INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts have a really nice group of running backs — they can pick up chunks of yardage, bust long runs, catch the ball, protect the passer and just about anything else that would be asked of a running back platoon.
But something they’re missing? A hard-hitting enforcer.
If you weren’t already aware, former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield’s son, Elijah, is in this 2019 NFL Draft class as a running back out of the University of Georgia.
I normally don’t like to mention players’ famous parents in the instance they have them unless it’s necessary, but it bears mentioning here — Elijah Holyfield runs like a heavyweight boxer.
Standing 5-10 and weighing in at 217 pounds, Holyfield has a squat, chiseled frame perfect for absorbing hits as well as dishing them out. When he makes contact, he keeps his feet pumping and continues to drive forward. Often times it takes multiple defenders to bring him down once he’s got a full head of steam.
He breaks through arm tackles, and he has good enough balance to not be easily tripped up and to regain his center of gravity after being knocked off balance.
"I think a lot of people think I'm just like a big, physical back (that) don't really do much, don't really have any shake,” Holyfield told reporters on Thursday at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine. “I think I have a little finesse, I have good footwork, and I can make people miss as well."
While Holyfield doesn’t bring elite speed to the table, he does have enough of it to break long runs outside when the middle lacks clearance.
Another one of Holyfield’s strengths also leads to one of his areas of improvement: patience.
He has good vision with the ball in his hands, so he sometimes takes his time while in the backfield to await the proper running lane. Sometimes, this leads to him busting a big gain, but it also occasionally leads to him being swallowed up for minimal-to-no yardage at all. He’s not a backfield dancer; he’s just patient.
Obviously, some people will be concerned about the hits that a runner with that sort of physicality has taken in his career. The silver lining with Holyfield is that 2018 was his first season as a heavy contributor after he’s sat behind the likes of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb in recent years.
Holyfield has just 222 touches to his name in college with 164 of those coming last season.
"I came off a really good season, and I'm fresh and have never been hurt before,” Holyfield commented. “I'm still young and everything like that. Running backs have short shelf lives, so I thought it (declaring early for the draft) was just the best decision."
Holyfield has also shown to be capable in pass protection, which is an underrated, yet critical part of being an NFL running back. It’s also an area in which he said he takes a lot of pride and works hard at during the offseason.
If you aren’t going to be able to keep rushers out of your quarterback’s grill, you won’t be on the field often on passing downs. Holyfield is effective in this area, although he could use a little polish in his technique.
One area that we really don’t know much about regarding Holyfield is catching the ball. He ran out for pass plays often enough, but Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm was typically looking elsewhere.
"Everybody wants to see me catch more,” Holyfield said. “So that's something I'm happy to go out and show tomorrow (Friday), that I can catch and be smooth with that."
On-field drills at the Combine will give us a much better look at Holyfield as a pass-catcher.
FIT WITH THE COLTS
A player with Holyfield’s running style is a match made in Heaven for a rough-and-tumble Colts offensive line who just welcomed Howard Mudd back into the fold as a senior offensive assistant.
This isn’t as obvious as it sounds, but Holyfield would benefit from a productive line like the Colts’. Their revamped line ranked fourth in run blocking last season, according to Football Outsiders.
As primarily a downhill runner, Holyfield doesn’t create a lot of his own plays with agility like someone like Saquon Barkley. Holyfield is a pounder with subtle agility although he does have adequate enough speed to take runs downfield.
Holyfield running behind the lead blocks and the lanes that the Colts’ offensive line creates would be like shooting a cannon downfield, and once he comes in contact with defenders he can power through to pick up extra yardage.
Can’t you just picture this running behind Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly inside the opponent’s 10-yard line?
Whichever team chooses Holyfield in this April’s draft, he has a message for them:
"I'll be the hardest-working guy in the locker room," he said. "I'm a downhill, physical back, but I can also contribute in other ways. I can block, I can catch, I can play on special teams. So I'm just an all-around player."