Indianapolis Colts draft preview: Running backs

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (April 8, 2016) – Here’s an undeniable reality in the NFL: high-profile free-agent signings drive public interest, but the draft is the lifeblood to building a championship-caliber roster.

Listen to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.

“The draft is where we’re really going to be better,’’ he said. “I think we have to over these next two drafts continue to identify guys, particularly defensively, that are going to be key guys as we go forward.’’

The Colts hold six picks in the April 28-30 draft – they sent their sixth-rounder to Oakland for linebacker Sio Moore – and it’s not hyperbole to insist their status as perennial playoff contender hinges on general manager Ryan Grigson and his personnel staff adequately addressing several roster deficiencies.

That in mind, over the next few weeks we’ll look at areas of concern.

Today: running back.

  • Starter: Frank Gore.
  • Top backups: Robert Turbin, Tyler Varga, Jordan Todman.
  • Key stats: You probably can recite these in your sleep. The Colts haven’t had a running back reach the 100-yard mark in 56 consecutive games, including the playoffs, or had a 1,000-yard rusher since Joseph Addai in 2007. Each is the longest NFL’s longest active streak. And that’s ridiculous. Gore did his part last season. He squeezed out 967 yards running behind a substandard offensive line and nearly ended the dry spell with 98 yards at Houston. But just so no one’s confused, this isn’t so much an issue with who’s running the ball as it is who’s doing the blocking.
  • Degree of concern: Gore isn’t the long-term answer. He’s in the second year of a three-year contract and turns 33 in May. Fresh legs capable of being the feature back are needed.
  • What about: Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State; Derrick Henry, Alabama; Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech; Devontae Booker, Utah; Jordan Howard, Indiana.
  • More about Dixon: He’s the classic watch-the-tape type of prospect. All Dixon did was produce in four seasons at Louisiana Tech. The 5-10, 213-pounder ran for a school-record 4,480 yards and 72 touchdowns in 47 games – he averaged 95.3 yards per game and 5.6 yards per attempt – and added another 972 yards and 15 touchdowns on 88 receptions. His 522 points rank second in NCAA history behind Navy’s Keenan Reynolds (530). Dixon is considered a legitimate three-down back. One red flag to keep in mind is he fumbled 13 times over the last three seasons.
  • More from Dixon: “I used to watch Marshall Faulk a lot. I know people compare me to him. I’m nothing compared to Marshall Faulk. Marshall Faulk is in the Hall of Fame. He’s one of the all-time greats. I’m just trying to follow the path that he did. People always compare me to Marshall Faulk, and he’s a great guy. But another thing: he was a great receiver out of the backfield. That’s one reason why I get that comparison. I feel like my receiving abilities will put me over the top, over some of the running backs (in the draft) that haven’t caught the ball so much in the offense. I feel that receiving the ball out of the backfield is an excellent skill that I’ll possess in the NFL.’’
  • Final word: We’re taking Elliott and Henry out of the mix. Besides, there’s little chance Elliott drops to the Colts at No. 18. The only way Grigson should grab a running back in the first two of rounds is if he’s convinced the guy is special. Then, he’ll draw incredible criticism considering the glaring needs in other areas. After signing Turbin and Todman, Grigson mentioned the Colts are “not done there,’’ a clear indication he’s looking to add talent to the position. He also reminded everyone he was able to land Vick Ballard in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. Injuries sabotaged Ballard’s career with the Colts, but he led them in rushing as a rookie with 814 yards. No one should be surprised if Grigson tries to find the team’s running back of the future in the middle rounds.

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