Five years ago, I wrote an article on how an at-the-time rookie Nyheim Hines can be a valuable asset for the Colts. Hull is in some ways a similar player to Hines and things can play out similarly too.
Hull was drafted in the 5th round by the Colts this year. Coming out of college, Hull was a 3-down back who amassed over 2000 rushing and over 800 receiving yards in his final two seasons at Northwestern. He has good size at 5’11, 210 pounds and display good quickness and strength that can allow him to be a good, reliable running back in the NFL.
Opportunity breeds success
They say ability is nothing without opportunity; Hull is walking into a dream scenario that any 6th round pick would die for: a chance to get a significant amount of snaps in his first NFL game.
When the Colts drafted Hull, he was expected to fill the void left by Nyheim Hines. Hines was a high quality 3rd down running back with serious receiving and returning skills. Hull is a good receiving back so that’s what role he was expected to have. However, with the injuries to Jonathan Taylor (and other chicanery) and Zack Moss, it leaves the team with only two real playing options at running back: Evan Hull and Deon Jackson.
The Colts won’t be wanting to give Jackson 20+ carries a game, plus Jackson is not capable of playing 3rd downs, so I’m sure the team will split their reps on early downs with a slight advantage to Jackson and then Hull will get all 3rd downs. If that’s the plan, then Hull should easily be getting 10+ touches a game. Getting a young running back those carries early in his career are rare, especially for a 5th rounder.
How he performed in the preseason
Preseason stats: 17 rushes, 53 yards (3.1 yards per carry), 3 catches, 17 yards (6.3 yards per catch), 1 touchdown | 20 touches for 70 yards and a touchdown on 54 offensive snaps
In the preseason, his usage rate was 37% and the Colts worked him into a lot of different packages and looks (from inside the 10 to green zone RPOs). He averaged 2.55 yards per carry after contact, which was around the NFL average. His grades and rankings across the board rank him as a middle of the pack running back in the preseason, but he possesses four qualities (mainly three) that all great running backs possess.
What makes a good NFL running back
To me, the following criteria are what makes a good NFL running back:
- Elusiveness — making defenders miss in the open field
- Delivering a blow rather than taking a blow (the Trent Richardson syndrome)
- 3-down ability
Thie preason, his elusiveness score on PFF ranks him in the top 50 amongst all running backs with at least 6 carries. While I noticed that Hull likes to drop his shoulder more than making others miss with his feet, it’s worth noting that he’s had a lot of inside zone plays that require one cut and run hard through the hole. If he’s able to get more outside the tackles, he’ll probably look to make defenders miss with quick feet. To me, this is his weakest area of the four, but the potential is there because of his quick feet and his ability to change directions quickly.
Delivery a blow rather than taking a blow
As a blocker, it’s difficult to deliver a good block when you are catching the opponent’s energy and momentum. As you see in this clip, Hull steps up and delivers the punch instead of taking it.
Video Evidence of Evan Hull taking someone’s lunch money.— Landon Oliver (@Landon3MR) August 25, 2023
A simple block in the backfield might feel like something but the reality is it can tell you a lot about a player. As mentioned before, Hull can just take the first punch and then react from there, but he didn’t want to wait so by having a good stable pace on top of an aggressive momentous move towards the defender, he was able to knock him down.
3-down ability and versatility
There’s no need to find a clip about this since the stats show his ability to be a factor on 3rd downs, but also get tough carries up the middle on 1st down. He had 88 receptions and over 420 rushes in his last 2 years of college and the Colts are already using him on all 3 downs in the preseason; versatility is not an issue with him. While it’s good to have a good hard running running back, ones that can play and block on 3rd down are what separate the good from the great. It’s what makes the McCaffrey’s that special. When you could put a running back at receiver, it gives you all the more flexibility do what you want on offense and to exploit particular matchups. Hull has that ability and the Colts used him out wide on a few plays this preseason.
Hull didn’t miss a game in his last 2 years of college when he was the starting running back and no reports have surfaced all training camp or preseason about him having an injuries. Durability is crucial to a running back’s success; the best simply don’t miss games.
Hull has the makings of a quality NFL running back. He has a chance to prove himself right away with a good amount of touches, he’s been used in a variety of ways in the preseason and most importantly, he has the necessary skills and tools to be a high level running back. It’s for those reasons why I believe he will be a key player for the Colts offense, even with Jonathan Taylor probably back with the team at some point this season. For now, he’ll be forced to play a lot so he might as well perform so that he can carve out a consistent role early that will remain in place when Taylor is back. The opportunity is there, the skills are there and the offense is built for a guy like him; it’s time to see if he will sink or swim.