For the past several years we have been gifted with brilliant and talented quarterbacks in Indianapolis. As a rookie, Andrew Luck was able to help turn the Colts from the worst team in the NFL to an 11-5 playoff contender. But let's be honest, it was certainly not pretty or easy. Like Peyton Manning had done many times, Luck was able to bail out a defense that performed subpar on its best day, and a run game that ranked 22nd in total yards (1,671), 22nd in yards/game (104.4), and 26th in yards/attempt (3.8). A majority of free agency so far has been building up the defense, and while this will help keep the Colts from relying on the deep ball to bail them out of high scoring games, they need to start creating a stout running game to compliment the skills of their young quarterback. The newly signed offensive lineman are a good start, but hammering the ball at defenses, getting chunks of yardage, and increasing time of possession will keep opposing defenses second-guessing. They need a strong, fearless, and gritty running back, and Michael Ford from LSU could provide all of that and more.
The first thing you're probably thinking is "Michael Who from LSU...?", but let's take a quick look at his stats and abilities first. As an All-American from Louisiana, Ford was heavily recruited by the Tigers out of high school. In his freshman season, he ran for 268 yards and 3 TD's, with an impressive 6.0 yard average, behind then team-leading rusher Stevan Ridley. The next year, coach Les Miles took the reigns off, and Ford lead the team with 756 yards, scoring 7 times and again averaging 6.0 yards per carry, in a running back-by-committee backfield. His last season is what is most puzzling, as he was only given the 4th most carries on the team, tallying 392 yards, 3 TD's, while still maintaining a solid 5.5 average. The sudden drop in playing time was certainly one of the biggest mysteries of LSU's season, as no reason was ever given or explained. Unlike a good number of Tiger running backs, he never had any trouble with drugs or the law. Opting to avoid another crowded backfield, Ford is deciding to test out this years NFL draft.
Needing to do everything he could to catch the eyes of NFL scouts, Ford had to put up some impressive stats during the combine, and he did just that. Competing against some of the best college running backs, Ford ran the 5th fastest 40 time (4.50) with the 3rd best 10 yard split (1.51), an imposing 5th best 25 bench reps, and also a top-performing vertical jump (38.5 in) and broad jump (130.0 in). At 5'10" and 210 lbs, he's not the largest of the draftable backs, but he has proven to have a lot of strength and fantastic bursts of speed.
The immediate criticism of Michael Ford's game is certainly his playing time, as he never led the Tigers in carries and only started 3 games (one of which was the 2011 BCS Championship). He was never known for great pass blocking and did not add much to an already mediocre passing game. Still, he comes with a lot of upside, having faced some of the best defenses in college football, and the potential to be a fantastic running back in the NFL. He has been touted for being a powerful, hard-hitting runner, who is extremely difficult to tackle and bring down, and isn't afraid to make collisions in the middle of the field. Not only can Ford pound the ball up the middle, but he is noted for having great field vision with the quickness to make slashing cuts and get to the outside.
While he may be a little raw, his impressive 5.8 yards/carry average and fearless motor is exactly what the Colts could use in their backfield to help extend possessions and give Andrew Luck a short field to work with. He is currently projected as a late round prospect, and certainly worth Indy's 6th or 7th pick. Bringing in Michael Ford would provide a great one-two punch with Vick Ballard, and with the added chip on his shoulder, he would certainly love nothing more than to prove he can run against the toughest in the NFL.
Ford's capped off his high school career, with a senior season at Leesville High School that saw him rush for 2,953 yards and 29 touchdowns en route to a first-team 4A all-state selection in 2008. Ford finished his senior season with nine games of 200-yards or better and finished career with 20 straight 100-yard games, a streak that dated back to 2006. His career yardage set the Leesville rushing record, topping the previous mark set by former LSU standout Cecil Collins in 1994.
Ford took a redshirt his first year on campus. In 2010, Ford played in 10 games, and earned two starts. He rushed 41 times for 235 yards and three touchdowns. The following season, Ford played in all 14 games, and recorded three starts. He had 127 carries, seven touchdowns, and a team-leading 756 rushing yards. In his redshirt junior year, Ford carried the ball 71 times for 392 yards and three touchdowns.
STRENGTHS: Excellent athlete with good speed, acceleration and leaping ability. Has special teams experience, including as a kickoff returner.
WEAKNESSES: Struggles with pass blocking and doesn't possess great hands out of the backfield. Made a curious decision to leave LSU as a junior despite being projected as a late-round pick.
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