INDIANAPOLIS — When the Indianapolis Colts selected running back Jordan Wilkins in the fifth round of this spring's NFL Draft, many outside of the organization overlooked the move.
After all, the Colts already had a budding star at the position in second-year playmaker Marlon Mack. Plus, they drafted another running back in the fourth round this year when they picked Nyheim Hines.
Four months later, injuries — plus a suspension to Robert Turbin — have had their way with the Colts' running backs this summer, but it has created an opportunity for Wilkins to perhaps have a larger workload than initially expected.
Mack — listed as the team's starting running back on the unofficial depth chart released Tuesday — has been out for almost a month with a hamstring injury. His status for Sunday's regular season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals has been in question ever since.
Wilkins is listed directly behind Mack on the unofficial depth chart, and if Mack cannot get back in time for Sunday then the team may very well utilize Wilkins as the starter.
"Well, that was my goal," Wilkins told the media this week when asked if he thought starting could already be a possibility. "Obviously, things kind of paved the way for me to be in this opportunity. But like I said, I'm extremely excited and whatever role this team asks of me, I'm going to go out and compete at 100 percent, give it my all and hopefully make plays for this team."
Wilkins certainly isn't the only talented running back on the Colts roster, but his skillset as a three-down back — running, receiving and pass protecting — is what could be the difference between being a lead back and being more of a chess piece type.
Listed at 6-1 and 216 pounds, Wilkins has the size and requisite physicality to pick up the tough yards between the tackles. That was evident in the Colts' first preseason game this summer against the Seattle Seahawks when Wilkins had two crucial runs late in the game that helped the Colts hang on to win.
He also has excellent vision and balance — the latter being an underrated but critical component of being a successful running back. They are traits that gave Colts general manager Chris Ballard visions of former Chicago Bears star running back Matt Forte when scouting Wilkins.
Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni has also raved about Wilkins, saying during training camp, "One of the best compliments I think you can ever give as a coach — and I remember my dad used to say when we were growing up — like 'I don't know how to explain it, but this guy is just a good football player.'
"I think that's a phenomenal compliment to give somebody," Sirianni continued. "That's how we feel about Jordan, like I don't know how he's getting this done every time, but he is."
With Turbin being suspended for the first four games of the regular season, the Colts will need to find a way to replace his abilities as a short-yardage runner, a pass protector and as a receiver out of the backfield.
Many feel Wilkins can step into that role.
"I hate what happened to Turbin; he's out for four games. (But) he'll be back ready to rock and roll after that," Wilkins said. "In the meantime, I have to take care of my opportunity, go out and accept it and play to my best ability."
Whatever role Wilkins takes on early this season, he has seen plenty of reps during the preseason to prepare. He was in for 72 offensive snaps in the first three games, leading the team in touches (32) and yards from scrimmage (132).
Wilkins sat with several other key players for the Colts' fourth and final preseason game.
"I'm just trying to take it one play at a time with whatever role I'm given, whether that's to start or it's a backup role and I come in later in the game," Wilkins said about his regular season debut this Sunday. "Whatever it is, I'm gonna accept it and give 100 percent effort and make plays."