For Northwestern fans, Lucas Oil Stadium may go from a place that evokes bad memories to their favorite NFL stadium in the blink of an eye. It will be the new home of former NU running back Evan Hull, whom the Indianapolis Colts selected in the NFL Draft last Saturday with the 176th overall pick. His teammate, fourth-round pick Adetomiwa Adebawore, will join him in Indy.
Hull has a chance to infuse the Colts’ running back room with dynamic receiving skills out of the backfield. Looking at the depth chart and seeing Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss’ names at the top may give the impression that Hull won’t see the field too much as a rookie, which is a possibility. However, the former Wildcat’s skillset could fit especially nicely with Indianapolis.
When Frank Reich became Indy’s head coach in 2018, he and general manager Chris Ballard decided to use their first Day Three pick on another pass-catching running back. His name was Nyheim Hines, and he immediately became one of the better receiving backs in the NFL as Marlon Mack’s backup. For the next three-and-a-half seasons, regardless of who started in front of him (and the quarterback carousel revolving next to him), Hines played an integral role in the passing game. It was crucial, especially because the Colts have struggled to develop a deep receiving corps for almost a decade.
At the 2022 trade deadline, the Colts traded Hines to the Buffalo Bills for Moss and a sixth-round pick. A few weeks later, Taylor suffered a season-ending injury, and Indy really began to miss Hines as a third-down receiving threat. In their last three games, the Colts converted just 20% of their third down situations, which was well-below their 31% rate for 2022 and the worst rate in football during that stretch. While there were much more significant issues plaguing Indianapolis during its eight-game losing streak to end the season, having to rely on power running without options to complement Michael Pittman Jr. certainly didn’t help.
Now, another former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator fresh off a Super Bowl appearance is setting the foundation for his offense. Shane Steichen has built a reputation for adapting his scheme to his quarterbacks’ strengths (see: Philip Rivers, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts), and there’s many reasons to believe he’ll do the same with No. 4 overall pick Anthony Richardson. Richardson is simply a nightmare for defenses when they give him ample space to work, whether he creates it as a runner or his receivers create separation 50 yards downfield.
Thus, putting versatile skill players around Richardson who can spread the field in certain situations can make the Colts’ offense more unpredictable, allowing the former Florida quarterback to wreak havoc. As the NCAA leader in receiving yards among running backs in 2022, Hull can certainly contribute in that department.
Additionally, Hull can serve as a reliable checkdown option for Richardson if defenses throw him out of rhythm with their blitzes. Analysts noted that one of the QB’s biggest weaknesses going into the NFL Draft was the breakdown of his mechanics and footwork under pressure. To minimize turnovers, a safety valve in close proximity to the pocket during those scenarios is crucial, and Steichen would probably value Hull as a target.
There’s really not a lot to expand on there. If you watched Northwestern play in 2022, you saw that Hull was capable of almost single-handedly dragging the offense with him whenever he found room on an outside run or caught the ball in space. His quick turnover and fluidity in making open-field moves are why the Colts drafted him in the fifth round even though they already have Taylor, Moss and Deon Jackson on the roster.
Even if Hull doesn’t beat out Jackson — another solid pass-catching back — for that third spot on the depth chart and plays exclusively on special teams, his 9.3 Relative Athletic Score (RAS) should serve him and the Colts well. He certainly has the agility and speed to assist in punt coverages, whether as a gunner or in another role.
The Minnesota native may not be Nyheim Hines right out of the gate. He’s joining a much more crowded running back room, and he is also stronger and slower than Hines was coming out of North Carolina State. However, if Hull can earn some third-down snaps out of the shotgun, he can get a head of steam quickly. For a Colts offense that has lacked that explosiveness for years, he could be a difference-maker down the line as Richardson comes into his own.