One Year Later: James versus Addai

A year ago, speculation was running rampant that the Colts' rushing attack wouldn't be the same with rookie Joseph Addai in place of Edgerrin James, who had left for a bigger paycheck in Arizona. How did Addai's rookie season running the ball compare to James' last season in Indy?'s Ed Thompson breaks it down for you.

After Edgerrin James left for his huge free agent payday with the Arizona Cardinals and the Colts replaced him during the 2006 NFL Draft with Joseph Addai, comparisons and expectations were bantered about in the media and in fan forums across the country. The uncanny physical similarities in height, weight and their well-rounded skill set in the areas of rushing, receiving and pass protection made it simply unavoidable.

Many predicted that the loss of James would be too huge for the Colts too rebound from, especially if they were going to rely on a rookie plus a reserve running back - Dominic Rhodes - to fill the gap. 

They couldn't have been more wrong as the tandem worked together to fill the void and help Indianapolis claim the Lombardi Trophy as World Champions.  But how did Addai fare strictly as a runner during his 2006 rookie year versus James in 2005, his final season in Indianapolis? Let's take a look.

The Basics

In 2005, James was the primary back, carrying the ball 360 times for 1,506 yards and a 4.2 average per rush.  While Addai eased into the offense, he got just 63 percent as many carries (226) as James did the year before, but averaged 4.8 yards per rush for 1,081 yards.  

One glaring difference between the two backs' rushing averages is how they performed at the RCA Dome versus as a member of the visiting team.  The rookie thrived at home with a 5.6-yard rushing average versus a 4.1 average during away games. He also scored five of his seven touchdowns at home. James was more consistent regardless of location with a 4.4 average at home and a 4.1 average away.  He split his touchdown production in similar fashion with 7 home touchdowns and 6 away from the dome.


Joseph Addai
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Addai contributed just 54 percent as many touchdown runs (7 versus 13)  even though he had 63 percent as many runs. But it's interesting to note that both backs got a sizeable portion of their touchdown production in spurts. Addai scored four of his seven touchdown runs in one game against Philadelphia while James scored six of his thirteen against two teams.

First Down!

Addai produced a higher percentage of first downs with his rushing attempts than James did, but just narrowly (29.2 percent versus 26.1 percent respectively).  The rookie's stats were impacted by spurts though, while the veteran was more consistent in this important area of moving the chains.  Twenty-two of Addai's 66 first downs were achieved in just two games (versus Philadelphia and Houston).  James rushed for 10 or more first downs in five games while producing 94 rushing first downs.


Both running backs protected the ball well. Considering James' additional carries, his two fumbles - with only one resulting in a turnover - was remarkable. Addai also only coughed up the ball twice on his fewer carries, losing both, once in September and then not again until December.

Breaking Away

The big knock on James was that he had lost a step and couldn't get to the third-level for big gains of 10-plus yards as frequently. Addai did show that his younger legs and moves were able to get slightly better results in this area. He posted 24 carries that resulted in gains of more than 10-yards (10.6 percent of his runs). James had 28 of those types of runs, but it took him more carries, only averaging a big run on 7.8 percent of his chances. The net result over the course of the season is about 5 more big runs by Addai had he continued at that clip for the workload that James carried.  

Another interesting difference between the two backs in this area is that 75 percent of Addai's big runs took place during the first ten plays of the game.  By contrast, James split 75 percent of his big runs evenly between the first five carries of the game and his 16th-25th carries. Addai's single longest run was 41 yards versus 33 for James.


There really isn't a significant difference between the backs when you look at their frequency of getting stuffed by the defense. Addai was stopped before hitting the line of scrimmage on 8 percent of his carries while James suffered the same result on 7.5 percent of his carries.

The Tough Yards

Edgerrin James
(Elsa/Getty Images)
A knock on the Colts running game for years was that they lacked a back who could convert the third-and-short and goal-line situations. In 2005, James hit 57 percent of his third-and-two or less opportunities. But Addai performed significantly better, moving the chains 80 percent of the time when faced with that challenge. 

Inside the opponent's 10-yard line, James averaged just 1.9 yards per carry, but scored all 13 of his rushing touchdowns in that area of the field. Addai scored 4 of his 7 touchdowns from there and averaged just 1.4 yards per carry. So while he was a more effective third-down back, the rookie wasn't as effective at moving the ball and converting carries to touchdowns inside the ten.

More Differences

Addai definitely benefited from the Colts' tandem approach as his rushing average stayed consistent throughout the season. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry during his first eight games and 4.6 during the last half of the season while James went from 4.6 yards to just 3.7 yards during the same time periods in 2005. 

Addai's performance spiked during the third period of games with a 6.5 yards rushing average while James seemed to be at his best in both halves when he was fresh. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry in both the first and third quarters.

Where the backs found their success running is also an interesting contrast. James was at his best on the Colts' stretch play -- but only to the left sideline where he averaged 6.0 yards per carry (versus just 3.4 to the left sideline). And running James anywhere between the tackles resulted in 3.8 to 4.3-yard averages. 

While the rookie found his best success on the stretch run to the left as well (5.7 yards per carry) running anywhere between the middle and the left side yielded his next-best results with no worse than a 5.3-yard per carry average. But ask him to run right, behind Jake Scott and Ryan Diem, and he only averaged 3.5 to 3.7 yards per carry.

He'll Do...

Consider the difference in age and salary cap hit and you have to give the Colts their due praise for their decision to let James go and replace him with Addai, at least in purely addressing their running game. Perhaps the only worrisome areas that the team will have to be sure to address as they determine who will be Addai's tandem partner for this season will be the spurts (and resulting droughts) in touchdown production, especially inside the opponent's 10-yard line, lack of success in running right, less big runs as the game marches on and the rookie's lower productivity away from the friendly surroundings in the RCA Dome. Some of those areas should improve simply from Addai having a full year of action added to his resume, but with Dominic Rhodes now in Oakland, a strong partner in some of those performance areas would certainly be an asset as the team prepares for another run at a Super Bowl title.

Statistics referenced in this article are from Stats, Inc. and were used with permission.

A member of the Professional Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's NFL and college football player interviews and features have been published across the network and syndicated through's NFL team pages.

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