Colts Draft: Breaking Down the ‘Backs


The Indianapolis Colts will be in the market for a running back this offseason, and it’s quite possible that the team will look toward the draft to acquire a starting caliber rusher. Fortunately for the Colts, this year’s draft class features several intriguing options at the halfback position.

While the team should be weary about drafting a running back in this year’s first round after suffering through the “Trent Richardson Experience“, in which they surrendered last year’s 1st round pick, it would actually make quite a deal of sense to find the long-term answer at the position early in this year’s draft in either Round 2 or 3.

There will be some talented running backs to choose from including: Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Boise State’s Jay Ajayi, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, Miami’s (Fla.) Duke Johnson, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, Minnesota’s David Cobb, and Northern Iowa’s David Johnson.

Here, we take a look at this running back group’s recently performed individual measurables this past Saturday at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis:

Looking over the measurables, and small school sleeper David Johnson out of Northern Iowa really stands out on paper. While it should be noted that neither Georgia’s Todd Gurley nor Indiana’s Tevin Coleman performed in the majority of drills because of their respective injuries, Johnson actually recorded the fastest forty-time in this group at 4.50 despite coming in at a big bodied 224 pounds. Johnson also recorded the second best vertical jump (41.5 in.) and 3rd best 3-cone drill (4.27), while besting everyone on the bench press (25 reps).

Still, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon lived up to his billing as either a late first or early 2nd round pick, as he posted exceptional measurables across the board. His forty-time was only 2nd to Johnson in this group at 4.52, and he had some of the better numbers in this group in each category. Gordon wasn’t “a beast” by any means on Saturday in his performed measurables, but he didn’t hurt his stock either as widely the top running back in this year’s draft class.

The only other thing that really stands out is that it seems reasonable to expect Miami’s Duke Johnson to run a bit faster than his 4.54 forty-time at a smaller 5’9″, and 206 pounds. Johnson’s numbers were a bit underwelming all things considered given his smaller stature.

However, fortunately for Johnson and others, there’s more to it than “simply running fast with gym shorts on”, so we’ll take a look at each running back’s collegiate production:

A couple of quick-hitters:

  • Unlike his combine measurables, Melvin Gordon clearly “blows up” here to the naked eye. His 7.54 ypc is tied for the best in this running back group, but he also had a whopping 343 carries factoring in to it. If that wasn’t enough, he led in both rushing yards at 2,587 and rush touchdowns with 29 scores, behind a powerful Wisconsin run blocking offensive line last season.
  • While the aforementioned “injured backs” in Todd Gurley and Tevin Coleman weren’t able to participate in this weekend’s combine much at all, their yards per carry average of 7.41 and 7.54 are incredibly impressive and should help them in talent evaluators’ eyes regardless.

Dec 31, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Boise State Broncos running back Jay Ajayi (27) waves during warm ups before the first quarter against the Arizona Wildcats in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl at Phoenix Stadium. The Broncos won 38-30. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Jay Ajayi, where have you been all my life? The Boise State Broncos back probably doesn’t get enough national recognition, yet he was an absolute workhorse last season with a leading 347 carries to go along with his 1,823 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns (2nd to only Gordon). His 535 receiving yards are also only 2nd to the previously discussed workout warrior in David Johnson.

  • To show them some love, both Ameer Abdullah and Duke Johnson‘s 6.10 and 6.83 yards per carry average were plenty “healthy” and should have more weight in scouts’ eyes than their so-so performed measurables.
  • Not saying they’re bad players or can’t help a team, but neither T.J. Yeldon nor David Cobb really stand out in this group.
  • Sleeper Alert: Still intrigued on David Johnson, his yards per carry average isn’t great among this group at 5.41 ypc. However, his 1,553 rushing yards on 287 carries for 17 touchdowns is pretty impressive, especially given the aforementioned 535 receiving yards he also amassed.

All-in-all, it’s a very talented group of running backs this year, even if there’s no “Adrian Peterson” that is a once in a decade type talent. Melvin Gordon is highly regarded as the best running back in this year’s class, and rightfully so, given his exceptional measurables and production on the football field.

The jury is still out on talented runners like Todd Gurley and Tevin Coleman, as they look to overcome injuries in their ongoing rehabilitation. In Gurley’s case, he may have had a legitimate chance to unseat Gordon as the 1st running back taken in this year’s draft class, if he could’ve “wowed” at his Pro-Day, but it looks like he’s not participating as he’s not ready.

However, in the meantime, one can’t help but notice a running back like Jay Ajayi who was a true workhorse last season with Boise State and posted pretty good measurables overall.

Most impressive to me though was Northern Iowa’s David Johnson. Having already impressed in the Senior Bowl, Johnson could be a small school sleeper that is steadily moving up draft boards. He had one of the best combine workouts in my opinion among all running backs this year and could be “quite a get” for the Colts in the mid-rounds of the draft. Of course, I’m not the only one who now feels this way:

Aug 30, 2014; Iowa City, IA, USA; Northern Iowa Panthers running back David Johnson (7) is tripped up in the end zone for a touchdown by Iowa Hawkeye John Lowermilk (37) at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa beat Northern Iowa 31-23. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports