The Indianapolis Colts' running back depth chart is arguably the deepest group in the league. Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines are coming off of strong seasons and Marlon Mack, who was re-signed after tearing his achilles in 2020, looks to bounce back to his 2019 form.
Rounding that group out is Jordan Wilkins, who has been one of the more consistent depth running backs in the league. With all this talent on the depth chart, does an undrafted free agent stand a chance of making the roster?
In today's film room, we will look at the game of Deon Jackson, who the Colts gave a pretty sizable 45,000 dollar signing bonus to after the draft. Can he edge out Wilkins for that final spot?
Stats and Production
Jackson was a four year contributor at Duke University, and he received significant playing time during his final three years on campus. He was productive as a running back but was also a contributor in the receiving game and on special teams.
As a rusher, he totaled 526 carries for 2,267 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and 18 touchdowns. He also caught 61 passes for 534 yards and four touchdowns in his career.
He was a kick returner during his sophomore season as well, where he had 23 returns for 502 yards on the season. He also saw time on all four special team units for the Blue Devils, making him a core four special teamer.
Ability as a Running Back (SPEED)
Jackson is a player who I was a bit hesitant on in the 2021 NFL Draft. He needs some work with his vision and overall game but the traits are definitely there. He tested as an elite athlete at his Pro Day, running a 4.32 forty yard dash at 218 pounds.
That speed and burst certainly show up on film. When he is able to plant his foot and get downhill, he shows excellent explosion through the hole. This is a great example of his ability, as he gets skinny through the hole and then works up the sideline for the big gain.
I also enjoyed how hard he runs for a speedy back. Much like Hines, Jackson has good size and is compact for a quicker rusher. His body type gives him natural leverage and contact balance to run through tackles (when he isn't able to run past defenders).
This clip is the perfect example of this as he is able to stay low through contact and create a big gain out of seemingly nothing.
He may not be a finished product as a rusher at the moment but I do like him based off of his core traits. He knows how to get up-field, has great athleticism, and he runs hard with good contact balance. There are things to build off of in his game.
His Path to Making the Team
The best thing that Jackson has going for him in his effort to make the roster is that the Colts don't have a true backup to Nyheim Hines. Mack and Wilkins are closer to the running back that Taylor is rather than Hines.
What Jackson needs to do in order to make the team is to show that he can seamlessly step into the Hines role in the offense if needed.
What that means is he has to be able to show that he can perform the receiving duties out of the backfield at a high level. He showed nice hands in college and I do think this is a strong point in his game.
He also needs to be reliable in pass protection. This is vital trait for running backs in the NFL to have, especially for depth backs. While I didn't note too many instances of Jackson in pass pro in college, I thought he looked solid in most of the reps I did see.
Here was his best play as he identifies the blitzing linebacker and steps up to make the block.
The last area for him to perform well in is on special teams. His main competition to make the roster is Wilkins at that fourth running back spot. If Jackson can prove to be just as good of an overall special teams player as Wilkins, it would go a long way in ensuring his spot on the initial 53 man roster.
Another key note in conversation is the age difference between Wilkins and Jackson. Jackson is a 22 year old rookie who the Colts have years of team control over. Wilkins is a 26 year old back who will be hitting free agency in 2022.
While Wilkins has been outstanding for the Colts, the team should give Jackson every opportunity to win that final running back spot.
I like the upside of Jackson's game and I am excited to see what he can do this offseason. He is actually very similar to Hines coming out of college. Both players were former wide receivers who transitioned to running back and excelled on special teams in college.
The key for Jackson this offseason is to excel at the little things (receiving, blocking, special teams) while showing that he can backup Hines if needed. If he can showcase that ability, he should be able to make himself indispensable to the Colts.
Overall, I am excited to see this talented young player and how he performs in training camp. It will be hard to supplant a player like Wilkins but I believe Jackson has the talent to pull it off.
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.