Running back Nyheim Hines has been a fan favorite ever since he stepped foot in Indianapolis (well after he changed his number to 21 that is). The young back has been an exciting piece to this offense since 2018 as fans watched him make highlight plays like when he “mossed” Tyrann Mathieu as a rookie to his two punt return touchdown performance last year. The only area where he has seemed to struggle since entering the league has shockingly been rushing the ball.
The electric running back has made plays through the air and on special teams but has mostly been an inefficient rusher since his rookie season. In his career, Hines has carried the ball 224 times for 876 yards (an average of 3.9 ypc) and 7 touchdowns. This inefficiency started again early this season as he had an average of 3.3 yards per carry on 33 carries in the first 10 weeks of this season.
Something seemed to change in week 10 though as Hines began running with much more patience and started utilizing his speed to create yards in the run game. Over the past six games, Hines has carried the ball 54 times for 256 yards (an average of 4.7 yards per carry) and 2 touchdowns. Today we are going to look at this increase in production and look at why Hines has been able to step up his rushing game over this span.
A True Power Running Back
It is a common misconception that smaller running backs are more zone runners and the bigger backs are more suited for power schemes. I also fall for this trap sometimes until I watch Nyheim Hines run the ball. His struggles and least efficient runs happen when he is tasked with reading the flow of a play while moving horizontally. He is much more comfortable when making one read and hitting the hole behind this dominant offensive line.
Hines may be just 5’9” but he is a sturdy 200 pounds that can hold up well between the tackles. He may not run anybody over with immense power but he can run through arm tackles and drag defenders with his burst and speed. Look how natural this run is for him as he makes one quick read, hits the hole, and drags a couple defenders forward for a 10 yard gain.
It has always been so weird to me that Nyheim Hines is much better in a power running scheme than a zone scheme. I just always associate speed backs with zone. Hines however is at his best when he can one read and go behind his big blockers pic.twitter.com/2RCfal1f4Z— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 1, 2021
Any type of run that can get Hines downhill quickly is the type of play he can succeed in. The Colts’ offensive line really struggled earlier in the year to maintain their blocks and win at the point of attack and it really hurt Hines’ rushing numbers. Now that they are beginning to move defenders with ease again, Hines (and Jonathan Taylor for that matter) is benefitting.
Making the First Defender Miss
Making that first defender miss is so important in the NFL. It can be the difference in a drive killing run for a loss and a solid five yard gain on a play. In Hines case though, it can be the difference between a productive seven or eight yard run and a 20+ yard run. He gets a ton of space on the interior on this wham rush and gets to the next level with ease. Once he gets there, he is able to make the safety miss with his patented spin move as he makes his way downfield for a big gain.
Hines just has way too much burst for linebackers to catch up to when he is running downhill. His balance is also very impressive as we have seen his ability to make defenders miss and stay on his feet for years. Here he is able to evade the diving linebacker at the second level and get upfield for another chunk play gain of 10 on the play.
Some players just have that easy speed that makes every other player look like they are running in slow motion. The first player that comes to mind when thinking of that is obviously TY Hilton when he first entered the league. While Hines may not be that freaky of an athlete, he does make everything look easy on a field with other high level athletes. Look at how quickly he bursts through this hole and gets to the second level before the defense can even react.
One of the many reasons why I fell in love with Hines as a draft prospect back in the day and why I loved his fit in Indy was his elite burst and speed. He can turn the corner on any defense and has the burners to create big plays for an offense. Look at how he destroys the angle of the box safety and turns the corner for a huge gain on the Raiders’ defense.
Nyheim Hines just has so much juice man. Effortlessly turns the corner on a box safety. Such a fun player pic.twitter.com/dLYYDkpTbJ— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 1, 2021
While everything I have mentioned so far has been great, they have all been traits that Hines has possessed in the past when he has been inefficient as a runner. What has been something new that has led to this improvement? Improved patience as a rusher. While he may never be the most nuanced or technical runner, this improvement in patience has led to a ton of success in recent weeks. Look at how he keeps his head up here and gets to the outside for the big gain.
Earlier in his career, and earlier this year even, Hines was a running back who would rather hit the first hole he saw rather than wait for the correct lane to open up. Now in year three, we are starting to see big improvements in this area. This play may be his best rush of the year despite it only going for 12 yards on the play. He sells inside on the run to get the linebackers to commit to the middle before quickly bolting back outside for the big gain. It is a slight improvement in his game but it is making a huge difference in recent weeks.
Nyheim Hines has been an excellent addition to this Colts’ team and has been productive in an ever-changing offense since he was drafted. His ability as a pass catcher and special teamer alone would make him a valuable player for this team. Now that he is becoming an efficient runner, the Colts’ may have something special on their hands.
This is Jonathan Taylor’s backfield for the near and distant future but if Hines can provide this consistent rushing ability along with his ability in the pass game, this could be a deadly backfield for years to come.