Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack is coming off of an impressive 2018 campaign in which he rushed for 908 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
Mack flew under the radar for most of the year but finally began earning national attention in the playoffs, when he starred for the Colts in their Wild Card Round victory over the Houston Texans.
Now, there are some pretty lofty expectations being placed upon Mack heading into 2019, and that begs the question: how can Mack take the next step in his third season?
Well, first and foremost, Mack needs to stay consistent.
He had a very rough rookie year in 2017, totaling just 358 yards and three scores while averaging 3.8 yards per carry. Now, to clarify, Andrew Luck was out that entire season, so that undoubtedly had a huge effect on Indianapolis’ running game. Still, Mack needs to show that his terrific season in 2018 was no fluke and that he can do this regularly.
Second, and most importantly, Mack needs to become more of a threat as a receiver out of the backfield.
The 23-year-old was actually one of the least productive pass-catching halfbacks in the NFL this past year, logging just 17 catches for 103 yards and a score. As a matter of fact, Mack actually regressed as a receiver from Year 1 to Year 2, as he caught 21 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown during his rookie campaign.
Obviously, neither year was all that productive as far as receiving was concerned, but the fact that Mack actually went backward as a receiver in 2018 is kind of odd.
Catching the football is not something Mack did all that much at South Florida, either, as he accumulated just 65 receptions over three seasons with the Bulls.
But in order to truly ascend into the upper echelon of running backs in the NFL, Mack needs to become at least somewhat of a reliable option as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
He’ll never be Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffrey, but unless he has stone hands, there is no reason why he can’t be catching 40 to 50 passes per year, which would really open up the Colts’ offense and make Luck and the passing game even deadlier.
Of course, this also falls on Frank Reich and the coaching staff to provide Mack with some opportunities as a receiver, but if Mack develops some trust in that regard, Indianapolis would certainly open up the playbook to utilize him in the aerial attack.
It would do wonders for Indy’s offense as a whole if Mack can do something other than block on pass plays, because right now, defenses know that when Mack is on the field on passing downs, he is not going to be a threat, and when he is on the field in 1st-and-10 situations, he is either running or blocking, so he is not keeping the defense off balance.
This is also why Mack is not yet among the top running backs in fantasy football, as his rushing numbers alone are not going to put him up there with Barkley, McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell.
Mack has a bright future in front of him, and if he expands his arsenal to actually become a receiving threat, that future will shine even brighter.