Donald Brown's draft class of running backs alone proves that investing a first-round pick at such a volatile position is a risky proposition. As classmates Knowshon Moreno and Beanie Wells continue to teeter on bust territory, it will be the Indianapolis Colts RB who will finally break out down the stretch of the 2012 season.
As the No. 27 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, Brown will finally live up to his first-round billing. The former University of Connecticut star has been slowed by injuries and an inability to get into a rhythm due to a variety of factors.
In his rookie campaign, Brown was stuck behind Joseph Addai on the depth chart, and the Colts simply didn't run the ball well at all that season. The next year, Brown led the team in rushing, just barely edging out Addai.
Brown's inexperience still surfaced at times, as he still hovered below four yards per carry. However, his four runs of over 20 yards were far superior to Addai's single run of that length.
With Peyton Manning out, the Colts were a terrible 2-14 team in 2011. One bright spot in the midst of all that, though, was the improvement Brown showed despite terrible quarterback play. He ran for nearly five yards per carry and a team-high five touchdowns.
More recently, knee issues have slowed Brown. The Colts RB underwent arthroscopic surgery after Week 5, which caused him to miss Indy's next two games. This kept him out of most of the team's key home victory over the Miami Dolphins.
Brown hasn't been given enough opportunity in Indianapolis for the Colts to give up on him yet. He averages a respectable 4.2 yards per carry for his career despite all the extenuating circumstances, and now plays on a pass-first, 6-3 team that provides him the chance to be the main man in the backfield.
While Vick Ballard has been stellar as a rookie and Delone Carter has shown some flashes, Brown stands out as the most talented back among the trio.
In his return from injury on Thursday night, Brown got more touches than Ballard, although he was less productive. Considering he is still recovering from an ailing knee, he should be given at least a bit of slack for even the next game.
Head coach Chuck Pagano, whom the Colts have been playing inspired football for, stated before the season that Brown was an every-down back (via the Indianapolis Star).
As the Thursday Night Football crew explained during the broadcast, Pagano convinced Reggie Wayne to stick around with his longtime team, selling him on the idea that the Colts would be competitive in 2012 despite the loss of Manning and a multitude of others.
In that context, Pagano's judgement seems rather trustworthy.
This is the time for Brown to finally live up to his potential in his fourth season. He has the receiving ability and explosiveness to be a game-changer in the running game. No. 1 pick Andrew Luck desperately needs a better ground attack to support him, and the Colts' hopes to be a legitimate playoff contender rest on how balanced the offense can become.
That starts and ends with Brown, and he will be able to thrive in the second half of the season to ensure the Colts will clinch a wild-card berth.