Shhhh! Don’t make any sudden movements or you might spook him! There, over by the Gatorade cooler, is one of the last of a dying breed. This endangered species is known as the every-down back. The Colts managed to wrangle one of these curious creatures in the offseason and he goes by the name of Ahmad Bradshaw. In a league that is increasingly moving towards a committee approach at running back, it is almost an anomaly to see a starter that isn’t expected to come off of the field on third downs and goal line situations.
Why is Bradshaw an Every-Down Back?
He’s quick, he’s stout, and probably most important for a running back on the same team as Andrew Luck, he can pass block. Aside from just the observation of these skills, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano relieved us of the need to play the guessing game as ESPN quoted him saying:
“He's an every-down back. I know he can be a third-down back. I know he can be a pass protector.”
Seems pretty clear that Bradshaw won’t be coming off of the field much this year, so this all amounts to what should be a monstrous load and volume that would make any pedestrian running back a valuable fantasy asset. Just how good is he? Perhaps not Earth-shatteringly good, but his numbers are nothing to sneeze at. Over the last four years as a Giant:
His net expected points per rush rank among backs that have had at least 100 rushes went from middle-of-the-road in 2009-2011 to his best year yet last season coming in as the 10th-best in the league. So with the arrow pointing upwards and the promise of more carries than he’s ever had as a Giant, why has Bradshaw been such a vanilla pick this fantasy draft season? In a word: injuries.
Despite the fact that Bradshaw was on his way to a career year last year, the injury bug cut his season short at 14 games. As an isolated incident, this wouldn’t be much to worry about, but unfortunately he’s dealt with foot injuries every year since his volume increased to over 100 carries in 2009. There’s always the chance that the issue is now resolved after offseason surgery, but you never know with these things.
It’s important to take a look at those carry numbers from the last four years. Despite nagging injuries, Bradshaw has muscled his way through and only missed seven games over the last four seasons. While his owners this year may have to deal with the questionable tag more often than they would like, more often than not, Bradshaw will find his way onto the field and produce.
Bradshaw is the new guy in town, and the guy he’s replacing is the decidedly mediocre Vick Ballard (and to a lesser extent, the less than mediocre Donald Brown). Together, Ballard and Brown combined for a total of 319 carries for 1,231 yards, each averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Just for some perspective, those carries in the hands of Bradshaw last year and his 4.6 yards per carry average would translate to 1,467 yards, a number that would put him just ahead of Doug Martin in total rushing yards. Not to say that would happen, but let that marinate for a second.
Nothing is as easy as just dropping a new player into a new system and assuming the same production and numbers, but there is clear and obvious value in Ahmad Bradshaw as the workhorse back in Indianapolis. With Fantasy Football Calculator showing Bradshaw currently going in the middle of the fifth round, you would be hard pressed to find another running back in that range with the same kind of yardage upside (backs currently going in that area include Montee Ball, DeAngelo Williams, and Shane Vereen).
The Passing Game
Not only will Bradshaw stay on the field in passing downs, but he may find himself a target through the air as well. Bradshaw was active as a receiver during his tenure on the Giants, and looking at receptions last year in the Colts’ backfield, this could continue in Indianapolis:
What About Touchdowns?
Welp, red flag alert. Ballard and Brown, the primary ball carriers for the Colts last year, combined for a measly three rushing touchdowns. Just for comparison, that’s two less than their quarterback, Andrew Luck. The silver lining here is that few people expect Luck to repeat and get another five rushing touchdowns in 2013, and in addition to the few rushing touchdowns from Ballard and Brown, there were another three rushing touchdowns from Delone Carter. As an every-down back, it’s not unreasonable to think that Bradshaw should get the lion’s share of all rushing scores for as long as he’s healthy enough to be on the field.
Should You Get Bradshaw on Your Team?
All things considered, a fifth round pick is an amazingly cheap price for a starting running back that will more than likely be the no-doubt, every-down back in Indianapolis. If you buy into the idea of certain players being injury prone, then Bradshaw definitely fits the bill. His foot problems are nagging and more than anecdotal, so I would tend to put more stock in the idea of Bradshaw being a health risk more than other players wearing the injury prone tag.
Bradshaw’s upside is unmatched outside of the top tier of running backs, and if he stays healthy, it isn’t completely unreasonable to expect over 1,000 yards rushing, 200 yards receiving and up to 7-9 touchdowns this year; something that anyone would be happy to have in their flex spot. We currently have him listed at 139 attempts, and with that low volume, Bradshaw is still our 29th-ranked back. If you feel lucky and are not one to stress over your starter having a questionable tag more often than not, pull the trigger on Bradshaw and don’t look back.