Fantasy Football: Opportunity Knocks for Donald Brown in 2012

The ProFFiler@@THEPROFFILERCorrespondent IApril 17, 2012

Starting running back is Brown's job for the taking
Starting running back is Brown's job for the takingAndy Lyons/Getty Images

The Colts' recent history has been well documented around the Peyton Manning saga, the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, Jim Irsay's odd tweets and the loss of numerous veterans. 

Players that were once the nucleus of a proud and powerful offense are now scattered around the league. Peyton Manning, Jeff Saturday, Ryan Diem, Pierre Garcon, Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai are all either free agents or wearing new colors.

So who benefits when a team goes into "rebuilding' mode?

From a fantasy perspective, the guy that benefits most is the running back. The Colts are going to have a rookie quarterback under center in Week 1. The best way to ease a rookie quarterback in is by running the ball more often. This approach limits the quarterback’s chances for mistakes, while giving him confidence and rhythm as he learns the NFL game.

For Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, whomever the Colts select, the NFL will be a whole new experience. The learning curve for rookie quarterbacks is well documented.

Suffice it to say, there is a formula for maximizing their success. Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians knows that formula and has a proven track record with it.

Remember Bruce Arians was Peyton Manning’s first QB coach. Arians will likely follow the same recipe for success with whomever the Colts draft. Arians will look to maximize his rookie quarterback’s chances for success by eliminating his potential for mistakes.

One of the foundations of this strategy is to run the ball more and increase the short passing game.

In Manning’s first year, he threw 105 passes to Marshall Faulk and the Colts ran the ball 40 percent of the time. Faulk accounted for almost 45% of the Colts' total offense.  We all know Brown is not the running back or receiver that Marshall Faulk was, but he is a solid athlete with decent hands. He reeled in 21 catches in his final year at Connecticut.

It would appear that the light clicked on for Brown in 2011. His average yards per carry rocketed from 3.6 in 2009 to 4.8 last season. He finished the year with 134 carries, 645 yards and five touchdowns. In Week 15 versus the Titans, Brown had a career game, toting the rock 16 times for 161 yards including an 80-yard touchdown run.

This was all while sharing time with Joseph Addai and Delone Carter.

A full complement of touches would project out to a 1000-yard runner with eight to 10 touchdowns. Those numbers place him squarely in the top-15 running backs.

Brown’s biggest competition, prior to this year’s draft, is second-year back Delone Carter. Carter had trouble holding onto the ball last year, allowing Brown more playing time near the end of the season.

The Colts lost a few bodies on the offensive front. Adding center Samson Satele filled one of the holes; Satele, a 17-game starter with the Oakland Raiders last season, graded out as the fifth-best run-blocking center according to my friends at ProFootballFocus. I expect the Colts will use a second- or third-round pick on an offensive lineman to further solidify that unit.

Entering his fourth season, Donald Brown will get his opportunity to show he has what it takes to be a NFL starter. I see him as very steady RB2 in 2012.