with the other one.
One last note about the running backs - Ahmad Bradshaw will do wonders for Andrew Luck in the passing game. He is the best pass blocking running back in the entire NFL and also is a real weapon as a receiver out of the backfield too. That is where we will see his biggest impact, and that's totally fine with me. Anyone would have been an upgrade over Donald Brown, and the Colts got the best in the league too.
To recap, here's what I think the depth chart will be week one:
1a) Vick Ballard
1b) Ahmad Bradshaw
3) Donald Brown
4) Kerwynn Williams
Lastly, to add to this already super long article, we must take a look at the fullback spot because the Colts are actually likely to use one this year. Tyler Brooke had a nice write up about how they may be use. The team has reportedly been using fullbacks quite a bit, from what people saw from offseason practices and activities. They have two players battling for what will be one spot. Stanley Havili, who the Colts acquired from the Eagles in a trade this offseason, and Dan Moore, an undrafted free agent out of Montana. The team officially lists him as a running back, but he is playing fullback for the Colts.
Havili is a good fullback entering his second season in the league. He is more of your typical fullback than Dan Moore, who also can double as a running back. Moore had an impressive Combine to go along with an impressive career at Montana. He played running back and special teams in college and, according to Aaron Wilson of Scout.com, is "known for his strong work ethic and character."
To be honest, I like both of these guys. They both are good players who fit what the Colts are trying to do and both of them could excel. But the team won't be keeping both of them, and so one of them has to go. Who will that be? The general consensus is Dan Moore, and I would have to agree. While I really like Moore and would love to see what he can do, I think that the player the Colts traded for in Havili will get the most chances to show it and will subsequently make the final roster. This could be an under-the-radar camp battle, however, as both players are talented enough to win the spot. My guess (and the opinion of most people, too) is that it will be Havili.
As one last note, keeping a fullback likely will be yet another reason why Delone Carter will be the one gone. Both Havili and Moore can run the football, so if needed they can fill the role in short yardage situations.
Well, there's the Colts backfield for 2013. How are you feeling about it going into training camp, Colts fans? One thing is for sure - it will be better than last year.