One of the more bizarre draft selections for the 2012 Indianapolis Colts was Mississippi State runningback Vick Ballard. Coming into the draft, runningback was not a critical need. Heck, one could argue that the position is now completely irrelevant in the modern NFL. The NY Giants had the worst rushing offense in all of football last year, and they won the Super Bowl. The team they defeated, the New England Patriots, weren't too hot rushing either (20th in the league, only 4.0 yards a carry). The Packers had the best regular season record in the NFL last year, and they were 27th in the league in rushing.
Despite the stats suggesting the demise of the running game in pro football, taking a back in the 5th round with a compensatory pick isn't that big of a deal. I question the pick because a corner like West Virginia's Keith Tandy was still on the board, and CB was a bigger need position than RB.
However, Ballard is who Ryan Grigson picked, and it's Ballard the team is stuck with.
Despite being a relative draft bust, Donald Brown seems to enter this season as the starting tailback. Delone Carter was drafted last year as the team's third down and short yardage back, but three fumbles last season (all within a seven week window) put his butt on the bench more often than not. Still, despite the poor rookie showing, giving up on Carter seems premature. Deji Karim and Darren Evans are the other two backs on the roster. Evans is a holdover from last year, and Karim was claimed off waivers via the Jacksonville Jaguars.
With these backs currently on the roster, the question now is, what role does Ballard serve?
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was asked specifically about Ballard during the rookie minicamp. Oddly (and I'm kicking myself for not noticing this sooner), the Colts signed ZERO undrafted rookie runnngbacks this year. Think of all the excellent-slash-serviceable backs this franchise has gotten via the undrafted ranks over the years. I'll argue to anyone that Dominic Rhodes (undrafted, 2001) was one of the greatest backs in Colts history.
Thus, since Ballard was the only back drafted, and since the Colts did not sign any undrafted backs, Ballard was the only rookie RB at minicamp this past weekend.
Pagano on Ballard this past weekend at the Colts rookie minicamp:
He's tough. Downhill. Put one foot in the ground, get north and south. He can make a guy miss but he can also put his face on you and run you over. Smart guy. Should be a really good third down back for Bruce [Arians] and his offense as far as protections go, catching the ball out of the backfield on swings and screens and stuff like that. So, a lot of versatility there.
It's worth noting that playing well on third down has long been the weakness of Donald Brown. He can't pass block to save his life, and he isn't the best pass catcher out of the backfield. It's possible that Ballard is replacing Carter as the team's third down guy while Delone and Donald battle it out for the starting gig.
Oh, and don't be surprised if the Colts opt for a veteran back after teams start cutting down their rosters in August.
One final note: Arians used Rashard Mendenhall as his primary back in Pittsburgh while Melwelde Moore was the third down back. Mendenhall is similar in a lot of ways to Donald Brown, but Ballard (5'11, 220 pounds) is nothing like the quick and shifty Moore (5'11, 205 lbs). Deji Karim (5'8, 209 lbs) seems to fit that role. Should be interesting to see how this backfield shakes out come August.