Last week I took a look at the receivers closely evaluating free agent Donnie Avery. Maybe I was harsh but I suggested it's time for the Colts to look for a better option at wideout.
This week we tackle a tougher scenario: Dammit Donald.
Donald Brown, much maligned by media and fans, has one year left on his rookie deal. While Vick Ballard emerged as a standout rookie talent and long-term prospect Brown's future became increasingly cloudy as his injury history piled up and he missed six games in 2012. Brown is slotted to make $1.7M in 2013--he'll count $2.2M against the cap with his bonus. With an abundance of cap space that kind of hit is considerably less valuable than a roster spot.
Pro Football Focus ranked Ballard and Brown very similarly in elusiveness, breakaway percentage and pass blocking. They both averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Ballard fumbled 3 times while Brown didn't cough up the ball at all. Ballard carried the ball nearly twice as much as Brown however.
If these guys aren't that different then why are fans upset with Brown and tumbling head over heels for Ballard? Does the team feel the same? Despite fan outrage, indifference or preference Brown remains a viable running back when healthy. Should the Colts keep or cut Brown?
Part of the answer can be found in draft position. Brown was a late first round pick. First round running backs rarely are worth their selection but there's also not much value to be found late in the first round when compared to the salary differential. Ballard, a fifth round rookie, is clearly a tremendous value and possibly one of the great late-round picks of this draft.
From a cap standpoint it's a moot question: Brown's cap hit isn't big enough to matter one way or the other.
From a roster standpoint it's clear he's behind Ballard and will remain there for the rest of his career in Indy unless injury dictates otherwise. The other options are Mewelde Moore, Deji Karim, Delone Carter, Alvester Alexander, Davin Meggett, some possible free agents or a rookie. Do the Colts feel strongly enough about those players to let Brown walk?
Aside from Ballard and Brown the Colts running backs haven't produced much. Only Carter comes close according to Pro Football Focus in terms of productivity. The Colts should feel much better going with Ballard, Brown and Carter than Ballard, Carter and Moore or Karim if they consider productivity.
Looking at free agents it's not much better. Free agent running backs aren't usually a great deal. It's like buying a used bed--lord knows how much further it will go or how squeaky it'll be. That said there are some names out there that are interesting like Danny Woodhead, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis and Jacob Hester. None of those guys are going to be a long-term answer but could spell Ballard. For a changeup a guy like Brandon Jacobs might even be possible.
The only real question about Brown should be whether he can be on the field enough to platoon with Ballard. If he's healthy then he's clearly the kind of back that can change games, provide excellent pass protection and be effective in the running game despite playing behind an offensive line that was 17th in the league in rushing efficiency according to Football Outsiders. The risk is huge as Brown has played only one full season and has outlived the average career for running backs already.
Donald Brown won't likely spend another season in Indianapolis possibly even in the NFL. Should the Colts dump him it's a clear sign they don't believe he can be on the field enough to help Ballard more than the other guys available.
Verdict: GO (but he should stay)
I'll be the first to admit that I don't have any advanced metrics to back up my argument. BUT, I say keep Brown for at least the last year of his contract. How much harm could it do to give the guy a shot with a (presumably and hopefully) strong O-Line. Can't explain it, just have a gut feeling that with Pep, and an actual O-Line we could see Donald have a break out year. Plus with Ballard and Brown, this is one position that isn't in need of immediate addressing. Unlike a lot of other positions. If we get rid of him, then we do have to address this area, even if we go with Ballard, we will need more depth.Just want this to be on the record so that if we keep Brown in 13 I can say I told you so ;) Last thought at 2 mil wouldn't he also be fairly inexpensive vs FA or DP? I would be pretty surprised to see us draft a RB in the draft just based on how much need we have on the other side of the ball. I hope we draft heavily on D this year, and if we can have even a fraction of the success that we did from our last draft class, we will be well on our way to dominating the NFL for another decade :) And for the love of God, get rid of Avery and sign or late round a WR! Wayne won't keep defying his age for too much longer and without him he will be pretty thin at WR. Next year with Wayne, Hilton, Fleener, and Allen; Luck will have a lot of weapons to go to... But one more solid WR could make a HUGE difference.
Id rather Brown be on my team then some beat up has been free agent! Theres a reason why 95% of all free agents are free agents. Its because they have issues off the field or they are physicaly not capable of playing at high level anymore! Build through the draft and try to find value picks.
With Pep coming aboard, I think it makes even more sense to keep him. I'd use him more like how the Saints used to use Reggie Bush, though -- Brown clearly can't hold up and stay healthy as a starting back, but giving him 8-12 touches a game and getting him involved in the passing game makes a lot of sense to me.
Brown has maligned himself by being too hesitant hitting the line, and trying to outrun contact. He has been twice benched because rookies outplayed him,and shows off great speed, by running side to side. We will not even discuss him being soo fragile, which is hard to fathom with his lack blocking--Yea we need him?
@Blue@Heart Generally it helps to actually watch the player in question in the last few years before you comment on whether or not to keep him.
Your right, and after revisiting Every down I have seen him play( that was limited by his-china doll injuries and getting benched alot) I had overlooked, some very critical drops- inspite of most of his passes being of the drop off type. C'om on man! He was blessed speed--maybe track?
