With the news that Marlon Mack may not be ready to start the season the running back position is very much a question mark. Because of this, I thought it would make sense to do some film breakdown of the performance of the running backs from the Colts’ second preseason game against the Ravens.
We’ll take a look at Christine Michael, Nyheim Hines, and Jordan Wilkins, and compare their performances and abilities as we prepare for the contest with the 49ers that will likely have a big impact on who gets the lion’s share of the carries once the regular season arrives.
Jordan Wilkins – 6’1”, 216lbs
Jordan Wilkins is, in my opinion, the best back of these three. Given time to develop he might be the best running back on the roster. I’m not ready to write off Marlon Mack, because I believe that he offers a skill set Wilkins doesn’t, however, there are some undeniably great things Wilkins does that none of the others do.
This play is a prime example of what there is to love about Wilkins’ ability. On this play the offensive line gets manhandled. Wilkins is hit 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage. His response is to stay balanced, get skinny, and take the ball for a 7-yard gain. We have watched so many backs over the years who have failed to be able to get yards when hit in the backfield that watching Wilkins consistently do this is refreshing.
Here we see one of the keys to Wilkins’ success. After the handoff, he has just a moment’s hesitation before he hits the hole. In this case, that hesitation is enough time for Ryan Kelly to hand off his defender to Quenton Nelson and get his hands on the linebacker at the next level. Then it is just a matter of keeping low and keeping his legs churning, and Wilkins is pushing the pile for another 8 yards.
Sometimes patience can be a problem, but here, it simply allows all the proper blocks to develop. It makes the difference between a two yard gain and an 8 yard gain. Maybe over time we will see issues arise because of this hesitation, but they aren’t showing up here.
On second and short and in the red zone, Wilkins demonstrates the ability to forgo his patient style and hit the hole when it is there. He manages to get a decent gain as well as a first down, putting the team right on the doorstep of scoring.
The biggest issue with backs who hesitate and wait for blocks to develop is that sometimes they do that to a fault. Trent Richardson probably considered himself patient, but mostly he just danced around in the backfield and then slammed into the pile. Here, Wilkins shows that when the pathway is clear, he can be decisive and go.
Fumbles are always a concern, and it is definitely something Wilkins has to fix. Despite the outcome being a positive one, running backs coach Tom Rathman will have had some things to say about this play in the meeting room, and you could tell watching Wilkins’ face as he walked off the field that he was pretty irritated about it.
This happens, especially with rookies, but it can’t become a trend. It won’t matter much if he gets ten yards every time he runs the ball if he can’t hold on to it. It doesn’t take long to lose the trust of the coaching staff and fumbling is a quick way to do it. Hopefully this is the worst we see of fumbles for Wilkins.
This play represents some improvement over last week. Wilkins struggled in pass protection in his first game, and while this wasn’t great, it was better. Wilkins needs to pick up the defender coming off the edge to buy Brissett some time to step up in the pocket and throw.
He is a bit out of position and gets beat, but quickly recovers, and along with a nice move by Brissett, is able to get a block that gets Brissett free. That’s better than Braden Smith can say, since he has to hold his man and gets flagged.
Pass protection is something a lot of rookie running backs struggle with. It will be critical that Wilkins develops here, and already we are seeing him do better. With Rathman coaching him up, he should only get better.
Based on the film we have seen so far, Jordan Wilkins is the hands down best back of these three we have looked at. We have seen him repeat his solid performance two weeks in a row. The only thing left is to see it repeated against top competition.
My takeaway from this exercise is that when Robert Turbin returns from suspension and Marlon Mack is healthy, this could be a very impressive running back group, and I expect these rookies to have prominent roles in it.