As we count down the days to training camp, Around the League will examine one player from every team set for a breakout campaign in 2012. Next up: the Indianapolis Colts.
Former first-round pick Donald Brown showed signs of life in 2011.
Following a decade of dominance in the AFC South, expectations are low for the Indianapolis Colts in 2012. The team went 2-14 in 2011 and subsequently changed head coaches, general managers and, most notably, quarterbacks. Out goes Peyton Manning and in comes No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck. He may be the most NFL-ready quarterback to enter the league since Manning, but he is also still a rookie.
The Colts have completely purged their roster of veterans who didn't fit in with their vision of the future, leaving them with nearly $40 million in "dead money" on this year's salary cap, according to the Indianapolis Star. Among the surviving holdovers is running back Donald Brown. The Colts' first-round pick in 2009, Brown disappointed in his first two seasons in the NFL. But he showed signs of life in what was an otherwise forgettable 2011 season in Indianapolis.
Brown gained 778 yards on 207 carries (3.8-yard average) and five touchdowns from 2009 to 2010. He rushed for 645 yards on 134 carries (4.8-yard average) with five touchdowns in 2011. In terms of advanced metrics, Brown ranked 29th in Football Outsiders' defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) and defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) in 2010, his first season of achieving the minimum 100 rushing attempts to qualify. Last season, Brown ranked 16th in DYAR, but was fifth in DVOA, which represents a player's "value, per play, over an average running back in the same game situations."
Considering the makeshift offensive line -- Jeff Saturday and Jeff Linkenbach were the only two linemen to play more than 70 percent of the Colts' snaps last season -- that's impressive production from a player whose game-breaking ability made him worth a first-round pick once upon a time. With improved offensive line play, and the addition of Luck (who is kind of an upgrade over Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky), big things could be on the horizon for Brown, who is approaching the end of his rookie contract.