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Could Jordan Wilkins Be ‘the Man’ in the Colts Backfield?

ESPN’s Mike Clay says Jordan Wilkins will lead the Colts in touches this season — he just may be right.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, ESPN Fantasy Analyst Mike Clay said that Indianapolis Colts rookie running back Jordan Wilkins would lead the team in touches in 2018. That may seem far fetched to some, but it’s not as unlikely as it seems. Before getting to that, we’ll visit the current state of affairs in the Colts’ backfield.

The Colts drafted running back Marlon Mack in the fourth round last year to develop behind veteran Frank Gore. The whole situation has basically gone as expected since then. Mack came out of a gimmicky spread system in college, so he excelled on the outside as a rookie while struggling to find consistency as an inside runner and pass protector. Gore is now gone, and Mack is being viewed as the starter. He’s put on a little weight to get stronger, and he had offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum that he played through as a rookie.

Things aren’t just being easily paved for Mack to be the starter this year, though. The Colts spent two draft picks on running backs this year — Nyheim Hines in the fourth and Wilkins in the fifth. Hines is more of a matchup problem for opponents than a full-time starter, but Wilkins is the type that you could make the starter and handle 15-plus touches per games.

The Colts’ backfield is being built as a committee where everyone is able to bring something to the table that makes up a complete run game. While they both will have to prove it this year, Mack (6-0, 210) and Wilkins (6-1, 216) are more traditional backs with ideal size who can lead the backfield by running, receiving and pass protecting. Hines can be lined up everywhere, the goal being to get him the ball in motion and in space. Robert Turbin is a short-yardage and pass protection specialist.

While Wilkins could easily slide to the third/fourth option in the run game, he could become the starter just as well. The easiest scenario to draw up is that he just plain outperforms everybody during training camp and the preseason. If he’s showing a complete game, making plays and generally picking up consistent yardage, he’ll earn his spot. The other scenario is that Mack’s shoulder surgery keeps him out longer than expected and Wilkins takes advantage in Mack’s absence.

One of the things we know about Colts general manager Chris Ballard is that he doesn’t forget about the things that made his previous organizations successful. He mentions former players, coaches and personnel men on a regular basis. He did this again when talking about Wilkins after they drafted him, saying, “Jordan Wilkins, now he is an interesting runner. I don’t ever want to put names, but his run style reminded me a lot of Matt Forte. We thought he had as good of vision as any back in the draft. He had an injury that sidelined him at one point, but he’s healthy and we are excited to get him.”

If for some reason you forgot about Forte, no one put up more yards from scrimmage (14,468) than him during the span of his 10-year career. Forte’s patience, vision, balance and ability to catch the ball is likely what Ballard sees in Wilkins. Also like Forte, Wilkins doesn’t have elite speed but does have the ability to get the ball down the field.

Colts head coach Frank Reich echoed Ballard’s sentiment of Wilkins, saying, “I agree with Chris, there are a lot of different style backs but he just has this elusiveness for a guy his size. He has really good elusiveness and see him as a very versatile back as well.”

In his Colts 2018 projected RB stats, Clay acknowledges that Mack did nice things as a rookie but that Wilkins has “sleeper” written all over him. I asked Clay further about how he felt the Colts’ backfield could unfold, and he said, “Though Mack played well last year, I view him as a long-term scat back. Hines is a play-maker but also undersized. Unlikely to ever be more than a situational player. Jordan can do it all.”

From a fantasy perspective, Wilkins has an undrafted ADP in standard PPR leagues, so you should definitely be able to use a late-round pick on him.

Clay’s projections for the Colts’ fantasy-relevant running backs via