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NFL: JUL 26 Indianapolis Colts Training Camp

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If you’re a fan of the Indianapolis Colts, once again you find the team you follow embroiled in drama before the season starts. 

The deteriorating relationship between the team and their most explosive player, All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor, has cast a shadow over a training camp otherwise filled with the optimism that an exciting rookie QB like Anthony Richardson brings. Taylor, who is seeking a new contract, is currently on the active/PUP list and has requested a trade. There are rumors that the Colts are considering putting him on the non-football injury list, which would null his salary for 2023.  

The focus on the Colts running back room only intensified Monday, when it was reported that backup running back Zack Moss had suffered a broken forearm and will miss at least 6 weeks. That leaves the Colts with 4 remaining backs; Deon Jackson, rookie Evan Hull, Jake Funk and undrafted free agent Zavier Scott. Jackson leads the group with 267 career rushing yards and 2 touchdowns, to go with 209 receiving yards and 1 touchdown. 

The Colts hold almost all of the leverage, and there is still every chance that Taylor will suit up for the team this season. However, the injury to Moss, combined with the lack of experience remaining in the running back room, is certainly a concern. If the Colts decide to trade Taylor, or if he doesn’t play at least to start the season, will the Colts bring in another running back? 

To start, let’s look at some of the notable names that are still available.

PLAYER                                 2022 STATISTICS  

Dalvin Cook – 264 rushes for 1,173 yds, 8 TD’s/39 receptions for 295 yds, 2 TD’s.

Ezekiel Elliott – 231 rushes for 876 yds, 12 TD’s/17 receptions for 92 yds, 0 TD’s 

Leonard Fournette – 189 rushes for 668 yds, 3 TD’s/73 receptions for 523 yds, 3 TD’s. 

Kareem Hunt – 123 rushes for 468 yds, 3 TD’s/35 receptions for 210 yds, 1 TD 

Kenyan Drake – 93 rushes for 442 yds, 3 TD’s/15 receptions for 70 yds, 1 TD 

Marlon Mack – 16 rushes for 84 yds, 1 TD/8 receptions for 99 yds, 1 TD 

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears

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Cook, who is 27, showed he was still a quality player last season by playing in all 17 games and going over 1,000 yards for the 4th time in a row. Despite this, the Vikings still saw fit to release him 2 years after he had signed a 5-year deal worth $63 million. Elliot, 28, was released by the Cowboys 4 years into a 6-year contract worth $90 million. He was a threat in goal line situations last year, however he finished with a rush average of 3.8 yards per carry, finishing under 4.0 for the first time since he entered the league. Both could still be productive backs, but their age, combined with what type of deal they might desire, could rule them out. 

Fournette, like Elliott, is 28 and was also selected 4th-overall when he entered the league. Unlike Elliott, Fournette has never quite lived up to that lofty draft status. His best moment in the league came after he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020; during the playoffs, Fournette went off for 300 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns, to go with 18 receptions, 148 yards and a touchdown, across 4 games that saw the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers win their 2nd Super Bowl in team history. Outside of that 4-game stretch, which earned him the nickname “Playoff Lenny”, Fournette has been decidedly average. He has only gone over 1,000 yards twice in career, both when he was with Jacksonville. With his production seemingly on the decline, it could be hard to imagine Chris Ballard bringing him in. 

Hunt, a 3rd-round selection by the Chiefs in 2017, was a star on the rise before video was released in his 2nd year that showed him kicking a woman in a hotel. The Chiefs would release Hunt, who would sign with the Browns the following season. Despite showing some flashes, he hasn’t come close to being the type of player he was in Kansas City. Drake, a 3rd-round choice from 2016, is the oldest back on this list at 29. He had several solid years with Miami, before having his breakout season in 2020 with the Cardinals. He finished that season with 955 yards and 10 touchdowns, before signing with the Raiders that offseason. Health and consistency have plagued him since, and since 2020, he has only rushed for 696 yards. 

Rounding out this list is a familiar face for Colts fans. Mack, 27, was drafted in the 4th round by the Colts in 2017, Chris Ballard’s first as the Colts general manager. His best years in Indy came in 2018, when he had 908 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns, and 2019, when he went for 1,091 yards and 8 touchdowns. He would get injured in the first game of the 2020 season, clearing the way for the emergence of one Jonathan Taylor. Mack would resign with the Colts for 2021, but he would only play in 6 games, finishing with 101 yards and no touchdowns, before leaving the team in free agency.  

Mack, who split his time last year between the 49ers and the Broncos, isn’t the same player he was in 2018. Still, there would be some irony if he ended up replacing the very player that replaced him back in 2020.  

Colts RB-Marlon Mack gets ready to run against the Jaguars.

Source: INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – NOVEMBER 17: Marlon Mack #25 of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 17, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Looking at the current running backs still available, one can see the clear evidence of how the market has cooled. There are some big-time names available in Elliott and Cook, and yet they remain unsigned. Neither may be game changers anymore, but both are quality players who at the very least showed they can still contribute.  

So, will the Colts sign anyone?  

At this point, anything is possible. The safe bet is that Taylor eventually puts on the Horseshoe for at least 1 more season; he would be losing out on a significant amount of money if he decided to hold out this year, money that he may not have the chance to make again. The Colts obviously hope that this becomes the case, as he would be instrumental in helping develop Anthony Richardson. None of the players on that list are nearly as much of a game-changing back as Taylor is. 

Of course, based on the Colts unwillingness to give Taylor a long-term, high-priced extension, they may not think they need a back like that. Not anymore.  

During Monday’s edition of The Ride With JMV, John spoke to James Boyd of The Athletic and Jake Query from the morning show Kevin & Query about Jonathan Taylor. Listen to those conversations below, and tune into The Ride With JMV weekdays from 3-6pm on 93.5/107.5 The Fan! 

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