Ryan Grigson has established himself as a fairly good talent evaluator, and he’s done it fairly quickly. The Indianapolis Colts general manager has re-tooled a roster once devoid of talent, and made it into a respectable team in a short time by building around his core players, and adding small but equally important pieces. One of his finest signings could end up being running back Ahmad Bradshaw.
Bradshaw is a talented runner who can run on the front-side and back-side of plays, has the vision to bounce out into the open field, and he possesses an underrated game overall. It’s unlikely that Bradshaw’s running style appealed to Grigson the most, however. Instead it was his pass protection skills, a very important skillset that Bradshaw excels at and last year’s Colts running backs did not.
Of the four running backs on the roster last season, only one — Mewelde Moore, a well-known pass blocker — graded positively (0.6) last year for his pass blocking, which he did on only 79 snaps according to Pro Football Focus. In comparison, Bradshaw registered a league-best 3.7 grade on a far greater 199 snaps for the New York Giants.
His pass blocking ability will come in handy this season when Andrew Luck attempts to drop back and deliver the football to his receivers, which he wasn’t always able to do last year because his blockers didn’t hold up long enough during the five and seven-step dropbacks. He should now be able to do that more often (the Colts also upgraded their offensive line through free agency and the draft) because Bradshaw is a patient blocker who diagnoses very well and plays with leverage.
There are multiple plays from last season when the play would begin and Bradshaw would stand at his “home” alignment in the backfield, waiting on the pass-rush to come to him. He’d wait and wait, and then once it came to him, he would chip or cut block the pass rusher before releasing into the flat to establish himself as an outlet for quarterback Eli Manning. There were also moments when there was more asked of him.
One instance of the latter when he shined was against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1. It was third down on the third play of the game, and the Cowboys were showing a fire-zone blitz to Bradshaw’s right. Bradshaw, who was initially lined up to Manning’s left in an offset shotgun position, shifted over to Manning’s right after the signal-caller made a check at the line. The change of alignment for Bradshaw changed his responsibilities as well, shifting them to the outside of the trenches and directly on blitzing strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh.
At the snap, Bradshaw bounced up and down once at his alignment as he checked the trenches for inside rushers. He’s taught to block inside out like an offensive lineman or tight end would. Once he confirmed the inside trenches were taken care of by his burly teammates, he slid slightly outside and focused his attention on Sensabaugh. Note in the image below how far off Bradshaw is from the rest of the blockers — he’s roughly a yard back of them. He doesn’t leave too much room for Sensabaugh to take a direct and inside path to Manning. Rather, he forces Sensabaugh to take an indirect and outside path to Manning, which is the goal for every blocker.
Once Sensabaugh starts to maneuver outside, Bradshaw lowers and squares his shoulders to ensure he has a leverage advantage, and then drops his weight to power down prior to exploding forward.
With leverage and power in hand, Bradshaw is able to slice into the lower-half of Sensabaugh with a cut block to take him down and keep a clean pocket for Manning.
Pass blockers like Bradshaw can sometimes be overlooked because so much of the game is focused on a running back’s running abilities, which is obviously more important, but not the only important aspect of the position.
Bradshaw’s ability to not only execute proper cut blocks, but to check-and-release and block as the end man on the line of scrimmage when the offensive line performs a slide in the opposite direction is vital to an offense. If he’s healthy, the Colts would be wise to ask a lot from Bradshaw in pass protection considering how frequently Luck takes deep drops.