The running back-by-committee may be one of the most dreaded terms in all of football. Perhaps it’s the fantasy football connotations that come with it or the uncertainty surrounding the position, but it’s never been a fun thing for NFL teams to utilize. The three-headed monster is an attractive concept that never seems to come to fruition.
However, the Indianapolis Colts look to do just that with their committee of solid backs. All three have starting potential, but all three also have things that are holding them back. With no Donald Brown to pick up the slack, one of these guys will have to step up in order for the running attack to be effective this year.
For these predictions, we will not be using an assumed “16 game healthy span” for all three running backs; rather, it will be based on how they will likely hold up as the season progresses.
Richardson will likely start out the season for the Colts, but his leash is short. Richardson showed an ineffectiveness to run the ball near the end of last season. He averaged 2.9 yards per carry on the season, the fewest of all running backs who played at least 50 percent of his team’s offensive snaps. He ranked as Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) 27th best running back in the league. While he can’t be completely faulted (an in-season trade is hard to overcome), he just looked bad last season. He rarely had a snap where something good came as a result.
Trent will now have the benefit of a full offseason with the offensive line and the playbook. From a mental standpoint, Trent’s woes should be put to rest, but it’s the physical side that worries me. He didn’t look like the third-overall pick in 2012 out of Alabama; he looked like a washed-up veteran that has lost his touch only at age 23. The Marshawn Lynch comparisons will continue, but he likely doesn’t have it in him to resurrect his career.
Projected Numbers: 3 starts, 380 yards rushing, 150 yards receiving, 3 touchdowns
Bradshaw is likely the most talented running back on the roster right now. He has the ball skills to make better cuts than either Ballard or Richardson, and is easily the best all-around back. If it wasn’t for an injury against the 49ers, Bradshaw likely would have started the rest of the season, allowing Richardson some time to get acclimated to his new offense.
Unfortunately, Bradshaw is brittle. He has played a 16-game season just once in his seven-year career, back when he was with the Giants in 2010. Bradshaw gives Luck a veteran presence in the passing game with an ability to pass block and catch as well. However, his style of play is ruthless and requires a lot of movement and agility moves, which may be the reasoning behind his nagging foot and knee injuries with the Giants. Coming off neck surgery is also a concern for the old veteran; he’s now past his prime, and every time he goes under the knife, his career takes a step down.
I love Bradshaw and I like his game, but I just don’t think that his years of being an elite player are in front of him anymore with his inability to stay on the field.
Projected Numbers: 5 starts, 620 yards rushing, 200 yards receiving, 3 touchdowns
Vick was unable to play much last year after sustaining a torn ACL in practice after Week 1. He now will play third fiddle in a crowded backfield with his big-name comrades likely hogging most of the early-season snaps.
Ballard has the highest upside of the three. He’s a very good all-around back who plays more with his legs than with his strength. He has quick feet and smart jukes that make defenders miss. He also does a great job at finding what plays the blockers are making for him, and he excels at taking advantage.
The only problem with Ballard is that he requires big blocking to be effective in the running game. Let’s be honest, the Colts have not exactly been maestros in the run blocking game, but additions from last offseason should help him find lanes. Ballard hasn’t enjoyed the blocking of Gosder Cherilus for more than one game, and having Donald Thomas back on the line should also help immensely.
I don’t trust Richardson and Bradshaw’s injuries concern me. Ballard has the best chance to find effectiveness in the Colts offense, but it may take the other guys failing for him to peek his head through.
Projected Numbers: 8 starts, 800 yards rushing, 250 yards receiving, 6 touchdowns