Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Positional analysis: Running backs

You can blame poor blocking and injuries all you want, but the Colts running backs just were not very good in 2010. Here's a look:

Joseph Addai
2010 stats: 8 games/7 starts, 116-495-4 rushing, 19-124-0, 2/1 fumbles
Contract status: Unsigned
Analysis: I’ve never been an Addai backer. I mean, he’s an okay back, but he lacks a breakway threat (despite a fast combine 40) and he’s not a reliable grinder either. Even when things were at their best in his first two pro seasons, I was never that impressed, regarding him as a decent back, but nothing better. Last season, he missed a great deal of time due to a nasty neck injury and hardly wowed when he was healthy. As a receiver, he offers decent hands but does little with the ball after the catch. Addai’s saving grace is that he’s a very adept pass-blocker, which is very important when you share a backfield with Peyton Manning. Interestingly, he has historically run much better on grass than turf.

Donald Brown
2010 stats:13 games/8 starts, 129-497-2 rushing, 20-205-0 receiving, 0/0 fumbles
Contract status: signed through 2013
Analysis: The plan when Brown was drafted in the first round in 2009 appeared to be that he would apprentice under Addai and then replace him when Addai’s veteran status and free agency meant he would command a long-term, high-buck deal. But there was a problem – Brown’s not very good. Or at least he hasn’t been in a Colts’ uniform and it’s rare a back gets much better after his first two years. Brown has made a few good plays, but generally looks tentative and cautious in his decision-making as a runner. One good sign, though, is that Browns runs much better after he’s had a dozen or so carries and can get into some form of rhythm. He’s not a bad receiver at all, but his terrible pass-blocking make it unlikely he will ever carve a niche out as a third-down specialist. Ièd suggest moving him to slot receiver, but if it didn't happen it 2010, when the Colts were desperate for healthy receivers, it will never happen.

Mike Hart
2010 stats: 7 games/1 start, 43-185-1 rushing, 6-25-0, 0/0 fumbles
Contract status: Unsigned
Analysis: Colt fans have always rallied around Hart, but the fact is that he’s got pulling guard speed, average functional strength and a long, long history of injuries. Not qualified to be a starter, a third-down back or a short-yardage specialist (and not really a contributor on special teams), it’s hard to see where he would fit other than a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none spare body. He is a superior block, though, and has

Dominic Rhodes
2010 stats: 3 games/0 starts, 37-172-0 rushing, 1-4-0 receiving, 12-252-0 kick returns, 1/1 fumbles
Contract status: Unsigned
Analysis: At the end of the season, when injuries were all over the offense, the Colts signed their old friend Rhodes off the street (he’d been cut by Buffalo earlier). Sadly, he looked like the team’s best runner until a hip injury brought him down to Earth in the season-ending loss to the Jets. Even at his best – and that was many years and injuries ago – Rhodes was never an elite back, and at 33 is unlikely to get any better.

Javarris James
2010 stats: 10 games/0 starts, 46-112-6 rushing, 9-63-0 receiving, 3-16-0 kick returns, 1 special-teams tackle, 0/0 fumbles
Contract status: Signed through 2012
Analysis: Although his stats look mediocre at first, James’ six scores in 46 carries is a shocking number when you look at the other backs’ scoring or lack thereof (seven in 327 carries). Unlike his cousin, Edgerrin James, who was a speed back surprisingly easy to take down for his size, “Baby J” is slow and a load to bring down. That has made him very suitable to short-yardage work – all but one of his rushing touchdowns came from three yards or closer. He’s also a very good blocker (as Edgerrin was), especially as an up back on return teams. But don’t expect James ever to develop into a major producer on offense. He’s just too slow and lacks moves.

Devin Moore
2010 stats: 4 games/0 starts, 2-(-2)-0 rushing, 12-257-0 kick returns, 1/1 fumbles
Contract status: Signed through 2011
Analysis: Last year, Moore played only a few snaps on offense, and the results were not pretty. Unless the Colts design specific plays to get him into space quickly, it’s unlikely he’ll ever see much time on offense. He was, however, the Colts primary return man before he was felled by injury in 2010. He offers little as a pass-catcher, blocker or on special teams aside from returns.

What about 2011?: It all depends on what happens with Addai. He’s a free agent and the Colts have offered him a tender. Of course, we all know that those tenders will be meaningless under virtually any sort of reasonable CBA, but at least it shows him that the team wants him back. Addai is a gentlemanly, loyal sort, so it’s very likely he would re-sign. But if he doesn’t, the Colts could be sent into disarray at the position.

Plan Brown did not work out, but he is under contract, so he’ll be invited back to show us we’re all wrong. But the fact that he received no carries – actually no offensive snaps at all – against the Jets in the playoffs despite being healthy indicates he’s not a big part of the team’s future.

I think Rhodes has had the biscuit, but Polian love his old favorites, and it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to get an invitation to training camp. Hart’s also a free agent, and his lack of production and potential could prevent the Colts from re-signing him. More likely, is that they will give his spot to James, who does most of the same things only better and has a well-defined role as a short-yardage guy. Moore will be invited back, but just to defend his kick return job. Don’t expect to see him line up on offense.

Free agency: Forget it, the Colts rarely sign veteran free agents of any merit, and Polian has a belief that veteran backs are worthless backs.

Draft: If the Colts re-sign Addai, he’ll be the team’s featured back, for better or worse. If they don’t re-sign him, they would be scrambling for a feature back. Considering the needs on the offensive and defensive lines as well as safety, spending a top draft pick on a running back would be difficult (especially considering the fact that the Colts used two first-round picks on the position in the past five years). But if you look at the top twenty rushing leaders from 2010, you’ll notice that only seven of them were first-round picks. Great backs can be had later in the draft. This year, I really like Cal’s Shane Vereen, UConn’s Jordan Todman and Maryland’s Da’Rel Scott.

A few stats:

Rushing average
Rhodes 4.65
Hart 4.30
Addai 4.27
Brown 3.85
James 2.43
Moore -1.00

First-down percentage
Addai 26.72
Hart 23.26
Rhodes 21.62
Brown 20.16
James 19.57
Moore 0.00

Stuff percentage
Addai 8.62
James 8.70
Hart 9.30
Rhodes 10.81
Brown 12.40
Moore 50.00

Catch percentage
Hart 100.00
James 81.82
Addai 73.08
Brown 71.43
Rhodes 25.00

Average yards per reception
Brown 10.25
James 7.00
Addai 6.53
Hart 4.17
Rhodes 4.00

Average yards per target
Brown 7.32
James 5.73
Addai 4.80
Hart 4.17
Rhodes 1.00

YAC average
Brown 9.35
James 9.11
Addai 4.84
Hart 4.50
Rhodes 2.00

A note on fullbacks: Ain’t gonna happen.

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