Turmoil, heavy roster turnover and front office malpractice have haunted the Indianapolis Colts in the post Peyton Manning era. With all these distractions around, many may be forgetting about one of the young gems on their roster, Marlon Mack.
The Colts enter the NFL draft with the third overall pick after a tumultuous 2016. Quarterback Andrew Luck ended up missing the entire season after a long drawn out injury saga. Their offensive line remains one of the worst in the league and despite flashes from back up Jacoby Brisset, who they acquired from New England right before the season, their offense was still lackluster.
The public still doesn’t really know the status of Luck’s shoulder, and whether he will start week 1 in 2018. Luck is still a special talent at QB when he is on the field, and despite a deep QB draft class, the Colts will be looking elsewhere at #3.
Veteran Frank Gore has been a small bright spot for the Colts, but he is a free agent this offseason and the oldest running back in the league is not expected to return. Saquon Barkley, a human highlight reel out of Penn State, has been a hot name in mock drafts for Indianapolis. With so many needs for the Colts on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the front seven, picking Barkley may be a waste.
Especially when they have a player like Mack already on the roster.
Mack was drafted by the Colts in the fourth round of the 2017 draft coming from South Florida. He was drafted to be a perfect compliment to Gore. While Gore does much of his running grinding his way between the tackles, Mack excels bouncing runs to the outside.
The rookie running back had a career day week 5 against the San Francisco 49ers. He accrued 91 yards on 9 carries and scored a touchdown. When he was given adequate room to operate off the edge he can torch a defense for huge plays downfield. He had a few big runs this game off the edge, and they accounted for the bulk of his yardage.
His lone touchdown on the day is a good example of the danger he brings running horizontally.
Mack takes the hand off out of the backfield and initially angles towards his left. A defender comes flying through the gap, and he quickly switches to the right where there is another gap. Once he gets into open space the race is on. He has great vision, and sees another defender coming towards him around midfield. The running back swings his run out wide, around a blocker on the edge. Two defenders end up crashing into each other as he perfectly uses the block to his advantage and finds the sideline and then the end zone for a touchdown.
While that run is the one that shows up on the scoreboard, his preceding rush may be even more impressive.
Mack takes the hand off and instantly runs horizontally towards the right side. The blocking in front of him helps seal the edge and allow him to stretch outside, but the 49ers still have a corner back playing run contain that he must beat. He head fakes as if he is going to turn upfield, but instead swings the run outside, impressively beating a man in space. Mack gets to the second level before being run out of bounds for an 11 yard gain.
The South Florida product works extremely well in open space. He has great open field vision and anticipation, and the agility and burst to take advantage of the opportunities he sees.
While his open field running his great, he is a liability running between the tackles.
On this play Mack had a hole open in front of him and failed to take advantage. He takes the hand off and should have tried to run through the play side A gap that was opening in front of him. Instead, he dances around in the backfield for a second hesitating and most likely looking for an opportunity to bounce the run outside. The hole is quickly closed, and he is swallowed up in the back field for a loss on the play.
Mack seems almost scared of contact at times. Even in the open field, he does not finish runs well and instead is content with getting shoved easily out of bounds or shoved over rather than powering through hits. He measures in at 5’11, 213 lbs, similar to between the tackles back Frank Gore. He is a little slimmer, but he is not small enough to be so hesitant to take hits.
Even some of his runs that are supposed to be swung towards the outside can be ruined by his hesitance to lower his shoulder and try to run through defenders.
While the examples here are all from the San Francisco game, these issues really reared their head week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals. Mack ran between the tackles only 3 times that game and went for -6 yards on those runs (he finished the game with -3 overall on 6 carries).
Overall on the season, he was significantly less efficient running between the tackles than he was off the edge.
Mack obviously loved running to the right end. While his YPC on the left side struggled a bit, he was significantly better at keeping the team ahead of the chains running outside than he was inside. He really struggled running between the guards (he only had 6 rushes towards the left guard and one was for 20 yards, boosting his YPC), and was extremely inefficient running right up the gut of the defense. These runs are still necessary, though, to pull the defense inside and free up space on the peripheral areas.
This can make the Colts offense predictable. If Mack is in the backfield they are either passing the ball, or running outside. If they do run between the tackles you do not have much to worry about anyways. Mack works as a compliment to a back like Frank Gore, who can pound inside all game, but unless he seriously improves he most likely won’t be a feature back in 2018.
So why would this be a reason to not draft Barkley?
The biggest knocks on Barkley coming out of college are that he struggles with the same issues that Mack does. Barkley is a great big play back who can bounce runs to the outside and has home run potential on every play. He seems to struggle running between the tackles, though and has a high negative run % due to his hesitation lowering his shoulder through contact inside.
Barkley will probably be a better player at the pro level than Mack, but they bring the same thing to the table.
Indianapolis has holes all over the roster. Their offensive line is awful and the front seven can use the talents of a player like Bradley Chubb or Roquan Smith at pick #3. They also have the opportunity to trade the pick back to a quarterback needy team, and selecting a multitude of slightly less talented players to help fill more holes.
Barkley being selected at #3 will almost certainly set him to be the feature back for the Colts. Mack would make a terrible compliment for him, make the running game way to predictable and it would mean marginalizing the job of a fourth round pick from only the year before who has shown potential.
Running backs Ronald Jones, Derrius Guice and Nick Chubb all may be better between the tackle runners than Barkley. At least one, if not all three of them, should be on the board once the Colts select in the second round. If they choose to trade back, they can still pick their guy out of that group, and get a few extra picks in the process.
With a player like Mack on the roster, it would be an extremely inefficient use of the Colts resources in rebuilding an awful roster. They need as much versatile talent around Luck as possible once he returns, and can not afford to put good, young players in the dump for a new shiny toy.
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