In my weekly column, we will take a long look at two rookies. I will compare their performance to date against my original expectations of them. Let’s continue this series off by looking back at Seattle Seahawks running back Robert Turbin and Indianapolis Colts running back Vick Ballard after their week seven games:
Robert Turbin, RB SEA
Here is what I saw in college with Turbin: He is a powerful runner without Marshawn Lynch’s wiggle, but can run much in the same vein. I reviewed several of his 2011 college games against BYU, Ohio University and San Jose State. Please keep in mind, he will be playing against tougher opponents on the practice field let alone in games than he faced much of his college career. Turbin has deficiencies finding the best running lanes, tends to not pick up his feet, and has a history of knee issues that affect his agility and lateral movement.
He is more than willing to run inside, but Turbin does have a tendency to bounce many of his runs towards the sidelines where he excels. As the “Sea-Hulk” runs, he gives up very little of his frame to hit, but needs to learn the adage of “the low man always wins.” Much of his production is determined by his offensive line and he does not have a second gear like Lynch. His pass blocking is not outstanding, but he does well enough to stay on the field during passing situations.
This what I saw when he played against the 49ers: Turbin started off substituting in for Marshawn Lynch on third downs. He pass blocked well and was split out wide a few times. The Seahawks’ biggest miscue of the night was on Mr. Turbin. After lining up next to Russell Wilson on a third and long, he ran a wheel route to the right side that could have resulted in a 40 yard touchdown. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, he let the ball fall right between his hands!
Turbin’s first rushing carry went for a short loss as he could not shake a blitzing defensive end. His burst was present when he broke a nice 14 yard run down the sideline a few plays later. The quickness and decision-making was there when he put his foot in the ground and ran to daylight. Lynch is a significantly better inside runner; however, he showed some power banging in between the tackles. His statistical night against the 49ers was nothing to get excited about: four carries for 17 yards (14 yards on the one rush) and one passing target (dropped).
Leon Washington was used in place of him in the second half, but did little with two carries for four yards. Head coach Pete Carroll seemed very comfortable using Lynch as the Seahawks work horse. Turbin’s body language on the sidelines, especially after the dropped pass, did not show confidence. On the season, he has 26 carries for 115 yards and nine receptions for 68 yards. Unless an injury strikes the Skittle monster, Turbin is not a running back a dynasty owner should be trying to acquire at this time. I see him as a RB5-6 with the upside to become a RB2 once and if Lynch moves on. Perhaps Lynch’s legal issues become more in the fore front next season and he will get his chance sooner than later.
Vick Ballard, RB IND
Here is what I saw in college with Ballard: I was not a big fan of him coming out of Mississippi State. He was listed outside of my top 18 rookie running backs. The former Bulldog showed limited power and speed. Usually, a skilled player will be more productive against weaker competition, this was not the case with him. He did not show explosion when he hit the line of scrimmage and had trouble breaking tackles after initial contact was made.
His technique running the ball leaves a lot to be desired. Ballard runs a bit too high, tends to get caught off-balance, doesn’t do a good job securing the ball, and struggles with pass blocking. These traits limit how much an offense can use him as he could be a liability outside of rushing plays. There are issues with his tendency to leave his feet to gain extra yardage as he becomes more prone to fumble in those circumstances. Because the former Mississippi State product came from a spread offense, he expects larger holes to run through while getting a clearer look at the defense.
Ballard has good agility that he uses to start and stop quickly while putting defenders on their heals. He has a good sense of vision which helps him avoid unnecessary hits and can be an effective receiver out of the backfield. I’m not sure how much punishment he can take. His skill set more closely fits a change of pace back than an every down starter minus the ability to pass block.
This what I saw when he played against the Browns: Ballard was most effective on delays and sweeps. These plays give him a chance to show off his foot quickness. He attempted to bounce most of his rushing attempts outside and would get small around the corner giving the defenders less of a target to hit. There were a few plays he used a nice jump cut to get away from the defense that reminded me slightly of the former Colt Joseph Addai. On his only reception of the day, he looked great in space eluding tacklers on a crossing pattern for a 19 yard gain.
It was very telling that he wasn’t used in many short yardage situations. Delone Carter was used often in this game as the “smashmouth” back. On a crucial fourth and one, Carter lined up at fullback and Ballard at tailback. Understandably, the more physical running back, Carter, got the carry and converted the fourth down. Ballard seemed to have issues reading his blocks and struggled to predict where the defense would attack. I did not see him put his foot in the ground and run into any defenders. He seemed to be trying to avoid all contact. This lack of physical toughness is concerning for a starting running back. His pass blocking did not seem to improve much from college as he tended to look overwhelmed trying to find a defender to block.
Ballard might be the back to own in Indianapolis for 2012, but his limited skills are not a long-term solution. The Colts could play musical chairs with him, Carter, and the recovering Donald Brown just to keep the defense honest. If you started him this past week, be excited that he produced 103 total yards on 21 touches. I would consider him an RB3 if he holds onto the job for the remainder of this year. Chances are the Colts will invest in a top five round pick at running back in April which limits his long-term dynasty value.