When you speak of Indianapolis Colts running back draftees throughout the years, the two names that immediately come to mind are Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James. So it was instantly a battle between the two to take my number one spot on my top five running backs in Colts draft history.
Both men had similar styles of running coupled with phenomenal pass catching ability. They both won offensive rookie of the year in their 1994 and 1999 rookie campaigns respectively.
Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James both had similar careers in terms of statistics. Marshall Faulk is a Hall of Famer and I believe Edgerrin James is well deserved of being one himself as well.
However, to choose the greatest draft pick for the Colts at the running back position, you have to break down their careers in depth.
These are their rookie season stat lines.
Marshall Faulk: 1,282 yards, 4.1 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns
522 receiving yards, 52 receptions, 1 touchdown
Edgerrin James: 1,553 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, 13 touchdowns
586 receiving yards, 62 receptions, 4 touchdowns
The rookie year Edgerrin James had was phenomenal to say the least.
Edgerrin James was a surprise pick for the Colts at the number four spot in the 1999 draft. He was considered a surprise pick because at the time, scouts had rated Ricky Williams the best running back of the 1999 draft class. Edgerrin James would replace the now-traded Marshall Faulk at the running back once drafted.
In their prime, both Edgerrin James and Marshall Faulk put up monstrous numbers in their peak. Both running backs though hit a decline due to injuries and could never recover. However, with both Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James hitting a career decline, they still put up strong, respectable numbers
Their careers finished like this.
Marshall Faulk (12 seasons) : 12,279 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, 100 touchdowns
6,875 receiving yards, 767 receptions, 36 touchdowns
Edgerrin James (11 seasons) : 12,246, 4.0 yards per carry, 80 touchdowns
3,364, 433 receptions, 11 touchdowns
From a rushing standpoint alone, James is on par with yards with Marshall Faulk even with one year less under his belt. As for receptions, he trails far behind Faulk as he is arguably the best pass catching running back of all time.
Let us not forget that James was hurt for half the season in 2001(torn ACL) and was relegated to backup duty during his final two years in the league in 2008 and 2009.
However, there is one main reason as to why I believe James is the greatest draft choice as a running back for the Indianapolis Colts and that reason is two simple words.
How could a quarterback play a role in my consideration of the best running back in Colts draft history?
Let me explain.
It was the 1998 offseason, leading to the 1999 season, where the Colts traded Marshall Faulk to the St. Louis Rams for a second and fifth round pick in the 1999 draft. During the first week of the 1999 season, Rams quarterback Trent Greene would go down with injury and in comes virtual unknown quarterback by the name of Kurt Warner to take the reins
The rest is history.
The Rams would create “The Greatest Show on Turf” and break offensive records galore in the 1999 and 2001 seasons and they would earn a Super Bowl title in 1999 as well. Kurt Warner would take home the 1999 MVP honors while Faulk would win back to back MVP’s in 2000 and 2001. Despite these accolades for Marshall Faulk were with the Rams, he still played strongly for the Colts which still qualifies him as one of the best running backs drafted by the Colts in their history.
The main issue is that for the Rams offense, Marshall Faulk was the focal point of the offense with Kurt Warner dishing it out via the air to whoever would catch the ball, hence Faulk having outstanding pass catching numbers during his tenure in St. Louis. Edgerrin James, however, was not the focal point of the Colts offense as it was always a pass first team with Peyton manning the helm. James still put up rushing statistics on par with Faulk throughout James’ short NFL tenure coupled with his forgettable stints in his final two years in the league.
That being said, I strongly believe that James is the greatest running back draft pick in Indianapolis Colts history. The numbers he put up are staggering for his short tenure and the circumstances he had been dealt with such as an injury in 2001 and playing for the pass first Cardinals during their Super Bowl run. The Colts haven’t seen a running back with the same skill set James had since and one can hope that Trent Richardson could get things together and become the running back he was billed to be as the third pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
So who ranks third through fifth on my list? Let’s find out.