The Indianapolis Colts have one of the best and deepest running back groups in the entire NFL. Starter Marlon Mack is coming off his first career 1,000 yard season, a number he hit while playing in only 14 games. Nyheim Hines is a very good receiving back who potentially could take a big role on special teams in 2020. Then there is Jonathan Taylor who ran for nearly 2,000 yards every year of his college career and was just selected by the Colts in the 2nd Round of this past draft.
The one player who we don’t seem to be talking about and may even be on the roster bubble this offseason is Jordan Wilkins. Wilkins is a former 5th round pick who has had a fairly productive career in limited action. He has 111 rushes for 643 yards (which is a quite absurd 5.8 yards per carry) and 3 touchdowns.
While he has been limited to more of a reserve role, he has displayed a level of natural ability as a runner that no other back on this team possesses. While logistically he looks like he could be an odd man out this offseason, I’m going to show you all why the Colts need to keep this talented back on the roster for the near and distant future.
The Sweet, Sweet Film
I like to think of the Colts’ backfield as being a perfect group of complimenting pieces. Mack is the explosive yet patient back who can make players miss in space. Hines is the receiving back who is lightning fast in the open field. Taylor, who is still an unknown right now, is the thundering early down back with great speed to turn a short gain into a touchdown on any play.
Where does Wilkins fit into this group?
He’s the traditional technician that every positional group seems to have. He has elite vision, footwork, eyes, and a deadly jump cut that altogether make him so difficult to bring down for short gains. He may not be a home run threat on every play but these traits allow him to stay a positive runner on almost every rush.
I love how patient yet decisive Wilkins is in his game. Here he is supposed to hit the ‘B’ gap behind tight end Jack Doyle on the counter. He quickly realizes that there is space to the outside and smoothly transitions that way after taking a read step. He gets out to the open field and finishes the run by lowering his shoulder for more positive yards. A running back who can find their escape route and create yards is always a good back in my book.
Jump cuts are a really fun aspect of the running back position as it is a runner’s way of readjusting their positioning while quickly hitting a spot on the field. Wilkins has a deadly jump cut that he utilizes to manipulate run lanes and then hit the landmarks that he wants to get to. Here he pushes the stretch horizontally to the sideline before jumping back inside and accelerating through the hole for the near touchdown.
While Wilkins will never be considered a “burner” in this league, his short area quickness and footwork are something else. Look at his feet on this next play. He effortlessly sifts through the traffic on this play all while getting skinny through the hole and keeping his eyes up to find an exit lane. I absolutely love how he is able to plant and readjust his body with ease as he flows through the hole. His footwork is honestly mesmerizing and I can’t get enough of plays like this.
Another real good clip of Wilkins finding an escape lane quickly and reading the correct hole to hit on the rush. He doesn’t hesitate whatsoever on this rush as he bursts out of his read step in the backfield and hits the open lane for a good rush. I also love how he finishes the play as he rumbles through a few defenders and drags them forward for a few extra yards.
He’s so nonchalant when running the ball that it sometimes looks like he’s giving up on plays early. That is never the case though as his relaxed nature is more a result of his confidence in his reads and his patience to allow his blockers to make his life easier for him. Here he reads the correct lane to hit while planting his foot in the backfield and accelerates outside on the stretch. He also hits an impressive step back juke that send a defensive tackle and even Luke Kuechly out of bounds as he fights forward for more yards.
Wilkins’ jump step is such a thing of beauty. I think it may be up there with some of the best in the league (Marlon Mack’s is also up there as well). My favorite aspect of it though is just how decisive Wilkins is in his decision making. He knows the second he touches this ball that he can jump outside and get a nice gain. His intellect and natural ability as a runner are at such a high level. Here he hits an excellent jump step to the outside for a solid gain.
While most of the other plays in this show Wilkins’ patience in the backfield or him taking a bit of a read step back there, this play is the opposite. This shows that we he gets a read he likes, he’s not afraid to crash downhill hard and hit the hole he wants to. Here is a simple dive play up the middle and Wilkins knows right away that the gap to the left right off of Anthony Castonzo’s backside.
After that, he is off to the races before being dragged down by a horse collar tackle at the one. Quick note that I want to throw in here but Wilkins has a weird tendency to get tackled inside the five yard line. He had to have been within a yard or two of scoring maybe five or six more touchdowns last year than he did. Hopefully he can remove that invisible barrier going into year three.
Final plays I want to link in here are two plays that I broke down in an article about running backs manipulating blocks to gain extra yards for the Colts. Watch how Wilkins uses his patience and eye discipline to create the lanes he wants in a split second as a runner.
Jordan Wilkins is such a fun player to watch. He’s like a defensive end that is really good with his hands and still wins despite not being an elite athlete (Justin Houston at this point in his career actually). He is one of the most natural running backs I have seen since the days of Matt Forte and Arian Foster running wild every Sunday.
I do think there is a way the Colts can keep Wilkins this year and then elect to keep him on the cheap vs paying Marlon Mack this offseason. I love Mack and wouldn’t want him to go but I think Wilkins is a good enough player to where the Colts can elect to do this and not lose too much production (especially if Johnathan Taylor is as good as advertised).
The biggest point in me writing this piece today though is that the Colts have a lot of cuts coming and their offense has a lot of weird numbers across the board. Looking just at players likely to make the roster, the team has three quarterbacks, four tight ends/fullbacks, and three other running backs ahead of Wilkins. That numbers game could make it tough to keep him.
Wilkins is simply too talented to cut or trade for pennies on the dollar. If I were in charge, I would do whatever I can to make sure Wilkins makes this final roster.