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Indianapolis Colts 2014 Positional Review: Running Backs

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Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson evaluates the 2014 Indianapolis Colts position by position. Today, we look at the running backs.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last offseason, a big discussion among Colts fans was about offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's insistence on attempting to be a power run team.  There were doubts about whether that was the right approach (it wasn't) and there were subsequently doubts about Hamilton.  In week two of this season, the Colts did nothing to quell those doubts.  Although running the football well on Monday Night Football against the Eagles, the Colts found themselves tied late in the game.  And instead of putting the ball in Andrew Luck's hands, the Colts ran it twice.  The next thing you know, Luck had to throw on third down and long, the Colts ended up punting, and the Eagles drove down the field to kick the game-winning score.

The rest of the season, however, was different.  Whether Hamilton changed his system or decided that his quarterback was simply ready to shoulder a bigger load is not for our discussion right now - what was clear, however, was that the Colts became even more reliant on Andrew Luck.  It started out in a healthy type of way, as the Colts moved to being a team that passed to set up the run rather than run to set up the pass, which with a quarterback like Andrew Luck is a good thing.  But then another shift happened in the backfield for the Colts in week eleven, when Ahmad Bradshaw fractured his fibula and was lost for the season.

From there, the run game continued to play less and less of a role for the Colts, and the reliance on Andrew Luck became more unhealthy, as he was forced to do it all by himself.  The offense went through some struggles without Bradshaw, including a new franchise mark for futility by rushing for just a single yard in their week fifteen loss to the Cowboys.  As the season drew to a close with three playoff games, however, things began to point slightly up with the emergence of Daniel "Boom" Herron in the backfield for the Colts, providing a spark they desperately needed.

Ultimately, that was the story of the Colts' 2014 season in a nutshell when it comes to the running back position.  There were some great positives, but there were also some glaring negatives.  Altogether, the Colts finished 22nd in the NFL in rushing yards, rushing yards per game, and yards per carry.  They finished 24th in rushing touchdowns, 25th in percentage of runs going for first downs, and tied for 20th in rushes 20-yards or more.  They did rank 17th in rushing attempts, however, and a glaring mark was their ten fumbles, which tied with four other teams for the most in the league.  And now, the Colts enter the offseason with a need at running back once again.  Before we look at that need, however, let's take a look at the players who made up the position this year.

Of course, any discussion about the running backs for the Colts in 2014 has to begin with Ahmad Bradshaw.  Simply put, Bradshaw was tremendous in the nine full games he played (he was injured in the tenth).  Combining both rushes and receptions, Bradshaw saw just 128 touches of the football this year, but he made them count, combining to gain 725 yards and eight touchdowns.  How good was he?  Two running backs on the Colts gained more yards than Bradshaw in 2014, but they did so with 36 and 68 more touches, respectively.  Furthermore, Bradshaw scored eight total touchdowns - the same number that the rest of the running back position scored combined in 2014 on 397 touches (while Bradshaw did it on just 128).  He was the team's best runner (he led Colts running backs in yards per carry), was a terrific receiving threat (he was on pace to set the single-season NFL record for most receiving touchdowns by a running back before he was injured), and a good blocker in protecting Andrew Luck.  He became a crucial part of the Colts' offense and after he was lost for the season the Colts offense never fully recovered.

The closest the Colts did come to replacing Bradshaw was in the playoffs with the emergence of Boom Herron.  Entering the 2014 season, Herron had played in just nine NFL games and had received just nine carries (gaining 38 yards) and caught one pass (gaining 57 yards).  The Colts liked him a lot in training camp and preseason, however, so he stuck around as the team's third running back to begin the season.  Through the first ten games of the season (when Bradshaw was healthy), Herron rushed 22 times for 74 yards and caught two passes for nine yards.  His role in the offense was very minimal.  But once Bradshaw went down, Herron took on a bigger role and began to impress.  In his first extended action, he rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown (averaging 5.4 yards per carry) and caught five passes for 31 yards.  From there, it was an impressive finish to the season for Herron, who (including playoffs) gained 822 total yards (the most of any Colts' running back) and scored three touchdowns.  It was in the playoffs that he really stepped up, rushing for 170 yards and two touchdowns (averaging 3.8 yards per carry) and catching 20 passes for 128 yards.  The downside to Herron's season was that he struggled with fumbles a bit, fumbling four times and losing three.  The bottom line, however, was that Herron really picked up his game late in the season and was a crucial part of the Colts winning two playoff games, and he gave the Colts something they hadn't had since Bradshaw had been injured: a legitimate threat out of the backfield.

