INDIANAPOLIS – To many, it’s the ‘easiest’ position to replace in the NFL.
Well, the Colts are now in the process of trying to fill the role held by Marlon Mack—the starting running back for this team for the last three seasons.
Mack’s loss comes at one of the deepest position groups for the Colts, but it also comes at a spot where injuries can be frequent.
The Colts are a team who wants to rotate backs in and out, so Mack’s absence will certainly be felt, and the stress for the other guys to stay healthy has risen immensely.
Frank Reich confirmed on Monday that rookie Jonathan Taylor will now be the starting running back.
It’s time for the Colts to see their prized rookie in a lead back workload.
“You can feel not only his speed on the field, but you can feel his size,” Reich says of Taylor. “It’s a combination of speed and size equals power or force. I think we are going to see that and feel that. It’ll add to an already very physical offensive line. But the great things with Jonathan is, unlike a lot of backs who bring that physicality, Jonathan also brings breakaway speed. And this is why I have to continue to call more runs. You get a guy who can be a workhorse back like that, the more times you give it to them, the better they are going to get, the more confidence they are going to get. That will be another reason why we have to continue to feed the running game.”
Let’s take a look at how the Colts should handle the running back position the rest of the way in 2020:
- Jonathan Taylor: When the Colts drafted Taylor with the 41st overall pick back in April, the clock started on the day until he became the No. 1 back in Indianapolis. That day is here. Taylor is this team’s No. 1 back. How he handles pass protection and him protecting the ball will be critiqued even more. Taylor did catch all 6 of his targets in his NFL debut. With Mack done for 2020, the Colts are onto their next chapter at running back. The home-run ability of Taylor is here. We didn’t see it in the opener (long rush of 9, with just 22 yards on 9 carries), but he did take a screen and burst upfield for 35 yards. The Colts should throw a Mack-type of starting workload onto the shoulders of Taylor and see how he handles it. This is a guy who carried a big-time responsibility in the premier collegiate rushing offense. Let Taylor slide into that role and adjust as needed. It might not be the same consistency of Mack, but feeding Taylor throughout 4 quarters should eventually lead to that big play with him showcasing his 4.3 40-yard dash speed.
- Nyheim Hines: Even before Marlon Mack went down on Sunday, the Colts were using Hines quite a bit. A game plan involving no-huddle early on had Hines touching the ball 15 times (8 catches, 7 carries) in the opener. While Hines had some nice moments carrying the ball—which has not been his strength after two NFL seasons—he’s still best suited in that hybrid role. For the game, Hines out-snapped Taylor by 13 offensive plays, but I have a feeling that has more to do with the Colts throwing it 24 more times than they ran it. Hines is listed as a ‘RB’ but his role is different than that of Taylor or Jordan Wilkins. When Mack has been hurt in years past, the Colts haven’t automatically expanded the role for Hines. Will a season-long injury change that?
- Jordan Wilkins: Throughout the roster cut down dilemma, the biggest reason to keep Wilkins was for insurance. Well, that’s now needed. Wilkins played 1 offensive snap (9 on special teams) in the season opener. If the Colts want to keep Hines more in that no-huddle/third-down role, they could increase the usage of Wilkins. And Reich said on Monday that Wilkins will have a growing role moving forward. Wilkins could be the one to spell Taylor and even handle a couple of series a game. Remember, Wilkins has made the most of his chances in his first couple of NFL seasons. Wilkins has rushed for 5.8 yards per carry (111 total rushing attempts) in his career. That’s a really impressive number and something the Colts should not shy away from using to keep Taylor fresh.
- Free Agent Option: Yes, the Colts have an open roster spot with Marlon Mack heading for IR. It’s not an absolute must that the Colts should/will fill that spot with a running back. If healthy at that position, a 4th running back is hardly used (see Wilkins playing time in Week 1). But the Colts could promote undrafted free agent Darius Anderson from the practice, sign a familiar face (i.e. Jonathan Williams off the Lions practice squad), bring back a guy who the team worked out for the team earlier this month (i.e. C.J. Prosise) or make a bigger splash (i.e. Lamar Miller). Still, unless another serious injury occurs to one of the top three guys, it’s hard to see a new face running back really impacting things.