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Indianapolis Colts 2015 Positional Preview: Running Backs

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As we approach training camp, Stampede Blue’s Josh Wilson takes a position-by-position look at the Indianapolis Colts. Today, we look at the running backs.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

By now you've heard the stat: the Indianapolis Colts haven't had a 1,000 yard rusher since Joseph Addai in 2007.  In each of the past seven seasons, the Colts have failed to have a back reach the milestone, with the closest being Addai's 828 in 2009.  In the Andrew Luck era, the closest a back has come was Vick Ballard in 2012, as he rushed for 814 yards  in his rookie season.

The team traded for Trent Richardson early in the 2013 to seemingly solve their issues at the position, but in reality it created many, many more issues.  Richardson didn't get it done and in two years with the team he hurt them more than he helped them.  The Colts cut their losses this offseason and parted ways with Richardson, paving the way for them to add a running back in free agency: veteran Frank Gore.

Gore has been one of the best and most consistent backs in football over the last decade and could have a case for the Hall of Fame one day, giving the Colts the caliber of running back they haven't had since the Edgerrin James days.  In ten years with the San Francisco 49ers, Gore appeared in 133 games, rushing for 11,073 yards and 64 touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry.  He also caught 342 passes for 2,883 yards and 11 scores.  The five-time Pro Bowler rushed for more than 1,000 yards in eight of his ten seasons, including in each of the last four.  There are legitimate concerns about his age, however, as at 32 years old he is projected to be the oldest starting running back in the league in 2015.  Furthermore, if he leads the Colts in rushing this year, he will be the oldest player to do so since they moved to Indianapolis and the first one over 27 years old since 1991.

Despite the questions about his age, Gore provides a clear and significant upgrade at running back for the Colts.  We've seen Vick Ballard, Donald Brown, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Boom Herron all have success running behind the Colts line in recent years, so the line shouldn't be the thing holding Gore back (it might not be great, but it shouldn't destroy the run game either).  And considering the struggles the Colts have had at running back recently, Gore will seem even better by comparison.  In fact, check out this chart comparing the Colts' leading rusher in each of the past ten seasons to Gore.

Year Colts' Leader Yards TD Avg. Frank Gore Yards TD Avg.
2005 Edgerrin James 1,506 13 4.2 " 608 3 4.8
2006 Joseph Addai 1,081 7 4.8 " 1,695 8 5.4
2007 Joseph Addai 1,072 12 4.1 " 1,102 5 4.2
2008 Joseph Addai 544 5 3.5 " 1,036 6 4.3
2009 Joseph Addai 828 10 3.8 " 1,120 10 4.9
2010 Donald Brown 497 2 3.9 " 853 3 4.2
2011 Donald Brown 645 5 4.8 " 1,211 8 4.3
2012 Vick Ballard 814 2 3.9 " 1,214 8 4.7
2013 Donald Brown 537 6 5.3 " 1,128 9 4.1
2014 Trent Richardson 519 3 3.3 " 1,106 4 4.3

In nine of the last ten seasons, Frank Gore would have been the Colts' leading rusher, and the only year he wouldn't have been was when he was a rookie and the Colts had a borderline Hall of Fame running back in Edgerrin James.  That's not bad at all, and while we can be sure that things wouldn't have worked out exactly the same, and while past success isn't always the best predictor for future success, it does show us pretty clearly that Gore has outproduced any Colts running back over the last nine years and by a wide margin.  Clearly, he's a noticeable upgrade at the position and to the offense.

The number two spot on the depth chart might go to a newcomer as well, as rookie Josh Robinson figures to compete with Boom Herron for the spot.  Robinson was drafted in the sixth round of this year's draft by the Colts, but his draft status isn't necessarily an accurate representation of his talent.  At Mississippi State, Robinson was the team's starter in 2014 and rushed for 1,203 yards and 11 scores - and he racked up 1,573 all-purpose yards, the second-highest figure in school history.  During his four-year career, Robinson played in 38 games (starting 13) and notched five 100-yard rushing games, one 100-yard receiving game, and averaged 6.2 yards per carry (tying a school record). He is a strong, tough runner who can make plays both rushing and receiving.  He should be a great fit in the Colts' backfield as a complementary piece in their system, and he could really push for the number two back spot.

Boom Herron will also be competing for that spot, however, and he impressed as last season came to a close.  Playing in all 19 games (including playoffs), Herron rushed for 521 yards and three touchdowns (averaging 4.2 yards per carry) and added 41 receptions for 301 yards receiving.  Through the first six games combined, Herron received eight carries, and through the first ten games combined, he received 22 carries.  His season started off slow, but after the injury to Ahmad Bradshaw in the tenth game, Herron was thrust into the number two back role, eventually becoming the starter right before the playoff run.  He provided a nice threat out of the backfield but particularly as a receiver, and his skills there showed in the playoffs.  He will be looking to win the second running back spot behind Frank Gore and build off of his strong finish to last year.

The wild card of the running back position is Vick Ballard, who is coming off of back-to-back injuries.  He rushed for 814 yards in his rookie season in 2012 and showed promise, but after starting the first game of the 2013 season, he tore his ACL and missed the remainder of the year.  Then in 2014, he returned but tore his Achilles shortly after training camp began.  If he comes back healthy he could certainly factor into the team's plans at running back, but at this point we just don't know what to expect from him.  He likely won't be in the competition for the second running back spot right away, but if he stays healthy and does well as training camp and preseason goes along, he could play himself into the competition and into receiving snaps.

Zurlon Tipton appears like the odd man out despite the fact that he was the team's second string running back for the playoff run last year.  An undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan last year, there was a lot to like about him in training camp and he impressed the Colts too.  He made the 53-man roster out of camp but then spent much of the season on the practice squad.  After Bradshaw's injury, however, he was promoted to the active roster, and as Trent Richardson continued to struggle, Tipton eventually supplanted him on the depth chart as the number two back behind Boom Herron.  In nine games with the Colts (including playoffs), Tipton rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown (averaging 3.1 yards per attempt) and caught 9 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown.  He was a nice depth option, but entering this season he is a borderline player to make the roster depending on how the other players do.

The Colts also signed two undrafted free agents at the running back position: Tyler Varga out of Yale and Abou Torre out of UT Martin.  Both of them are intriguing players with talent, and Varga in particular is a player many have named as one to keep an eye on when it comes to undrafted players making a push for a roster spot.  There is certainly a lot to like about Varga, but there just simply might not be the room at the position for him on the 53-man roster with guys like Gore, Robinson, Herron, and Ballard.

Ultimately, the Colts' running back position got a lot better this offseason.  That happened simply with the release of Trent Richardson but also extended to the signing of Frank Gore and the drafting of Josh Robinson.  There's a lot to like about both Gore and Robinson, along with Boom Herron and Vick Ballard.  The Colts appear to have a good backfield entering 2015 and one of the best they've had in years.  There's no doubt that the Colts will be a passing offense behind Andrew Luck, but they'll certainly focus on running the football a lot too and they should enjoy success on the ground this year.

For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' roster heading into camp, check out Josh Wilson's other position previews:

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