Over the past few years, the Indianapolis Colts have adopted a new slogan for their offense.
A far cry from the days of Peyton Manning, “Run the Damn Ball” has become a popular saying by Colts fans and a motto the team has made part of its identity.
Head coach Frank Reich has long been a proponent of establishing a strong running game to open things up for the rest of the offense. Entering the 2021 season, the Colts lay claim to what could be their best stable of running backs in franchise history.
Let’s take a look at the players that make up one of the strengths of this Colts' team.
Drafted in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft after General Manager Chris Ballard traded up three spots for him, Jonathan Taylor exceeded all expectations last year. After getting off to a slow start during his rookie campaign, Taylor erupted in the second half of the season. The former Wisconsin Badger finished the year with 1,169 yds and 11 touchdowns on the ground with another 299 yards receiving.
Taylor has firmly solidified himself as the starter at running back for the Colts, and one of the biggest things that has helped him this offseason has been the fact that there actually is a full offseason this time around.
“We didn’t have all this time last year so it was kind of learning at a super accelerated pace during camp,” Taylor said. “And then learning on the go each game plan as we went through the season, so being able to get a great grasp on the playbook before the season so you can hit the ground running (is key).”
Taylor is expected to build upon his impressive first year. With the Colts riding the hot hand throughout the year at the running back position, Taylor amassed all of those yards and touchdowns while only playing 47% of the offensive snaps. It can be expected that Taylor will see a greater percentage of the snaps in his sophomore season.
A player that is certainly hoping Taylor has a big second year is new quarterback Carson Wentz. The better Taylor and the rest of the running backs perform, the less pressure there will be on Wentz to carry the offense. One of the major ways the Colts can allow Wentz to play within the fabric of the offense is to have a stout running game.
The expectation is that Taylor will take that next step and enter the elite class of running backs this year.
While some people like to characterize the 5’9” running back as a gadget player, don’t suggest that to Nyheim Hines.
“I’ve never been a gadget guy,” Hines said when asked about the label. “I hate when people call me that. I don’t think I’ve ever been that. I’ve played running back my whole life and I’ve always been able to run the ball in-between the tackles. And I think last year was a step to that.”
As Colts fans know, Hines is much more than a gadget guy. He has become one of the biggest weapons on the offense and someone that other teams need to account for. He was second on the team in total touchdowns with seven and led the team in receptions with 63 as a running back.
Hines displayed his ability to run between the tackles in the Colts’ Week 9 contest against the Tennessee Titans. On his 24th birthday, Hines was the star of the offense racking up 115 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, leading the Colts to victory that night. He proved on national television that he was a force to be reckoned with.
Hines is poised to continue his role as a major weapon in this Colts offense in 2021. While his numbers in the passing game may take a slight dip as Philip Rivers is no longer the quarterback, Reich will still count on him as a weapon and someone they will want to get the ball to.
The 2021 season also marks a contract year for Hines as he enters his fourth season. It will be interesting to see if Ballard and the Colts try to get an extension completed with Hines before the season, or let the contract situation linger throughout the year.
A year ago, Reich was talking about a “1-1 punch” with Marlon Mack and the new rookie Taylor as they headed into the season. That plan lasted all of one quarter of the first game of the year, as Mack went down with a torn Achilles. This was a gut punch to a player coming off a year where he rushed for 1,091 yds and eight touchdowns in 2019.
It was thought that Mack would not return to the Colts this season as he entered free agency with the prospects of garnering a larger contract than the Colts were willing to match. But after assessing his options, Mack returned to the Colts on a one-year deal.
“Indy was always a place that I would like to come back to,” Mack said after he re-signed with the team in March. “It was just being patient out there, listening to what teams had for me, and Indy was the best for me.”
While a torn Achilles is not the death knell it used to be, it is still one of the worst injuries that you can sustain at the running back position. Achilles injuries can have a great impact on your explosion and your bursting ability, which are two important traits for running backs. According to Mack, everything is going well on his road to recovery.
“I’m in a good spot. I’ve been killing it these last few months and I should be good to go pretty soon," Mack said.
The hope is that Mack will be ready to go when training camp arrives at the end of July. The plan will be to ease Mack back into the rotation as he gets his legs back under him. With the ascension of Taylor as the starter and Hines as the third-down back, there is no need to rush Mack back until he is ready.
If Mack can return to form from his injury, this gives the Colts a very scary three-headed monster in the backfield.
Jordan Wilkins and The Battle for RB4
The last few years the final running back spot has been held by Jordan Wilkins. The four-year vet has performed admirably when called upon and has been a fantastic change-of-pace running back for the Colts. He has also been a key player on special teams, something the Colts hold huge value in.
But with Wilkins entering a contract year of his own, will the Colts decide to go with a younger and less expensive option? While Wilkins certainly has the inside track to make the roster and be the RB4, a name to keep an eye on throughout training camp is Deon Jackson.
An undrafted free agent out of Duke, Jackson received interest from many teams around the league. It was reported that the Colts signed him to a $45,000 signing bonus, a very high figure for an UDFA. Jackson is lightning quick, running the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds at his pro day, and is known for his work on special teams as well.
Look for the final running back spot to come down to Wilkins and Jackson as we near the beginning of the regular season.
Have thoughts on the running back position overall for the Colts? Drop a line in the comments section below letting us know what you think!
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