INDIANAPOLIS — Chris Ballard isn't big on outwardly comparing draft prospects to established NFL stars, but he couldn't help but see a little bit of Matt Forte when watching Jordan Wilkins' college film.
Forte — who was a standout running back with the Chicago Bears, where Ballard was a scout and, eventually, Director of Pro Scouting — shares a similar build to Wilkins (about 6-1, 215 pounds), but it's the two backs' running styles that really caught the now-Colts general manager's attention.
"Jordan Wilkins, now he is an interesting runner," Ballard told reporters after taking Wilkins in the fifth round of April's NFL Draft. "I don't ever want to put names (on prospects), but his run style reminded me a lot of Matt Forte. We thought he had as good of vision as any back in the draft."
Wilkins used that vision to excel week in and week out against some of the toughest competition in college football at Mississippi, where he played in 38 games and totaled 279 carries for 1,751 yards and 14 touchdowns, while also adding 32 receptions for 322 yards and another score.
Wilkins enjoyed an especially-fruitful final season, where he earned Second Team All-Southeastern Conference honors from Pro Football Focus after carrying the ball 155 times for 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns. His 6.5 yards per carry ranked second in the SEC and 13th nationally.
So how'd he do it? Take it straight from Colts area scout Jamie Moore.
"He's kind of got a little bit of everything," Moore said of Wilkins. "He's a real smooth athlete — he's a real smooth runner, probably moving faster than you think he is. He's got really good vision; he's probably got some of the best eyes in this draft class at the running back position, which is one of those things … like, you can always quantify how explosive they are with the athletic numbers, but the eyes and the vision, that's something that you can only really see on tape."
Wilkins' vision and patience should serve him well with the Colts, who have committed to a "running back by committee" approach moving forward.
While the team already has a home run threat in Marlon Mack, a veteran grinder in Robert Turbin and an explosive weapon all over the field in Nyheim Hines, Wilkins brings more of a traditional approach to the position.
"I think he's one of those guys that kind of flew under the radar a little bit this year, and we're happy to have him," Moore said. "And he's going to complement Marlon (Mack), Nyheim (Hines) and those guys, so it'll be a nice, crowded backfield, which Coach (Frank) Reich has preached, like, 'We're going to use these guys. Here's how we can use all these different guys.'"
Wilkins said the competition aspect at the professional level is something he's encountered his whole football career.
He's embracing the chance to not only show what he can do individually, but to get the Colts back on the winning track — and soon.
"I've always competed my whole life. I've never had it easy, so it's just another step down the road. And (I've) gotta keep working, 'cause I'm not where I want to be yet," Wilkins told Colts.com's Caroline Cann after being selected by the team in April.
"We're all going to be out there grinding, working — giving all the effort we can for the fans, for the city," Wilkins continued. "And we're going to turn this program around and be one of the top contenders in the (league). So I'm all excited. I know we've got good things coming."
2018 NFL Draft - 5th Round 169th Overall - JORDAN WILKINS