Faceoff: The Indianapolis Backfield
Clayton Gray: Between Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, and Delone Carter, the Indianapolis running game is a tough one to call. Will all of these guys be Colts this season? Will any of them be viable fantasy options?
Matt Waldman: I think they will all be Colts this year. This season will be an audition process where they will have the added bonus insurance if they suffer a rash of injuries at the position like they did last year. I think Addai is the likely odd-man out in early 2012. However, Donald Brown hasn't done enough to say that with confidence. If Brown can stay healthy, he has the burst and smarts to become a solid runner, especially in a committee situation with a thumper like Carter. Personally, I think Carter is slightly more talented than Addai and Brown and if he comes into camp focused and in shape, he could surprise as the lead back by midseason. I would say Addai should be a nice value if there's enough proof that he's healthy and can stay healthy. Brown doesn't inspire confidence unless we hear consistently rave reviews early in camp. Otherwise, Carter is probably the best value between him and Brown. Carter's pass protection will be the key for him to earn more time than change of pace opportunities and goal line looks. And before we completely write off Addai as the red zone option, let's remember that he has been effective there in the past. This is going to be a pivotal choice for fantasy owners to make, but the Colts backfield is too productive not to consider.
Jeff Pasquino: I agree that all three will be there. Carter was brought in for a reason - namely that the Colts running game was abysmal last year. They finished 29th in rushing, yet still managed double-digit TDs on the ground. Addai has value as a 3rd down /passing down back simply because he blocks well and Peyton Manning trusts him to keep him from getting blown up from the blind side. That alone will keep Addai around, so expect Indianapolis to sign him on an incentive-heavy one- or two-year deal. Donald Brown is still on his rookie contract (signed for under $1M per year through 2013) and the Colts cannot afford the injury bug from taking out both Addai and Carter and leaving no one left at all. Carter should dominate the early down carries and also the short yardage / goal line touches. I've always contended that Addai was an average talent in an above-average situation, and now that the offensive line was not creating as much for him last season that proved to be right. I think Carter is a better talent and should approach about 80% of Addai's numbers from his rookie season, since he should get about 200 touches. I can see about 800-900 total yards (mostly rushing) and around 10 touchdowns.
Jason Wood: The Colts were first in passing yards, attempts and 2nd in TDs last year, and it wasn't how they wanted things to be. Peyton Manning had to throw an astounding 679 times (!) because of his team's inability to run the ball. Last year the Colts managed just 1,483 yards on the ground (29th in the NFL) with a paltry 3.8 yards per rush (27th). With Manning and some of the other core pieces getting toward the end of their elite years, the Colts can ill afford not to DRAMATICALLY improve their ground attack sooner rather than later.
It's for that reason I think a lot of fantasy owners are completely selling Delone Carter short, and hanging on too much hope that Donald Brown will magically turn into the guy they thought they were getting a few years ago when he was draft out of UConn. This is a team that was using Javarris James and signing Dominic Rhodes for a late season boost...so to me Delone Carter will be given EVERY chance to become the difference maker. Does he have the skills? We'll see. I think he needs to prove he can pass block or he'll never get the chance. But if he can pick up the blitz pickup schemes quickly, I honestly think he's going to be the #1 guy from jump street and be worth a lot more than his current ADP suggests.
Mark Wimer: Jason makes great points about the Colts' desire to balance their offense during 2011 - Peyton Manning set a new all-time NFL record for completions last year with 450, while the team was 28th in the NFL with just 393 rushing attempts vs. the teams' 679 passing attempts.
Indianapolis drafted book-end tackles to protect Manning, to be sure, but they were also seeking to upgrade their offensive line across the board - which should make the team more effective at running the ball, too. Anthony Castonzo is regarded as a good fit for the Colts' zone-blocking scheme; Benjamin Ijalana could be moved inside to guard in order to help out with the concerns about the interior of the Colts' offensive line, or stay at OT, depending on how free agency plays out along the offensive line for Indianapolis. If the rookies can step in and play at a high level along the line, then the Colts' average yards per carry should move up above 4.0 yards per carry no matter who is carrying the ball for the Colts this year.
I also agree with Jason that Brown isn't likely to become more than a role-player for the Colts at RB - I think the race for the majority of the Colts' touches at RB is between Addai and Carter as Jason outlined earlier. Carter isn't seen as a strong receiver out of the backfield, though, which is a handicap for him to be a bell-cow, three-down back for the Colts. We may see a 50-50-ish split between Addai and Carter when all is said and done.
Sigmund Bloom: I do expect the Colts to re-sign Joseph Addai, as he is worth more to them than he would be to other teams, so it's in both his and the team's interest for them to stay together. His role on early downs will likely be cut into by Delone Carter, a rugged north-south runner who should add a more physical edge to the running game. Of course, Donald Brown will be around, but you have to wonder whether it will matter? When Brown finally did get healthy last season, the team was more willing to trust Javarris James in short yardage and bring back Dominic Rhodes for yet another go-round. Brown certainly will get his chance to get back in the team's good graces, but the odds are stacked against him after such an underwhelming start to his career. Let's not forget Mike Hart, who seemed to be as prominent, if not more than Brown when Joseph Addai got banged up. Like Carter, he's a no nonsense runner, and unlike Carter, he has three years of experience in the Colts system. If he hadn't hurt his ankle vs. Houston in week 8, he might have been the breakout RB the Colts have been looking for. Hart averaged over five yards a carry in three games that he touched the ball more than ten times, so it's fair to say that he deserves another look somewhere, even if he is cut from the Colts in a numbers game.
At this point, Joseph Addai is probably the best value in PPR leagues, and Delone Carter in standard leagues. Both are worth drafting as #4 or #5 running backs, but don't spend more than one pick on the Colts backfield, as it should prove to be a moving target again this year.