There are multiple questions heading into the 2018 season for the Indianapolis Colts. Naturally, the most ‘national’ story is the debate as to whether Andrew Luck will return to his former self or not this year. Outside of that, it’s either the questions surrounding the offensive line of how much the unit will be improved and how quickly the young defense can grow into a respectable unit.
Perhaps next in line, are questions about the Colts backfield — primarily Marlon Mack. Much of the talk comes on the heels of the Colts drafting Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins in the 2018 NFL Draft and how Frank Reich’s scheme will employ a by-committee approach.
In the long run, and quite possibly the short-term as well, the Colts still need a lead back just as any other team desires in order to maintain a well-rounded offense. Whether or not Mack can be that feature option immediately may not be the right question to ask.
However, looking to see whether he can efficiently contribute on all three downs in the upcoming season should be paramount to the Colts vision. We can discuss some of Mack’s tendencies last season and debate what the coaching can mold him into, but ultimately, his only major issue is in protection. Hence the hesitation from some to accept his third down effectiveness.
Our own Chris Blystone put together a piece on Mack back in April, discussing some of what he provided to the Colts last year. There was some additional insight of how his success rate was better than Frank Gore’s in critical situations despite Gore being overused in those situations.
Let’s stack some additional points of interest in hindsight of the 2017 season.
Mack is electric, there’s absolutely no disputing that. His speed, agility, size and youth are just toys for the new coaching staff to mold into the complete back. Last year, whether everyone realized it or not, Mack’s bright potential was evident.
His big-play ability wasn’t just a myth. In fact, had he been given the ball more regularly, more than just Colts fans would remember those plays. Mack posted 5 carries and 4 receptions of 20 yards or more in just 93 total carries and 21 receptions on the season.
That may not look all that impressive, but with his lack of touches it was actually quite striking. In comparison to the rest of the league, his explosive carry percentage of 5.38% was unrivaled among backs with 90-plus carries. Only Kenyan Drake and Bilal Powell even cleared 5% among backs with at least 5 20-plus yard carries on the year.
Also, Mack was one of only 6 backs in the league who busted off at least 5 20-yard runs and 4 20-yard receptions last season. It’s a pretty nice group to be associated with which includes the likes of Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, Le’Veon Bell, Tevin Coleman and Ezekiel Elliott.
Two other backs who were also impressive with even smaller workloads than Mack and had a higher explosive run percentage were Aaron Jones (7.41% on just 81 carries) and Dalvin Cook (5.4% of 74 carries).
Now, if we’re looking at specific downs to help determine his viability, there isn’t a ton of reference for it, but what we do have is exciting. On first and second downs last season, Mack didn’t blow it up on the ground necessarily, but there was some hope to be had.
Mack averaged 3.51 yards per carry on those early downs, and that doesn’t touch the elite at the position by any means, but the numbers are better than the likes of Joe Mixon, Chris Ivory and Devontae Booker and were comparable to multiple others who were given much more of an opportunity.
Now, on third downs his workload was significantly limited receiving only 9 total touches. However, 7 of those 9 touches earned a first down, and he averaged well over 6 yards per carry and 9.77 yards per touch overall on third down opportunities.
Everything else we’ve talked about several times over, right? He needs to seriously improve on his pass protection, his work between the tackles needs a great deal of work as he earned a measly 2.64 yards per carry inside of the tackles. Yes, the improved offensive line should greatly help those numbers, but the instincts and willingness to attack the middle of the defense have to be better as well.
So many things will go in to Mack living up to his enormous expectations. But, like we’ve said so many times before, he’s got it all and now we can only hope that he has the coaching staff and big uglies to help expedite that process.