The Colts’ shocked much of the football world when they traded up in the second round to select Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor in the 2020 NFL Draft. While Taylor was a great prospect, the Colts already had a 1,000 yard rusher on the roster in Marlon Mack. Regardless though, there was a lot of excitement to see what a backfield featuring these players could do going into the 2020 season.
Unfortunately, Mack tore his achilles in the first game of the season. The injury was extremely disappointing and GM Chris Ballard even said he was “heartbroken” by what happened. Still, the season had to go on and Taylor would end up finishing third in the NFL in rushing while rotational back Nyheim Hines had a career year in an extended role.
So that leaves the big question, where does this leave Mack on coming back to the team for 2021? Today we are going to look at some of his film from 2019 but ultimately discuss why it would be wise for Indy to move on from the talented running back this offseason.
The 2019 Film
Before we get to the main point on not bringing Mack back near the tail end of the article, I want to take a few minutes to look at why Mack was so good for the Colts’ team in 2019. My personal favorite aspect of his game was his nasty jump cut ability. The way he was able to glide around blocks and defenders and set things up with ease as a result of that jump cut was simply incredible. Made everything look so easy with it. Remember this insane run against the Chiefs early in the year?
Marlon Mack has quietly developed into one of the league’s better running backs. The NFL’s 5th leader rusher had an excellent game against the Chiefs, showcasing great footwork and vision. My film room on the talented running back drops tomorrow @StampedeBlue pic.twitter.com/rxml4WLYsG— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) October 8, 2019
Mack made a lot of improvements in his Colts career. The biggest one though was how he learned to set up blocks, block unblocked defenders, and create yards for himself. He was never super elusive in the open field— although he had some highlights that beg to differ— but he won last year with how he would set up blocks. He understood how to sell one way in order to open up cut back lanes for himself. This ability led to many big plays created mainly due to his skills. This play against the Panthers last season is a great example as he runs the safety into the block of Joe Haeg to free himself up at the next level.
Marlon Mack was so good last season. This is another great example of creating yardage. Here he assists Joe Haeg in blocking both the linebacker and the safety in route to a 30 yard gain. Excellent footwork here. pic.twitter.com/INdeFPZcTw— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) May 22, 2020
Overall it was just an incredible year and nobody will be able to take that away from him. With the strides he made in his game along with the improved quarterback play, he was surely in for a big contract year in 2020 if he never got injured. Just an unfortunate situation for him that hurt his value. Looking back on that 2019 season though and it was a truly special year, especially with how teams stacked the box on him. Here are his best runs from that season.
What a season for Marlon Mack. He just broke 1,000 yards for the first time and he did it in just 11 games. He has come such a long way since his rookie year in terms of vision, patience, and manipulating defenders. Here are his best runs of 2019 so far: pic.twitter.com/T4uu1EAJzN— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 23, 2019
Taylor and Hines may be better
The unfortunate fact of the matter for Mack though is the Colts have two younger and cheaper running backs on the roster. Taylor exploded during the second half of the season for the Colts and has emerged as one of the better runners in the league. Once his confidence level rose, he was playing high level football. The outlook for him is extremely high going forward.
I love this angle of Jonathan Taylor's game-sealing touchdown.pic.twitter.com/rjz9sWk0bP— Cody Manning (@CodyTalksNFL) January 4, 2021
One of the biggest reasons why I would be against Mack’s return is that there isn’t space in the backfield for him with how well Hines played this past season. Hines was a career 3.9 yards per carry back prior to this past season in his career. However that average rose up to 4.8 yards per carry while 18% of his rushes went over 10 yards. This improvement led to career numbers for the young back. With the strides Hines took, along with him still being on his rookie deal for another season, Hines should be given the change of pace role for 2021. That would basically leave little to no role for Mack if he were to return.
I honestly think Nyheim Hines is the most dynamic player on this Colts team. Taylor is outstanding and can get there but when you add in Hines ability as a returner, receiver, and much improved rushing late in the season... he is their most dynamic player pic.twitter.com/7lRfp8iawr— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 11, 2021
Achilles injuries on running backs...
On top of there just being no role for him in this offense, there is also the very rational fear of how he recovers from his achilles tear. Running backs throughout the history of the NFL have rarely come back from this type of injury and ones that do never return to their previous form. While modern medicine is incredible and improving every day, it is still unlikely Mack returns to his previous status as a top 10-15 running back.
For examples in recent history, Arian Foster is the most notable one. One of the top running backs in the NFL coming off a 1,200 yard season, he tore his achilles in 2015 and was out of the league in 2016. Colts fan favorite Vick Ballard enjoyed a breakout 2012 season before tearing his achilles in 2013. He never played again in the league. Veteran backs Orleans Darkwa and Isaiah Crowell tore their achilles in the past two years and haven’t played since.
The road to recovery from this injury is rough and it flat out sucks that this happened to a player like Mack.
Marlon Mack was an incredible player for the Colts who went from athlete playing running back as a rookie to one of the better backs in the league in 2019. Unfortunately, a devastating injury and other players stepping up on the roster has likely led to the end of his career in Indy.
If anyone can overcome this injury and be productive, I hope it is Mack. He deserves a nice contract and the chance to thrive in this league. It just won’t be in Indy with this injury and the emergence of Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines.