The Indianapolis Colts have a number of issues to address this offseason, one of which is what to do with the team’s running back position. The team could clearly use an infusion of talent at the position overall, as the current unit faces major question marks.
Oct 9, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw (44) celebrates after scoring on a 5-yard touchdown pass against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Of course, the assumed long-term workhorse of the group, Trent Richardson, has been a major bust since his acquisition and could be in serious danger of offseason release. While young running back Vick Ballard showed initial promise in his rookie season back in 2012, he’s suffered season-ending injuries the past two seasons, and it’s uncertain whether he will make a full recovery going forward.
The team’s most productive running back over the past two seasons has actually been 8-year veteran Ahmad Bradshaw. It’s never been a case of a lack of proven results for Bradshaw, who was the Colts best overall running back this past season. Specifically, Bradshaw rushed for 425 rushing yards on 90 carries for a “healthy” 4.7 yards per carry average in 10 games. Rather, it’s always been an issue of staying healthy.
The Colts veteran running back can’t seem to stay on the field for an entire season, as he suffered a broken ankle in Week 11 and was placed on season-ending injured reserve shortly after. It’s the 2nd consecutive season that Bradshaw has ended with such a distinction, as he previously missed the entire season after Week 3 in 2013 due to a suffered neck injury.
Oct 19, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw (44) reacts to scoring a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis defeats Cincinnati 27-0. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
No one’s discounting that Bradshaw is one of the most complete running backs in the NFL when healthy. In addition to his production carrying the football, he caught 6 receiving touchdowns from quarterback Andrew Luck and was once again superb in pass blocking. In truth, Bradshaw is simply a joy to watch as a running back, as he runs with reckless abandonment by sacrificing his body and fights for every last yard. He’s a true throwback player in every sense of the word.
The advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus also support this notion, as his +5.8 overall grade effectively placed him as the 8th best running back through the 1st 11 weeks of the regular season up until his season-ending broken ankle. His 94.0 overall grade in pass blocking efficiency was rated 13th best in the NFL.
Not bad for a player who was playing on a 1-year, $855K “prove it” contract.
Unfortunately for the Colts; however, his health places the team in a major bind. The Colts would undoubtedly love to bring Bradshaw back, if he could just stay healthy. Nevertheless, it’s hard to give a running back such a large role within their offense, when he’s not there when they need him the most.
Oct 19, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw (44) and quarterback Andrew Luck (12) celebrate a touchdown during the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
As long as the Colts have a healthy Andrew Luck and play in the AFC South, they should have a pretty good chance of making the playoffs even if the Houston Texans somehow find a competent starting quarterback. The Colts no longer need “regular season” players, they need players who they can count on in the playoffs.
Bradshaw has proven he can be an invaluable playoff asset as a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants if he can get there, but it’s just the issue of whether that’s realistically possible anymore as a soon-to-be 29 year old running back this March with increasingly brittle health. The Colts need someone who they know they can lean and depend on during their biggest games of the season. There should be no more relying heavily on 3rd-string running backs like Dan Herron and Zurlon Tipton when their games mean the most in January.
That’s what makes it so hard with Bradshaw. The Colts know how good he can be when he’s healthy, but it’s hard to bring back a player who has a strong likelihood of not being available when he’s needed the most. Not only this, but the team is wasting valuable training camp and practice reps on a player who likely won’t finish the season with them, when it could be better served to develop players who presumably will.
Don’t get me wrong, Bradshaw’s toughness and energy he brings to the position is a pleasure to watch. He’s been productive in every game he’s played for the Colts. However, if he’s coming back as the team’s #2 running back on another 1-year deal, then the Colts have to find a bonafide #1 workhorse running back in front of him. He can no longer be relied on to be the solution, just a small part of it. The Colts must do everything in their power to ensure that nothing like last season happens again at the running back position, not if they truly consider themselves a contending team.
Oct 5, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw (44) is tackled by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith (51) at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis defeats Baltimore 28-13. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports