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The War Room: What's Next For The Colts At Running Back?

With Pep Hamilton installed as the Colts' new offensive coordinator, a lack of backfield speed and depth could be a concern going forward.

Come April, Kenjon Barner could be on the board in the Colts' war room.
Come April, Kenjon Barner could be on the board in the Colts' war room.

Well, the 2012 NFL season is in the books and with the 2013 NFL Draft and Combine fast-approaching, Stampede Blue will be ramping up our offseason coverage for you: our lovely readers!

To help you with your football withdrawal over the next few months, we will be providing you with a vast look at what we think could be in the plans for the Indianapolis Colts this offseason. Our goal, as always, is to provide you with the best possible analysis on your favorite team.

We aim high, don’t we?

So without further ado, I'd like to introduce The War Rooma new feature that will provide discussions about what may or may not be in the Colts game plan when the 2013 NFL Draft comes to town.

Versatility at running back is a must.

With the introduction of the Pep Hamilton offensive system, the Colts are in for a makeover that has a lot of fans groaning. Selfishly, I had hoped that Bruce Arians would choose coaching a stud like Andrew Luck over, let’s say, a team with no clear path to a franchise quarterback, a tightfisted owner and a totally new staff.

Unfortunately for the Colts, Arians took off to Arizona with his big play offense in tow. But who can blame him? He’s 60 years old and what coordinator wouldn’t foam at the mouth for a chance to lead an NFL team?

But with Arians moving on, Hamilton was quickly and smartly brought in to work with Luck. Forget about the establishment of Arians’ deep attack offense, though. With Hamilton, you’re going to get a lot of power football featuring two tight end sets and quick, short passes. This means better statistics for Luck, less throws, and hopefully big years for Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

Just think about what Greg Roman did out in San Francisco with Alex Smith—the Colts will be taking on a very similar form of offense. It’d be crazy to think that Hamilton won’t utilize a fullback, like Ryan Grigson had originally envisioned for the Colts when he first came aboard.

So what does Hamilton mean for the running back position?

Well, Vick Ballard has emerged as workhorse back and an impressive one at that, yet it's hard to consider any of the other backs on the Colts depth chart as reliable options for Hamilton's system. Donald Brown is coming off a year plagued by injury. Delone Carter is a physical back like Ballard, but far from dependable. Behind Carter, Indy's backfield is… Deji Karim?

Adding a running back (or two) will be vital for Indy's offensive transformation.

Unless the Colts are interested in the likes of free agents Reggie Bush or Danny Woodhead, they should be looking for a young, speedy back to compliment Ballard’s power running style in April.

Envision a combination of backs, again, much like what San Francisco has built with Frank Gore, LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter.

The Colts unarguably have more glaring needs to address, but finding a back to work with Ballard in the later rounds of the draft just makes sense.

This draft features a nice portion of potentially elite pass rushers and offensive linemen, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the Colts ended up targeting these holes in a 1-2 order. However, round three could always sway towards a cornerback or safety, but there are a few different directions they can go in depending on their free agent strategies.

If we look to the draft, here’s a quick rundown of two backs that I consider to be possible Colt material:

Andre Ellington, Clemson

Ellington is a back that could go as early as the second round or as late as the fourth. It’s too early to put a reasonable tag on his draft position, but if he slips to the third round, he may be worth at least a look.

He’s a very light runner with vision that slightly reminds me of Joseph Addai. He doesn’t show hesitation when hitting the hole, unlike Delone Carter, and he’s a burner that can reach up to 4.39 speeds. I've watched a lot of film of Ellington and he has the potential to be the best back in this draft.

Could the Colts get lucky and snag him in the third? Maybe.

Kenjon Barner, Oregon

I really like Barner, too. He comes from a high-octane, versatile passing attack, which certainly isn't a turnoff. He's undersized and lacks physicality, but this is why he could fall and be a late-round sleeper pick for the Colts.

His stats were solid as a junior back-up to LaMichael James, and his numbers as a starter in his senior year were beyond eye-popping—1,767 yards, 6.7 average and 23 touchdowns. He’s exceptional in the receiving game and he is not afraid to contribute on special teams. This guy is the definition of a playmaker.

There are a lot of questions about Barner’s success, and whether it should be credited to the innovation of Chip Kelly, but it’s not like his athleticism is a gimmick. He's incredibly explosive and is a threat whenever he has the ball.

But can he pick up the blitz? Can he block? These are fair questions and it's obvious that those skills of a back aren't tested enough in the Kelly offense. The NFL is the NFL and Barner will have to prove he can pass protect. One can only hope that Barner could transfer his highlight-filled collegiate career to the next level as a Colt for the price of a fifth round pick.

Opinions on where the Colts should head will be plentiful in the coming weeks, but that’s the joy of the offseason, right? Decisions, decisions, and more decisions!

Either way, the Colts will need to take a hard look at the team’s running back development for 2013 and beyond.