Written By: Avi Vandersluis
In the wake of Donald Brown’s knee scope (expected to miss 2-3 weeks), fantasy owners flocked to the wire for the other Vick, newly-appointed Colts starting RB Vick Ballard (33rd in the Week 6 RB Rankings). Taken with their fifth round pick in the draft, Indy liked the promise Ballard showed rushing for 1189 yards and 10 touchdowns, with an average yards per carry of 6.1, as a senior at Mississippi State in 2011. But four games into his NFL career, Ballard has failed to impress much of anyone, let alone fantasy owners, plodding along for a whopping 42 yards on 21 carries (2 YPC) and adding a single reception for another 4 yards. Now, with a golden opportunity to prove himself at the pro level, picking up Ballard for your team is not a bad idea, especially with juicy matchups against the Jets and the Browns in the next two weeks. But here are five reasons to temper your expectations that Ballard will take your team to the next level.
1) Andrew Airs it Out
Through Week 5, Colts RBs have only rushed 84 times, an average of 21 per game. As the starter, Donald Brown garnered approximately 15 of those each game. Furthermore, Luck likes to call his own number, having already rushed 16 times for 104 yards and a TD this season. In comparison, Luck has thrown 177 times, an average of 44.25 a game. Of those 177 passes, he has only targeted his RBs a total of 11 times. With Mewelde Moore (4 targets, 3 rec in 3 games) expected back in the line-up this week as the 3rd down back, Ballard’s role in the passing game will probably be limited. Expect Ballard to get 13-17 touches from scrimmage, and 1-2 catches.
2) Ballard’s Built for Blocking
Despite his pre-season promise, it is not entirely unexpected that Ballard has thus far failed to rack up the yardage. Listed at 5’10, 220 lbs, Ballard is a downhill runner who doesn’t make many guys miss. In addition to his forgettable wipeout in the dash (see below), the results of the NFL Combine were telling. After posting only a 4.65 second 40, the official NFL.com report scouted Ballard as a “big body who is willing to block oncoming linebackers in pass protection, [but] not a very quick-twitched athlete. [He] doesn’t run with a ton of power and bigger linebackers often bring him down on first contact.” His final score of 50.5 meant he’s valuable as a third-down option on a RB-needy team, but hardly a superstar. Nothing to date has indicated otherwise or that he’s Andre Brown circa week 3, but don’t be surprised if he breaks the plane for a short-yardage TD.
3) O-Line = No-Line
At the quarter mark of the season, the injury-riddled Colts O-line is in shambles. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Indy ranks 29th in overall run blocking through week 5. The most interesting and applicable statistics here are team RBs yards per carry (3.32), percentage of runs on third or fourth down with two yards or less to go that achieved a first down or a TD (50%, 25th overall), and percentage of runs where the RB is stuffed before the line of scrimmage (31%, 31st overall). Granted, these stats aren’t adjusted for opponent, but neither Jacksonville (30th) nor Green Bay (27th) has a vaunted run defence. Now, I don’t fault the O-line for not running like a well-oiled machine. LT Anthony Castonzo is the only player to start and complete every game at the same position this year. But it doesn’t bode well for Ballard’s stats either.
4) Wayne's World
With the departure of Pierre Garcon and Dallas Clark and the chronic injuries to Austin Collie, Reggie Wayne has re-emerged this year as the sole go-to guy in Indy. To put some perspective on his chemistry with Andrew Luck, Wayne leads the Colts with 60 targets, 25 more than #2 Donnie Avery. Luck looked Wayne’s way an astounding 20 times in week 5 alone, including 3 in the red zone. While it is unlikely that Reggie will maintain this pace, you better believe he’s going to continue to put up big numbers and dominate the offense against the Revis-less Jets.
5) Committee with Carter
The injury to Brown definitely presents Ballard with a huge chance to prove what he’s got. But don’t completely count out the role of Delone Carter in these next few weeks. On Wednesday, Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians hinted towards a RB-by-committee approach:
“I’m anxious to see Delone Carter. He’s been hurt and he kind of lost his spot because of injury. He’s a guy who can hit it between the tackles for us. He did a great job in training camp in short-yardage and goal-line. I’m anxious to see him carry the ball.”
Carter showed a couple flashes of brilliance last year as a rookie en route to 377 yards and 2 TDs, but will also be out to prove his talent. Mewelde Moore should also be in the mix as he and Arians spent four years together in Pittsburgh. Ballard should get the majority of carries on Sunday, but these guys may cut into his playing time, especially if he struggles out of the gate.
Given the matchup and the opportunity, Vick Ballard shouldn't be seen as anything more than a low-end RB2/Flex option and a decent option if you're in a bye week crunch.
Projection: 15 carries, 60 yards; 1 rec, 9 yards