Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines are rising stars in the Indianapolis Colts’ backfield, but people forget that Marlon Mack’s balanced game gives Indy a unique advantage.
The Indianapolis Colts are among the NFL teams opponents should be concerned about entering the 2021 season.
Star linebacker Darius Leonard leads the Colts’ defense, and their offensive line is supremely talented, with Quenton Nelson anchoring the unit at left guard.
However, running back is a spot of intrigue in Indy.
Marlon Mack has become the forgotten man alongside Jonathan Taylor and Nyehim Hines. His talents make him the perfect complimentary piece, potentially creating a three-headed monster in the Colts’ backfield.
Marlon Mack can give the Indianapolis Colts an unfair advantage at running back.
Entering the 2021 season, Mack’s name is rarely brought up when talking about the talent in Indianapolis’s backfield — disrespectful given his track record and ability.
The USF product was consistently productive in 2018 and ’19 for the Colts. He rushed for 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns in 26 games over that span, only fumbling twice. His 1,091 yards and eight scores in 2019 ranked in the top-10 amongst running backs. Additionally, he’s improved his receiving skills, raising his catch percentage each year since being drafted.
Mack has pulled off some sensational runs, most notably his whirling derby-Esque touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019. When healthy, he’s been the focal point of a Colts offense that established the now-famous mantra: Run the damn ball.
Unfortunately, an Achilles injury in the Colts’ Week 1 loss to Jacksonville last season caused Mack to miss the majority of the year. It was an awful and abrupt end to what was supposed to be a breakout year for then-fourth year back.
Although the situation was heartbreaking for everyone involved, Mack’s injury did allow the Colts to realize the other unique skillsets their other running backs bring.
Taylor was sensational as the primary back for Indianapolis in 2020 while Mack was hurt. His physicality between the tackles and acceleration at the second level allowed him to rack up 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns on 5.0 YPC in his rookie season. The former second-round pick proved to be another draft gem found by general manager Chris Ballard.
Hines was mainly the receiving back last year with 63 catches, 482 yards, and four scores. He also showed his versatility on special teams, excelling as a punt and kick returner. His smaller frame and shiftiness give Colts fans their version of Darren Sproles, a Swiss Army knife who gave defenses fits for more than a decade.
Ballard admitted early in the offseason it’d be hard for the team to keep Mack. Luckily, they were able to bring him back on a one-year, $2.5 million deal, a steal given his all-around talent. It’s not the payday he was hoping for, but it’s fuel for the 25-year-old back. Almost a year removed from the injury, he’s coming in ready to prove he can improve upon his previous form.
If Mack can return from his injury equal or better to his prior state, it gives Indy an unfair advantage in the running game.
Marlon Mack can be an excellent piece in the Colts’ running back puzzle.
Mack has proven that he can be a three-down-back, which is exactly what Indy needs entering this season. His ability to run inside or out without sacrificing speed or talent makes him such a balanced runner. Not to mention his patience works well with an Indy O-Line that mashes people upfront to create running lanes.
The Colts haven’t asked him to catch in recent years, but he can run routes out of the backfield if necessary. He’s displayed his great receiving abilities as a rookie and has been working to improve as a pass-catcher since the 2020 offseason.
Taylor showcased his immense potential as a rookie, which has Indy and its fans excited to see what’s he can do in year two. There’s definitely some recency bias in favor of Taylor, especially since Mack hasn’t played in virtually a year. His fantastic finish to 2020 makes him the projected No. 1 back coming into 2021.
That doesn’t mean Mack won’t get any shine, though.
If anything, two exceptional runners make the Colts’ offense even more potent. A steady rotation of Mack and Taylor will wear down defenses, making them weak by the fourth quarter. What’s better is that both backs stay fresh, lessening the wear and tear they experience every year.
Imagine the numbers Mack can put up behind a more experienced Nelson, another stud back in Taylor, along with new left tackle Eric Fisher when he is 100 percent recovered from his own Achilles tear. The running game for Indy has the potential to be the best it’s been in a long time.
Hines has proven that he can handle the punishment of running between the tackles, but he’s better used as a receiver and on special teams with his 5-foot-9, 196-pound frame. So while Mack improves as a receiver, the Colts can still use Hines out the backfield, only adding more weapons to their arsenal.
With Carson Wentz joining Indy, the Colts may want to ease him in by using the running game often until he’s mastered the offense. That falls right into Mack’s playbook, as he knows the ground-and-pound style Indy loves to utilize.
Overall, Mack is a terrific fit for the Colts system, given his knowledge and well-rounded talents. There’s little reason he won’t show it in 2021.