While that is entirely true, what isn’t being talked about enough is the potential of the run game as a result of this newly fortified offensive front.
That is mostly because of the relative inexperience of the stable of running backs that have been collected by the Colts this offseason, causing a relative uneasiness amongst NFL analysts when it comes to the Indianapolis Colts’ rushing attack.
Rookie draft picks Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines have never played a snap in the NFL and are in line to be major contributors to the ground game in Indianapolis.
Still, how often have rookies stepped in to the running back position and had a major impact right off the bat? Almost too often.
Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey are just a few of the names that have showcased their ability to alter the fabrics of their offenses in their debut seasons.
So rather than focusing on their lack of experience, I decided to see what Wilkins and Hines bring to the table as players.
Here’s what I saw on tape:
This is a good example of something Wilkins does often and does well – he is able to place would-be tacklers out of position with subtle movements in the backfield. With that delicate step to the right he causes both the linebacker and the defensive back to take a slight false step, which is enough for him to break it for a nice gain.
Here is a bit of both Wilkins’ shortcomings and strengths in one play. He can sometimes be late in identifying holes, but at the same time is adept at fitting through small creases that result in big gains. Here he runs into his own offensive lineman, but that actually allows time for his tight end to seal off the defender and open up an even bigger lane for Wilkins to merge through. Wilkins finishes off the run by eluding a tackler before going down.
Again, Wilkins sets up the defenders for failure with a shift to the left and then a quick cutback inside. This increases the size of the gap he runs through and allows him to gain an extra yard or two. He goes down a bit easy at the end of the play, leaving his feet rather than keeping his legs moving, which is a concern with him.
Here is another example of Wilkins slithering through a tiny opening that results in a nice gain. There seemed to be a sizable cut back lane available to him, but he may not have been able to reach it before the defenders closed on him, and he found an alternate route that resulted in a sizable gain. Another complaint that could be made here is that he needs to find a lower center of gravity – he is standing extremely upright towards the end of the run, which makes him an easy target for defenders.
Not only does Wilkins find the cutback lane here, but he has the awareness to realize that the defensive tackle is shedding his block and is ready to engross the daylight that Wilkins is heading for. Instead of continuing his path to the left side of the screen, he shimmies his way to the right and breaks a few tackles on his way to the end zone.
This game against Alabama was a little bit tougher on Wilkins, and understandably so. You can see that it’s going to be a long day for him right off the initial play of the game for him, when his offensive line leaves him left for dead four yards behind the line of scrimmage. Still, Wilkins uses a stiff arm and a dive forward to mitigate that loss for a decent looking one-yard gain.
He initially avoids another deep penetration by an Alabama defender and cuts it to the outside, from there he shows some speed and finally hits you with the dunk contest style jump over a defensive back. Wilkins is clearly an athletic guy and he puts it on display here with a sexy-looking run.
Yet another play where Wilkins has multiple ‘Bama linemen barreling down on him deep into his own backfield. He throws another locked arm at the aggressor and then shows his ability to cutback and elude tacklers as he evades two more defenders before being brought down from behind for a short gain.
Wilkins finds himself in the waiting hands of Da’Ron Payne before spinning out of the tackle and finding a way to get beyond the first down marker.
Hines shows the ability to cutback to the hole here as well as showing the power to shrug off a tackler for the touchdown.
This is a showcase of Hines’ versatility and speed. He lines up in the slot, sets up the man in coverage with a stutter step and burns him deep. Unfortunately, the throw was a little long, but Hines set up his quarterback with a chance to create a big play for the offense (a recurring theme when it comes to Hines).
An exhibit of his catching prowess and his ability to turn a routine play into an exciting one. The double spin move here looks beautiful and results in an extra 10 yards.
He shows the ability to elude a tackler with his side to side movement (which is a relative concern for him) and then just puts on a display of the track speed he possesses for yet another big play.
The Colts desperately need a returner that is a threat to take it to the house. They may just have found that in Hines.
Hines loves to show off his calf strength with the speed he possesses. The defensive player looks like he has a nice angle on Hines and is going to close on him and stop him for a loss or short gain, but Hines has other plans. He turns on the turbo jets and beats the oncoming defender to the edge, resulting in a big run.
This is actually the second time this game that he reversed field and caught the defense off-guard, which I doubt will happen in the NFL unless Chuck Pagano is coaching a defense again. Regardless, he shows he is well aware of his athleticism and uses it to his advantage. He also does a good job of manipulating his blocks and allowing himself to create windows where he can really fly.
Hines not only displays his wings here but tells us that he’s not afraid to get a little physical. He lays a stiff arm on a defender that allows him the space to race towards the end zone. A little bit of finesse and power is on display here from the NC State running back.
First, Hines runs away from a defender that expected to add a tackle for loss to his stat sheet. From there, Hines maneuvers his blocks extremely well before cutting back and causing a defender to whiff completely. Finally, Hines does what he does best and outruns the rest of the competition.
Both these young runners have their shortcomings, Wilkins has an issue with running upright, and Hines is not your prototypical three-down runner, among other caveats. However, they both show a surprising amount of potential, especially considering they were Day 3 picks.
Wilkins has the makings of a stud workhorse running back for the horseshoe, especially if the interior offensive line can live up to its newfound expectations. He has a few areas of his game to clean up, but they’re fixable issues and he might just be a dark horse candidate to lead the Colts in rushing this season.
Regarding Hines – he is a walking home run. He can line up anywhere on the field, and defenses should be afraid that he will be taking it to their house on any given play.
Hines will provide a boost as a pass-catcher, a returner and a runner, all of which are sorely needed in Indianapolis.
I fully expect this stable of rookie stallions to outplay their expectations, and even have the opportunity to become one of the better committees in the AFC.