We'd be remiss to not mention why the Colts didn't have that threat until the emergence of Herron, however.  And while Bradshaw was the best Colts' running back and while Herron led all Colts' backs with 822 total yards, Trent Richardson was nowhere near as impressive.  He wasn't just the most disappointing running back, he arguably was the most disappointing Colt period in 2014.  The Colts traded a first round pick for Richardson last year, as you all know by now, and it didn't look great after the 2013 season.  The move looks even worse after the 2014 season, and it's widely expected that the Colts will part ways with the running back before the 2015 season begins.  Just compare the stat lines from Richardson's time with the Colts last year versus his time with the Colts this year and they're almost identical.

Trent Richardson 2013 vs. 2014 with Colts (including playoffs)
Season Games Played Carries Yards AVG. TD Receptions Yards TD Total Touches Total Yards Total TD
2013 16 161 459 2.85 3 28 265 1 189 724 4
2014 15 159 519 3.26 3 27 229 0 186 748 3

There wasn't much improvement from Richardson whatsoever, and he really didn't give the Colts any threat out of the backfield.  There was a span of a few weeks in the season, after Bradshaw was injured and before Boom took over as the lead back, that opponents didn't respect the Colts' running game whatsoever, and for good reason.  To see just how far he fell in the eyes of the Colts, look no further than this: in the first playoff game, he played just one offensive snap, in the second playoff game he was inactive, and in the third playoff game he was suspended for personal reasons.  That about says it all.

The last name to note in this positional review is the undrafted rookie running back, Zurlon Tipton.  He's a guy who several, including myself, liked entering training camp and he really impressed the Colts in camp and preseason.  He started the season on the practice squad but was eventually promoted after Ahmad Bradshaw's injury.  Still, he didn't receive his first NFL carry in a regular season game until week fifteen, and then he rushed just one time for a loss of three yards (though catching four passes for 23 yards and a touchdown).  He finished the regular season having touched the football in just two games, rushing ten times for 18 yards and catching six passes for 68 yards and a score.  In the playoffs, however, he clearly surpassed Trent Richardson as the Colts' number two running back and received 18 carries, rushing for 68 yards and a touchdown while also catching three passes for 22 yards.  He still has work to do, but the Colts like him and Tipton did end the season as the number two running back for the Colts as an undrafted free agent, which is impressive.

I also must note here the absence of a position that normally would be included here.  In last year's positional review, the running backs and the fullbacks were looked at together.  This year, there's no fullback to look at.  Stanley Havili began training camp on the PUP list and that carried over to the regular season.  The Colts offense, as mentioned earlier, really began to move away from the power run emphasis and therefore the fullback became unnecessary.  Because of that, the Colts parted ways with Havili, leaving them with no true fullback on the roster for the remainder of the season.  Typically, either tight end Dwayne Allen, tight end Jack Doyle, or linebacker Andrew Jackson would fill the fullback role in the few scenarios that the Colts needed one.

The running back position as a whole was filled with ups and downs for the Colts in 2014.  Ahmad Bradshaw and Boom Herron were both very much positives, while Trent Richardson was a big negative.  Moving forward, it's likely that the Colts will address the position in the offseason.  Boom Herron and Zurlon Tipton will likely be brought back, and then we also shouldn't forget about Vick Ballard, who will be coming off of two season-ending injuries.  He can't really be counted on, but he should definitely get the opportunity to earn a spot.  Furthermore, while Ahmad Bradshaw is a free agent, if the Colts could get him for cheap like they did last offseason, it would more than be worth the risk of another injury to bring him back.  It's very likely that Trent Richardson won't be around for the 2015 season with the Colts, but they have a solid foundation at the running back position with some of the names already mentioned.  With that foundation, I'd look for the Colts to add a back possibly in the draft with a mid-round pick.  It's not the biggest need they have, but it is a need as they enter the offseason.

For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' 2014 season, check out Josh Wilson's other position reviews:

| QB | RB/FB | WR | TE | OL | DL | OLB | ILB | CB | S | S/T |