Controversy, thy name is the Indianapolis Colts‘ running back situation.
OK, sorry. I’ll table that. But, like, people are going to be talking about it.
Down 17-6 at the half, the Colts came storming back to score a 30-27 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night thanks in large part to their running game. Andrew Luck scored a go-ahead 11-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and an Indy back scored Indy’s other two second-half touchdowns in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
Unfortunately, the Colts running back was the one they spent a 2006 first-round pick on—not the one who cost them their pick next May. Taking over for an ineffective Trent Richardson for much of the second half, Donald Brown rushed for 80 yards on 14 carries, including touchdowns of six and 11 yards on near-identical 11-play drives from Indianapolis.
Brown proved integral down the stretch, toting the ball seven plays on the Colts’ final scoring drive, which drained nearly five minutes off the clock and caused Tennessee to use its final two timeouts.
Richardson came in for two plays on that drive, rushing twice for three yards. It was indicative of his night-long and season-long struggles. The No. 3 overall pick just one year ago, Richardson has looked dead on arrival since his trade from the Cleveland Browns. He’s yet to log a game with more than 60 yards rushing, now has four straight games where he’s failed to record a carry longer than eight yards and has generally looked plodding and hesitant, without any of the power that made him so effective at Alabama.
Sooo…what gives? Not that anyone, like, cares about the Colts or anything. That’s irrelevant. We’re here to answer the important stuff, the kind of stuff that keeps us up at night, clinging to the bottom of your bowl of buffalo chicken dip and wondering where everything in life could have gone so wrong.
Fantasy football, of course. Most prudent owners have long dumped Richardson in the trash heap. But Pep Hamilton has made it clear all season he’s determined to establish a run game, effectiveness be damned.
Could Brown suddenly become an every-week flex play? Unlikely. For more than one reason.
From the outside, the answer seems pretty obvious. Richardson is bad, Brown is less bad. You go with the less bad player and hope for the best.
However, the Colts’ coaching staff finds itself in the most classic of situations. Their overzealous management made a questionable trade, one that many smart people were unsure about at the time. The deal has gone from questionable to an absolute embarrassment in short time, with Richardson receiving about as much Twitter slander as any player in the league.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Indianapolis gave up a first-round pick for Richardson just a couple months ago. With the way smart teams hoard their picks nowadays—the NFL‘s rookie wage scale has made all draft picks, but especially first-rounders, more valuable than ever—giving up even a mid-20s selection for a running back is a big deal. And as the Colts continue to fortify their public relations wall around the Richardson trade, the spotlight will only increase.
Jim Irsay is a lot of things. A lot of good things. He just doesn’t strike me as the type of dude who will allow his highly touted, high-cost horse to sit on the bench—even if he’s ineffective. Richardson will be at least somewhat a factor on this offense for the rest of the season barring injury.
And that alone strikes a deep stake into Brown’s fantasy value.
But, seriously, let’s not act like the Donald Brown road isn’t already well paved. This is “Dammit, Donald!” Brown we’re talking about here. The same guy who averaged a Richardsonian 3.9 yards per carry last season and didn’t have a rush over 20 yards in 108 carries. The same guy who has been on the Colts’ injury report so much in his career that I can only imagine they’ve given him emeritus status. Brown has never rushed for more than five touchdowns in a season and this is just the third time he’s ever gotten to three.
This isn’t an awesome football player we’re talking about. Should the Colts bench Richardson in Brown’s favor, they would merely be going from one of the league’s worst starting backs to “well, I guess that was watchable.”
Who is the Indianapolis Colts’ best running back?
Who is the Indianapolis Colts’ best running back?
With the dearth of running back talent around the league, Brown is probably someone worth a pickup. Outside of leagues with strange rules, every fantasy roster has a player whom you’re hanging onto more out of pure laziness than any plans of using him.
Drop that guy for Brown and monitor the situation, but I wouldn’t go in expecting much.
At best, the Colts will turn this into a timeshare situation. With bye weeks coming to a close in the not-to-distant future, the need to rely on players at the Brown-Richardson level will dissipate. And if they don’t, well, you’re probably not making the playoffs anyway.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: