With the Colts ending the tenure of Frank Gore this past week, the stars have aligned for rookie running back Marlon Mack to take over the starting position for the start of next season. But with Robert Turbin, Matt Jones and Josh Ferguson all under contract in 2018, I find it hard to believe that Chris Ballard and his staff feel secure with the depth at the position. Running back is the most dangerous position in football and one injury to Mack could have the Colts scrambling for answers.
With running backs basically growing off trees the past few drafts, I find it entirely plausible that the Colts nab a running back either at the end of day two or beginning of day three in this year’s Draft. Doing so will not only give them the chance to find this year’s Kareem Hunt or Alvin Kamara, but will also take pressure off of Mack as he transitions into the starting role.
Finding a complement to Mack is tough to pin down, however, as he’s virtually solid in most aspects of the game. His power-to-speed combination is great to have out of the backfield and his ability to catch the ball highlights potential improvement as a third-down back. He also did a much better job at protecting the football this past year, fumbling just once all year after a fumble rate of one out of every 54 touches in college. While his vision and pass-blocking can certainly improve, he’s on his way to not just being a freak athlete, but a freak football player as well.
All that being said, I’ve found three different running backs that I think can serve behind Mack next season. Sony Michel out of Georgia has the potential to even start over Mack next season, Nyheim Hines from North Carolina State is an amazing dual-threat back with top-end speed and Josh Adams from Notre Dame has the size to be a strong downhill runner in the pros.
Sony Michel, Georgia
One of the strongest cases for the Colts with the 36th pick in this year’s draft, should he still be available, is the agile and elusive back from the Bulldogs. Playing within an amazing running back tandem, Michel never got the full exposure to make a stronger case for himself but is still one of the better backs in this running back class. Ranked as my No. 3 running back, behind Saquon Barkley and Derrius Guice, Michel has amazing agility and 0-60 burst which helps out his standard vision. Michel is solid at getting extra yards out of a dead play and displays the toughness to show that he can improve in pass protection.
My biggest concern for Michel lies in pass protection. While he does have adequate size, he struggles in being able to identify blitzers and often leaves an open shot at the quarterback — which we all know is something the Colts can’t continue to have. A smaller concern, Michel’s hands are clunky at times and can struggling hauling in passes out of the backfield. He also tends to plant his feet when met with a defender that’s bigger than him — needing him to improve on moving his feet until the play is dead is a definite improvement before making strides at the next level.
Michel has all the makings of a three-down back at the next level. While I don’t think he has the ability to be a feature back right off the bat, working in a tandem with Mack will help both backs out as they grow and individuals on the field.
Nyheim Hines, NC State
Should the Colts be looking for a third-down back in the third or fourth round this year, no one fits their needs more than the high school track-star Nyheim Hines. One of the most explosive backs in this year’s class, Hines is a big-play threat in both the running and passing games. Like we saw with Christian McCaffrey in last year’s draft, Hines has some experience at running routes in the slot and has great hands for a running back. Despite his size, Hines sacrificed his body often in college in order to protect his quarterback against blitzes.
The biggest worry for Hines in the NFL has to be his size. While he has a strong mental toughness, everyone in NFL will have a size advantage against him and he may struggle to stay healthy. While he’s a willing pass-protector, larger defenders will have an easy time at overpowering him and putting Hines on the ground. When faced with defenders Hines stops him moments, which will limit his ability to pick up extra yards and make him more prone to big hits.
Should Indy use the draft for a change-of-pace and explosive back, Hines has all the makings of a top-end talent for that niche position. While I can’t ever see him developing in into a three-down back, Hines will serve wonderfully as a complementary back in a wave of NFL play-calling that desires several dynamic backs that serve specific roles.
Josh Adams, Notre Dame
Should the Colts look to other, more dire needs in the first two days of the draft — something I fully expect them to do — Josh Adams will be a decent grab in the third day. Not only will he be available in the sixth or seventh round, he can serve tremendously as a running back to take big hits away from Marlon Mack.
With a 6’2”, 213 pound frame, Adams can be used as a bulldozer in the power running game. He does a great job at absorbing initial contact that pushes him through defenders, and his willingness to fall forward picks up extra yards frequently. While it might not translate to the NFL, Adams has great build-up speed and can blow past defenders once he’s through the hole.
The only problem with Adams is what’s mentioned above is all you’re going to get. He lacks effort in pass-blocking, isn’t a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield and runs with only one speed. He’s a between-the-tackles runner and lacks the quickness to have a successful outside running game.
Adams, at the end of the day, is a big-bodied back to take some of the pressure off of Marlon Mack in the inside running game. Availability is the best ability for running backs, so maintaining the health of Marlon Mack will be essential moving forward if he’s to take the reigns as starter in Indianapolis.
Who would you like to see the Colts draft at the running back position?
This poll is closed
Sony Michel in Round 2
Nyheim Hines in Rounds 3-4
Josh Adams in Round 6-7