@Blue@Heart @Heart The line was pretty mediocre last year, so he can clearly function without a great line. Even an average one shows his productivity. Also his runs last year were actually slightly better without a full back, and who would these blocking TEs be? Eldridge played sparingly, hurt, and like shit when he was in. Tamme and Clark have not and never will be blocking TEs. There were some other castoffs who played but they were castoffs for a reason.
Either way, Brown is set up to do just fine with the new coordinator who favors a power run game with a FB and a mauling line. If Brown gets day light, he is gone.
Sooo Brown can only be good if the line is great? The only reason he had any numbers in 2011(two wins) were because we could do nothing else--had a fullback--blocking tightends---and you are betting the farm on that? Really? By the way the only reason he got to play was due to Carters fumbles--Brown would never lose the ball trying for extra yards, he never tries that hard.
@Blue@Heart @Heart He definitely had a worse season this year than last, but this line was so horrendous that I don't think anyone can blame him for that. Also notice how his replacements stunk up the joint and he was given his spot back, excepting the 2010 Jets game because that was the end of the season.
Brown's 2011 season ranked 5th in DVOA. You don't do that by running side to side or dancing. Yes his success rate isn't as good as one would hope but he ran with speed and power in 2011. His pass blocking has gotten much better and he's the best blocking back on the team now. Injuries and bad line play have heavily affected career and he wasn't worth a first round pick, but it's stupid to pretend he's not capable of being effective.
I say keep him and sign woodhead. Woodhead is a similar back to Brown, but a little more well rounded.
I still see Brown having big potential with a competent offensive line and with Pep's system, he might have more opportunities.
As for Woodhead, I see him as a faster version of Addai. Jack-of-all-trades type of back and can be extremely valuable in third down situations
I dunno - you guys tell me: I watched Brandon Jacobs and he is/was a bruiser, but he's getting up there in years I think Is it worth pursuing someone like that?
Unfortunately, I've always liked Brown, and given that he was maligned fairly soon after starting player, I've always felt like folks were harder on him than other more deserving players (deserving of hardship). He started out a poor blocker, but since has turned into a very good one. He has a ton of speed when he gets in the open. He catches the ball very well. If there will be a West Coast offense in play next year, Brown would be a back that you would want to dump a pass to, no? And then you still have Ballard to crush it up the middle.
@buymymonkey Jacobs was cut by SF for his behavior. Then he said he would only play for the Giants. Kind of a strange dude.
Improve the guard to guard interior of the line and Brown flourishes. Our line interior had to be one of the NFL's worst for both pass blocking and run blocking. We were, frankly, overpowered in most games. Get Andy Levitre in free agency, if possible and economical, and go a long way to improving passing and running.
I hate to see the Colts spend much money on some nimrod like Hillis. If the're cheap, fine. If not, stick with Brown and spend on the OL where it would help all the running backs.
@indyjoshmo Agreed. The Colts have enough holes in the roster already without creating another by cutting Brown. (Unless they think he's too much of an injury risk.)
It's idiotic to suggest that these guys aren't that different. Brown is a boom or bust runner. When there are good lanes, he is capable of knocking off big runs and he occasionally has a breakout run that helps negate those runs where he tries to make somethingout of nothing and fails.
Ballard has a non stop motor and always fights for yards. He seems to have a more decisive cut and grinds out yards more than he breaks huge chunks. He seems to play tough as opposed to Browns style of play which comes off as soft. I don't know if cutting Brown is the right answer. I guess he stays on the roster as long as a better option is not available.
The "if he's healthy" tag on any player makes me cringe. Carter may be on that list too. Potential only counts when they're not in the tub, right? Isn't it amazing how fast RB became a devalued position in the NFL?
You can't rate the offensive line as 17th in the league for rushing efficiency from FOA. That stat takes into account the RBs and blocking by the entire offense. You should like primarily at Adjusted Line Yards, as a whole and by zone, and then secondarily at stats like power success % and stuff rate.
Colts were 26th in ALY. They ranked 14th in runs to the LT or Left side, 30th up the middle, 14th at the RT, and 26th around the right end. That jives pretty well with everyone but Costanzo sucking at run blocking. Surprisingly the Colts ranked #2 in power success % (3/4th and short converted for a TD or first down), but it includes the QB so they takes away some of the sheen. Colts were 30th in the league in stuff rate though, so it's more of a matter of the RBs getting hit at or behind the line than it is skill or physical abilities.
Frankly it doesn't really make sense to jettison Brown since any FA we will be getting will either have injury issues of their own or will have been left unsigned for a reason. Rookie RBs won't know the offense as well nor will they be as good at pass pro (useful now that Arians is in AZ). Also the 3 year RB stat is kind of misleading too. A lot of those players barely got into the league in the first place. If you isolated relatively high drafted running backs or RBs with a minimum of NFL carries, the median career length probably goes way up. Most of the guys retire because they aren't good enough at either ST or running the ball to stick around. Injuries have to play a part, but you have to be good enough to get on the field to keep getting contracts.
Donald Brown needs a fullback. I've always said this.
Funny, this coming season the Colts will most likely employ a fullback in there new system, but Donald probably will be gone. It's a shame, a damn shame................