Jan 1, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson (25) rushes the ball against the New York Giants during the second half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
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The Washington Redskins had some questions at running back going into the 2016 season. Did any of them get answered?
Heading into last season, the Washington Redskins were facing some major questions at the running back position. Alfred Morris, the team’s workhorse back since 2012, had left in free agency after finishing the season slowly. The team was looking to get younger at the position, so naturally, they were unproven.
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Still, the team seemed to have some talent on the roster. With a former third round pick, a solid receiving back, and some high potential youngsters, they had a chance to find an excellent player to help their offense. It would be a tall task to do so, but they had a chance.
With all that said, it is time to evaluate the running backs for the Redskins in 2016. Here is a look at grades for all of their backs.
Oct 23, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay (23) tries to tackle Washington Redskins running back Matt Jones (31) during the first quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Before the season began, I was highly skeptical of Matt Jones’ ability to shoulder the load as a workhorse for the Redskins. I pointed to some problems that he had that could impact him in a piece from August:
Jones has two major problems that were evident during his rookie season. The first issue was that he was banged up over the course of the year. He missed the final two games of the regular season with a hip injury and he could not get on the field in the playoffs either. This may not initially seem like a big deal, but Jones did have a meniscus tear in college, and any further damage to his lower body could result in him losing speed and agility. If he has to rely solely on strength, he will not be much more than a short yardage and goal line back.
The second problem for Jones was his penchant for fumbling. Jones recorded five fumbles despite not handling anything close to a full workload. His issues with ball security became so bad that he was benched at times by Jay Gruden. Supposedly Jones has been working on this problem in the offseason, but if he cannot fix it then he will have trouble holding on to the starting job.
Well, needless to say Jones was unable to step up as a lead back. After Week 7, Jones was not on the actives list for the Redskins once. The team instead opted to go with undrafted rookie Rob Kelley at the position, and they saw a lot more success. Jones simply was too unreliable and put the ball on the ground too much (three fumbles). He lost his job solely for that reason.
Jones’ season has to be considered a pretty massive failure. Still, he did have some positives early in the season, so he cannot be given an F. He definitely does deserve the lowest grade of all the running backs.
Dec 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Washington Redskins running back Mack Brown (34) is congratulated by teammates after he scores his first career touchdown during the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The Redskins defeat the Bears 41-21. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
After the 2016 NFL preseason, it looked like Mack Brown would end up making the Redskins roster. The second year man out of Florida had showed an impressive ability carrying the ball, and was one of the leading rushers of the preseason. He had good burst, nice agility, and figured to have some upside as a tackle breaker thanks to his size.
However, the Redskins elected to carry just three running backs to start the season, and Brown ended up being cut. After clearing waivers, Brown remained on the Redskins practice squad until Week 8. Short at the position due to Jones’ injury, the Skins called up Brown to the active roster. He would remain there for the rest of the season.
In most games, Brown played a role on special teams. He was a part of the pretty strong unit for the Redskins, and was active over Jones solely for his ability to play on the unit. As the season wore on, the team elected to give Brown some snaps at running back.
In Week 16, Brown saw his first NFL carries against the Chicago Bears, and he looked impressive. Brown notched 82 yards on eight carries and ripped off a 61-yard touchdown run. He showed the ability to be a game breaker, and the Redskins have to be excited about that.
Brown’s roster spot is not entirely secure for next season, but he certainly has done enough to impress the coaching staff. He deserves a solid grade of building on his solid preseason, and he could be a name to watch for the Redskins in 2017.
Dec 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Washington Redskins running back Robert Kelley (32) gains yardage against the Chicago Bears during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Very few people had heard of Rob Kelley prior to the preseason. The undrafted rookie out of Tulane had played sparingly in college, and struggled to keep weight off, hence his nickname, Fat Rob. However, Kelley came on strong in the preseason, demonstrating a tough running style that earned him a spot on the Redskins 53-man roster to start the season.
Early on in the season, Kelley was not used all too much by the Redskins. The team opted to use Jones and Chris Thompson in a time share of sorts, with Kelley operating as a short yardage back. As Kelley saw more carries, the coaching staff started to realize his potential. He rarely, if ever, ran the ball for no gain, and his physical running style helped to wear down opposing defenses.
Kelley took the starting job away from Jones with a strong performance in Week 8. In the tie against the Bengals, Kelley toted the rock 21 times for 87 yards and scored the first rushing touchdown of his career. He fit the team’s offense better than Jones, as they just needed a man who would be able to gain yardage on every play.
Towards the end of the season, Kelley had a lot more trouble gaining yards. In the final three games, Kelley saw 40 carries but only managed a paltry 117 yards. He simply was not good enough to keep opposing defenses honest, and as a result, they sold out to stop the passing game. This put a slight damper on Kelley’s season, as his decline was part of the reason they missed the playoffs.
Still, this was a generally solid season for the undrafted rookie. At the very least, he proved he can be a quality backup at the NFL level, so the Redskins have to be happy with that.
Oct 23, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson (25) runs the ball during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Lions won 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Thompson put together the best season of his NFL career in 2016. Though he only served as a change of pace and third down back, Thompson looked very good for a majority of the season. He was the only running back on the squad to play in every game, and he was able to impact all facets of every contest.
Thompson recorded 705 scrimmage yards during the campaign. Remarkably, he was nearly equal in his rushing yards (356) and receiving yards (349). Thompson served as a terrific safety valve for Kirk Cousins, and caught nearly all of the on target balls thrown to him. He was a game changer in the passing offense, and he is a major reason as to why the receivers had so much success.
In addition to that, the 5-foot-8 back provided some surprisingly solid pass protection for the quarterback. The team could trust Thompson to give his best effort when trying to stop rushers from getting to Cousins. Despite his size, he put forth some crushing blows that kept the pocket clean. This skill was a huge addition to his skill set, and that helped him to further carve out a role in the offense.
If there was one word to describe Thompson’s season, it is consistent. Every game, he was able to do damage to opposing defenses in a variety of ways. For that reason, he receives the highest grade of all the team’s running backs.
Dec 4, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) hands the ball off to running back Robert Kelley (32) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Overall Positional Grade
The Redskins were expecting at least one of their running backs to step up during the 2016 season. At different times, they did get that. However, they never developed an established workhorse would could carry the load during the season. Kelley was the closest they got, but he faded down the stretch.
With that said, this was not a great season for the Redskins backs. Jones’ failures had a lot to do with that, but the group as a whole was just mediocre at best. It would be no surprise to see the Redskins address the position during the 2017 NFL Draft.