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Depth Chart Battle: 3rd Running Back

I love football, but the offseason isn't bad.  We get the draft, training camp and all of the great stories that come with it.  So far we have had great news: Polian drafted a great running back and stocked up on defensive tackles.  Too bad Howard Mudd retired from coaching and Tom Moore's future is so uncertain or else this would be a magnificent offseason.

However, we can't focus on the negative right now.  It's early May, the most inactive time for football.  Nothing is happening right now, but there is stuff to talk about.  Right now it is about depth chart battles.  For today, I'll focus on the third running back position.  It is safe to say that Joseph Addai and Donald Brown will be the 2 premier backs in the system, but they will have that third man in case of injury or for a change-of-pace.  There are three backs, all entering their second year, in contention for this prized spot: Mike Hart, Chad Simpson, and Lance Ball.



Michael Hart

Preseason: 17 carries, 95 yards, 5.6 ypc, 8 receptions, 65 yards
Season: 2 carries, 9 yards, 4.5 ypc, 1 reception, 18 yards

Scouting Reports (coming out of college)

Walter Football


Strengths: Has never fumbled the ball in three years (809 touches) at Michigan, which is truly remarkable…Production has been very consistent…Has a strong body and is tough to bring down…Good receiver out of the backfield…A solid blocker in pass protection…Sets up his blockers well and is a smart runner with good instincts.

Weaknesses: Needs to show scouts he can stay healthy…The track record of Michigan running backs isn’t that great (Chris Perry, Anthony Thomas, Tim Biakabutuka, Tyrone Wheatley)…Doesn’t have good size…What you see is what you get, and I don’t see much upside.

Thoughts: Not too sure that Mike Hart can carry an offense on his shoulders, but I think he can be a great No. 2 running back in the NFL…I really don’t see him going in the first round, although he should be taken on the first day.

Player Comparison: Maurice Jones-Drew


War Room Report

Strengths: Mike Hart played for four seasons while at the University of Michigan, so he has all the experience one could ask from a collegiate back…he is an ultra-tough back who excels reading blocks and running in between the tackles…can be used effectively out of the backfield as a receiving option…he should develop nicely into a suitable blocker at the next level…he has solid tools in virtually all areas, so his overall game is what scouts adore…he is a player who plays with passion and tends to inspire the players around him…

Weaknesses: After carrying the football on so many occasions, did it wear him down?…he battled injuries during his senior campaign, which may be an indicator he has worn down…he is on the smallish side, and doesn’t necessarily own the explosiveness he may need to get away with his undersized stature at the next level…on some occasions he looks for contact, as opposed to avoiding the contact with ellusiveness, this may be a problem at the NFL level…quite frankly, not many scouts feel that he is a dynamic back that can excel at the next level…

Overall: Mike Hart was the focal point and heart and soul of a much-hyped and as the season progressed much-maligned Michigan Wolverines football team. The passion and willingness in which Mike Hart plays with can not be discounted, but the fact that he has a more limited ceiling and that he may have already reached the pinnacle of how high his potential can get limits how high Mike Hart can be selected. Mike Hart is slightly above average in almost all areas, but again, does not excel in virtually any area. He seems at worst, to be a strong backup RB at the NFL. 

 My Thoughts

I love Mike Hart's potential.  He fell to the sixth round because NFL GMs are idiots.  40 times are not that important.  If GMs watched tape of Hart, they would have known he was a special back.  He plays better in pads than in shorts.  Hart, frankly, has heart.  You can always tell that he is giving it his all when he is out there.  If he didn't tear his ACL, I would have guessed that he would have been an integral part of the team last year.  His recovery could keep him off of the roster, and Lance Ball and Chad Simpson did play pretty well.  On the other hand, Hart gives the Colts the "Earth" in the Earth, Wind, and Fire lineup the Giants made famous.  Simpson and Ball do not have the strength of Hart.  Hart's injury problems are concerning though.  However, in my opinion Hart is too good to give up on at this point.





Chad Simpson

Preseason: 16 carries, 49 yards, 3.1 ypc, 3 receptions, 22 yards
Season: 15 carries, 45 yards, 3 ypc, 1 TD, 3 receptions, 30 yards

My Take

Simpson was unheralded coming out of Morgan State.  He was a transfer from USF and was also a track star in high school.  Last year we all were hoping that Simpson was the returner the team needed, but sadly he only averaged 22.9 yards per return and couldn't return a kick longer than 50 yards in 15 attempts.  If Simpson is able to beat out Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and TJ Rushing for kick returner, then he will make the roster.  Besides that happening, I don't see Simpson on the roster.  He is a fast back but can't get into space where he can use his speed.  With Addai and Brown, the Colts don't need a quick back like Simpson.



Lance Ball

Preseason (with Rams): 31 carries, 137 yards, 4.4 ypc, 2 TDs, 8 catches, 43 yards
Regular Season: 13 carries, 83 yards, 6.4 ypc, 1 catch, 5 yards

My Take

Lance Ball only played in one game last year, but his great performance against the Titans opened some eyes.  Ball had a great preseason with the Rams but was cut from the practice squad in late September.  After Mike Hart got hurt and Chad Simpson got called up from the practice squad, Ball got his chance to play for the Colts.  Well, after the injury bug plagued the running backs, Ball got his chance.  He used his strength to overpower Titans defenders and impress fans.  Personally, I think Ball has a better chance than Simpson does at making the roster.  If Ball does not make the team, he is sure to end up on the practice squad.  Ball has a future in the league, but we don't know if that is as a practice squad body or as a change-of-pace back.  Either way, it's nice to have Ball on the roster.

Odds on Making the Team as third back

Hart: 90% (10% signifies him not recovering from injury)
Ball: .75%
Simpson: .25%

Odds on Making Practice Squad

Ball: 99%
Simpson: Ineligible
Hart: .00000001% (other 9.99999999% is PUP list)

My Take On the Position

I find it weird how all of these players came to be.  Mike Hart was the superstar running back from the major college program who fell in the draft but won the hearts of fans everywhere for his preseason performance.  Chad Simpson was the unknown stud from the small college and Lance Ball was the former 4 star recruit from the ACC who didn't play in a game until Week 17.  Hart should have the position wrapped up, but it will still be a competition.  I think Ball could have success, but he is pretty short at 5-9.  Simpson needs to work on his returning if he wants a job in the league.  I'll try and find one for each position, but I don't think QB has a battle along with tight end.