INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts invested heavily in the power portion of their offense last offseason.
After acquiring offensive linemen Quenton Nelson, Matt Slauson and Braden Smith, they then added running backs Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins in the 2018 NFL Draft to team with Marlon Mack.
Behind some outstanding offensive line play, the Colts' runners were able to make some explosive plays, leading to a potent rushing attack
- Started 10-of-12 games (2-of-2 in the playoffs), 195 carries for 908 yards (4.7 avg) and nine touchdowns, two fumbles lost
- 17 receptions (26 targets) for 103 yards (6.1 avg) and one touchdown
What was bubbling to the surface during his rookie season in 2017 came to fruition in 2018 when Mack had a standout season as a full-time starter.
After missing four games early on with hamstring and ankle injuries, Mack rebounded to set new single-season career highs in carries, rushing yards, yards per carry, rushing touchdowns, touchdowns from scrimmage (10) and Pro Football Focus grade (70.3).
Mack racked up five 100-yard rushing games, and his 148 yards against the Houston Texans in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs were not only the most given up by the Texans all season — they hadn't even allowed a 100-yard rusher — but were also the most by a single Colts player in a playoff game in franchise history.
The second-year tailback also became just the third player in team history to have multiple games with 125 or more rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns within a single season, joining Eric Dickerson (1987) and Edgerrin James (1999, 2005).
Mack was incredibly valuable to the Colts down the stretch as they made their push for the playoffs and then in the postseason itself. He had a touchdown in five of the last six games and had at least 100 yards rushing in three of them.
- Started four-of-16 games (one-of-two in the playoffs), 85 carries for 314 yards (3.7 avg) and two touchdowns
- 63 receptions (81 targets) for 425 yards (6.7 avg) and two touchdowns
Hines is a running back only in title, as the rookie fourth-round pick is really more of an offensive weapon for the Colts.
"Nyheim started off as I think a guy we knew we could get the ball out of the backfield in some different roles as far as his receiving ability. I think Coach (Tom) Rathman has done such a good job with him of just developing him as a complete running back. We like him," Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni told reporters in December.
As Sirianni mentioned, Hines has become an all-around back who is capable of doing all the duties of a three-down back — carrying the ball, catching it and protecting the passer.
"He's a great change of pace guy that's just got some different type of speed and different type of quickness that it's hard for the defense to account for. He really has grown and we have needed him too. Just for that change of pace back, so he's not just in there on passing situations. We hand him the football and he can do something with it," Sirianni continued. "I think he has made leaps and bounds this year as a runner."
Hines finished the season with the third-most receptions by a rookie in franchise history, catching at least five passes in five games along the way. Out of 148 touches, he picked up 46 first downs (31.1 percent).
- Started three-of-16 games (zero-of-two in the playoffs), 60 carries for 336 yards (5.6 avg) and one touchdown, two fumbles lost
- 16 receptions (17 targets) for 85 yards (5.3 avg)
Capable of running between the tackles, Wilkins earned the Colts' starting running back spot early in the year when Mack was on the mend. As the season progressed and Mack returned and continued to perform at a high level, the Colts weren't able to get Wilkins on the field perhaps as much as they would have liked.
Regardless, Wilkins was able to make the most of his opportunities, as nine of his 60 carries went for at least 10 yards as well as one of his 16 receptions. Among all NFL players with at least 60 carries, Wilkins' yards-per-carry average (5.6) ranked second among running backs and fifth in the NFL. Three of the five other players were quarterbacks, and the other running back was C.J. Anderson (6.0 avg) of the Los Angeles Rams, who made an incredible late-season run.
Williams was the mystery man of the Colts backfield, as he was highly regarded by coaches and the front office but was unable to see any game action. He was signed to the practice squad in Week 5 and was elevated to the active roster in Week 12.
"Yeah, Jonathan — he has been with us I think about five weeks now. He shows that he is a powerful back, he has got good feet, good vision. I see that he has good hands out of the backfield," Sirianni told reporters late in the season about the type of player Williams is.
"There are going to be injuries and there are going to be guys that are bumped and bruised. Got to have a guy — I think Chris Ballard and his staff have done a great job of having guys in-house ready or on our practice squad ready for if we do need them. Your hope is everyone stays healthy throughout the entire year, but that's just not reality. So it's good the way Chris and his staff handle the practice squad that we have a guy like Jonathan ready to step up when he is called upon," Sirianni said.
Ballard provided the backstory to acquiring Williams:
"I like our group (of running backs). And we actually didn't get to see Williams, the fourth; we just couldn't get him up. And we actually tried to sign him early in the season when Marlon was hurt — Marlon was hurt the, what, first three, four games of the year — and we tried to get (Williams) … (New Orleans) cut him, we didn't have a spot on the roster, so we were trying to get him on our practice squad and thought we'd be able to move him Week 1 to play, and he ended up staying in New Orleans. ... We think he's got some talent, too."