When the Colts are on the clock in under a month, there will be plenty of areas for GM Chris Ballard to bolster. Pass rush, offensive line, inside linebacker and wide receiver are just a few of the depleted cores that Indy is working to upgrade before the start of the 2018 season. With a top-6 pick and three second-rounders, the Colts will have plenty of chances to improve this roster.
One glaring need that can no longer be ignored is finding the running back that will line up behind and next to Andrew Luck for the next decade. While Frank Gore has served the past three years as the best Colts’ running back since Joseph Addai’s early days, his departure to the Dolphins leaves the Colts with Marlon Mack, Josh Ferguson, Matt Jones, Christine Michael, Robert Turbin and George Winn. Stop me if you think any of these options — maybe outside of Mack — can fill Gore’s shoes.
Having the pleasure of working with Stampede Blue’s 2018 NFL Draft Guide (on sale at https://www.stampedeblue.com/2018/3/24/17158814/buy-the-2018-stampede-blue-nfl-draft-guide) I’ve spent the past month diving into the 2018 running back class — watching countless film, dissecting the talent, and ranking the group as a whole. From what I’ve gathered, there are several backs that could be great fits with the Colts — all depending on when Ballard and the staff chooses to attack the position.
While Penn State’s Saquon Barkley could be available at six and Georgia’s Sony Michel there for pick No. 36, the best value for an early-round running back is at pick No. 49 — matching Indianapolis with San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny.
SPEED — Listed at 5’11”, 220 pounds, Penny has some of the best speed of this class for his size. His 4.46 40-time was one of the best at the position in the combine, and it shows on the field as well. Watch him pop off this 81-yard touchdown run earlier this year against Army.
He explodes through the line of scrimmage and creates separation once he’s through the second level of defense. His long speed is once again outstanding for his size, you won’t catch up to him if he gets past you.
FOOTWORK — What might be even more impressive for Penny’s size is his footwork. He has some of the quickest feet in this draft class and has the ability to make cuts on a dime — extremely effective in changing his direction early-on in plays and making adjustments to get through the line of scrimmage.
STRENGTH — One of my favorite things to watch with Penny is this play below, where he carries Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai by the back of his uniform. Penny is always seen moving his feet until the play is blown dead and doesn’t get taken down easily by defenders.
Hawai'i is only down 14; still getting dragged pic.twitter.com/m5GnW046to— Deadspin (@Deadspin) October 29, 2017
CONTACT BALANCE — While Penny’s a big-bodied running back, I was a little surprised with his center of gravity and his trouble in taking on contact. He runs a little too upright for my liking and that could be the biggest reason that he doesn't take lower-body hits as well as he should. He could definitely improve his lower-body strength before camp, but it’s not too alarming for me to not think he can’t improve.
AGGRESSIVENESS — For 220 pounds, I expected a much more aggressive running style than what Penny provided — he seems to want to be a finesse runner in a power running back’s body. He’ll lower his shoulders from time to time but doesn't use his overbearing size to fight for extra yardage or punish undersized defenders that try to stop him in his tracks. If he’s trying to preserve his body for a long NFL career, then I’m more okay with it, but I can’t say it’s not alarming.
VISION — Penny does have adequate vision for a running back, but sometimes he misses a certain cutback lane and just rams through his assignment. He’ll leave some big plays untouched from time to time.
From what I’ve seen, Penny is a top-3 running back in this year’s draft behind Barkley and Michel. Since the majority of scouts and teams are higher on LSU’s Derrius Guice than I am, I wouldn’t be shocked if Penny is the fourth running back taken this April before the second round comes to a conclusion. His mix of speed, size and footwork are too unique to pass up. With Penny, you’re getting a durable running back with the footwork to make defenders miss and the top speed to break off home run-caliber plays.
For the Colts, Penny can be the lead running back for the future with Mack serving primarily as a complement on third down. He can step in day one and carry the workload at the position that’s left available after Frank Gore’s departure. Talent and potential aside, I love the marketing opportunity for the quarterback-running back duo “Lucky Penny,” only furthering the need for Indy to select the SDSU product before the end of round two.