The running back position is one of the least worrisome spots on the Indianapolis Colts' roster heading into 2021. The Colts return four experienced running backs who have all had their fair share of success in the NFL.
While Jonathan Taylor is locked in as the lead back heading into his sophomore campaign, there is a bit of a question as to who gets the majority of carries behind him.
Marlon Mack certainly has a case, despite tearing his achilles last season, as he rushed for 1,091 yards in 2019. Nyheim Hines also has a case though, as he led the Colts in receptions and had a career high 4.8 yards per carry this past season.
With this film room, I'm going to present the appeal of both players before ultimately deciding who I would give the secondary carries to in this offense in 2021.
Making the Case for Marlon Mack
Marlon Mack looked like a legit number one running back in 2019. In just 14 games, he rushed for 1,091 yards on 247 carries (4.4 yards per carry). He also had 28 rushes over 10 yards, which shows how great he was at creating the big play.
His best attribute, surprisingly, was his vision and his ability to block the unblocked defender. The once raw running back out of South Florida looked like a nuanced veteran in 2019.
This play is my personal favorite from that season. Mack knows he has an open lane to the outside on this rush. He also knows that he has an unblocked linebacker filling the A gap. What Mack decides to do is make that linebacker commit inside before jump cutting back outside.
This causes the linebacker to commit to the wrong gap and sends the linebacker to the ground as a result.
It's the little things like this that made Mack so good when he was the starter. He was able to create yardage even when the defense had unblocked defenders ready to make a play.
This is a short gain but Mack is able to make the most of it. He sets up inside on the power run which causes the unblocked outside linebacker to crash downhill. Mack then jumps back outside and works up field for solid yardage.
Mack was also a big play threat the last time he played. He is a great athlete who can make defenders miss in space. That is a huge attribute to have in the Colts' offense due to the fact that their offensive line opens up so many big rushing lanes.
In 247 carries in 2019, Mack had 13 that went over 15 yards. His breakaway rush percentage of 29.7% (Pro Football Focus) was good for 10th best in the NFL. Here are all 13 of those rushes.
A lot of what Mack can bring to this team next year depends on how he recovers from his achilles injury. While there has been promising signs in achilles injury recovery in recent years, it is still a very concerning injury for a running back to have.
If he can even regain 80% of what he was in 2019, he should be able to be a productive member of the Colts' backfield.
Making the Case for Nyheim Hines
Hines is obviously a much different player than Mack. Hines may not be as nuanced as a rusher but he can do so many other things for the offense, namely in the receiving game.
Hines is one of the best pass catching running backs in the NFL, evident by his team-leading 65 receptions a year ago. He is deadly one on one with linebackers and safeties, and he is always a threat to turn a short gain into a chunk play. Here he works himself open against one of the best linebackers in the NFL in Roquan Smith.
As a rusher, Hines has improved every year of his career. He had just 3.9 yards per carry in his first two seasons in the league. Last year, that number jumped up to a career best 4.8 yards per carry.
The key was being more decisive. Hines is naturally more of a downhill runner, despite his smaller stature. When he can plant his foot and explode through a hole, that is when he has his best chance to create on the ground.
Going into 2020, Hines told me that a goal of his was to create more big plays. With his 4.39 speed, this is something that he had yet to show in the NFL. In 2020 though, he had a career best 19 rushes over 10 yards.
That means that on 20% of his rushing attempts in 2020, Hines had a rush over 10 yards. That is creating big plays and keeping the offense moving when he is on the field. Here are all 19 of those rushes from this past season:
Hines has always been an outstanding weapon for the Colts in the passing game. With his improvements in the run game and his game-breaking ability, I wonder what kind of damage he could do with more than 95 carries in a season.
And My Selection Is....
For me, I have to go with the all-around player who isn't coming off a major injury. Hines is so dynamic with the ball in his hands and he finally started to put it together as a rusher in 2020. The hope is that he can continue to build upon those developments with more opportunities going forward.
Mack is an excellent player who will get his opportunities too. The injury is a bit worrisome but, like I mentioned earlier, if he can get back to even close to where he was then he will be fine.
The Colts truly can't go wrong with either option when it comes to this competition. Both players are dynamic runners who create yardage and keep the offense moving.
With a player like Hines on the field more, it simply gives the Colts an offense that can hurt you with the pass or run.
Only time will tell who the Colts prefer in this role come game time. For me, I like the dynamic ability that Hines brings and want to give him as many opportunities with the ball as possible.
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.