Indianapolis Colts' best draft picks: No. 3, RB Edgerrin James

Many thought the Indianapolis Colts should take RB Ricky Williams. Some actually groaned when they heard the name “Edgerrin James” called with the fourth overall selection in 1999.

Who was that? They would soon find out.

The Colts had traded RB Marshall Faulk, so choosing the University of Miami running back couldn’t have been more important. And president Bill Polian got the right guy.

“Edge,” as he would come to be known, could do it all. He was an elusive runner who could handle the pounding of being a workhorse. He caught passes out of the backfield. And perhaps most overlooked by others but not his teammates was James’ ability to pass protect. Nobody took on a blitzing LB like Edge.

“You know the thing about it, it’s the timing of everything,” James said in a March interview. “At the University of Miami, we never got the chance to carry the ball a lot. We had to split carries. We never got a chance to really show how good we are. Everybody always knew I was good. Everybody at Miami. If you ever came to a practice, people knew I was very good. But with TV and all the magazines, everybody wanted them to go off with somebody else.

“Mr. Polian and the rest of the Colts organization, they understood what they needed for that offense. I think it was just a matter of it’s not who’s the best runner. They needed somebody who could do both. And for me, because I had to block a lot and do other things, I don’t think Ricky had to do all of that stuff. The fans and everybody else, they see somebody run around all day but they don’t understand all of the other things you have to do. And the Colts offense, it’s not easy. I don’t know why people think it’s easy to run the Colts offense. It’s tough to be a running back in that offense. After I left, they put in so many different people. You have to be smart. You have to be tough. You’ve got to do a lot of blocking. Then you get to run the ball, but it kind of fits in after the passing.”

James won the NFL rushing title his first two seasons with 1,553 yards in 1999 and then a career-high 1,709 in 2000. He scored 13 rushing TDs each year. He caught 62 passes for 586 yards and four TDs as a rookie, then a career-high 63 passes for 594 yards and five TDs in his second season.

The only question about Edge is what kind of numbers he might have been able to put up if he didn’t suffer a knee injury six games into 2001. The torn ACL required surgery and it took him a while to recover.

He never put up those earlier numbers again, but was still a workhorse. The Colts ran him 277 times for 989 yards in 14 games in 2002, the year after his knee surgery. Those numbers climbed to 310 carries for 1,259 yards, 334 carries for 1,548 yards and 360 carries for 1,506 yards in 2005, his last season with the team.

Edge met with owner Jim Irsay before that final season and asked the team not place the franchise tag on him. The back sensed his time with the Colts was near an end. It would be too expensive for the team couldn’t use that tag again.

After 2005, James wasn’t re-signed. The Colts’ all-time leading rusher with 9,226 yards was allowed to leave via free agency. He had two decent years in Arizona, running 337 times for 1,159 yards, then 324 carries for 1,222 yards. His final year with the Cardinals, his numbers dropped off. After a limited six-game stint with Seattle in 2009, James retired.

Williams, the Heisman Trophy winner drafted by New Orleans with the next pick after James was taken, finished his career in 2011 with 10,009 rushing yards and 66 TDs. He also caught 342 passes for 2,606 yards and eight TDs. He made one Pro Bowl.

James amassed 12,246 yards on 3,028 carries (597 more attempts than Williams) with 80 TDs. He also caught 433 passes for 3,364 yards and 11 TDs. He was named to the Pro Bowl four times. While he didn’t play for the Colts on the Super Bowl XLI winner in 2006, Irsay gave James a ring anyway out of respect for the back’s contributions.

Edge was inducted into the Colts’ Ring of Honor on Sept. 23, 2012.

“I always loved the Colts fans,” he said, looking back on that day. “I knew they were the best fans in the world. I always had the funnest times. I grew up in the NFL and as a person, from the first day I stepped out as an Indianapolis Colt. Here in college, you’re kind of guarded. When I got to Indianapolis, the way everybody embraced me, I understand a lot of people didn’t know me but little bit by little bit, being in the community and being around and getting a grasp of what is going on around that city, you actually become a part of that city. When I got back there for the Ring of Honor, it was just a reminder.”

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