Rob Kelley Could Replace Matt Jones After Strong Outing
Rob Kelley ran well against the Bengals, earning the praise of teammates, coaches and experts. With Matt Jones’ injuries and struggles, could he be the starting running back going forward?
In his first career start, backup running back Robert Kelley finished with a touchdown and 87 yards on 21 carries. This solid stat line may be enough for him to shed the backup label and take on the role of permanent starting running back.
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With usual starting back Matt Jones out with a knee injury — and in Jay Gruden’s doghouse — Kelley got the chance to start. He did not disappoint.
Kelley played well in the Redskins’ 27-27 tie against the Bengals in London on Sunday, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. He found the holes that the offensive line created for him early and often, and his ability to break tackles was particularly impressive. Despite his limited playing time, Kelley is currently 6th in the league in yards after contact among running backs, illustrating his powerful technique and ability to push the pile.
Kelley’s hard-hitting running style helped him bowl over would-be tacklers. Additionally, he continued to fight for extra yards even after being wrapped up. The 6’0”, 228-pound running back proved extremely hard to bring down, and his offensive linemen definitely took notice. Trent Williams, the Redskins (now-suspended) tackle, said the following per ESPN’s John Keim:
[Kelley] kept running forward. He’ll give you second, third, fourth, fifth efforts. He keeps the pile moving. I’m certainly impressed by that. That shows a lot of toughness out of him, that he continues to pound the rock like that.
I had a front row seat every time I hand the ball off to watch him read the holes and make the cuts and attack and keep his shoulders downhill and take on contact. I was very pleased with the way he ran the football, the toughness he showed, the way he competed, the way he fought for extra yards.
Kelley Impresses Coach Gruden
Most importantly, Kelley earned the respect of his coach. In giving Kelley the start, Gruden certainly took a risk, as Kelley has never received more than five carries in a game. Despite a somewhat shaky start, Kelley turned it around in the second half. His performance gave Coach Gruden the confidence to continue to give him carries down the stretch, especially in overtime. While Gruden acknowledged his initial struggles, he ultimately felt pleased with Kelley’s performance (also per Mattern and Redskins.com).
I think he ran the ball hard. He was a little bit impatient on some cuts, but for the most part he runs hard. I liked the way he ran. He protected the ball, had some big runs there. That big one in overtime was a huge run to get us down into field goal range. I think he had a couple opportunities to pick up some blitzes, did a good job. I thought he played well.
Gruden was referring to Kelley’s biggest run of the game, a 16-yard bruising cut downfield where he made it past the linebackers to turn a 1st and 20 into 2nd and 4. This run put the team into the red zone in overtime and set the Redskins up for a game-winning field goal, which they unfortunately missed.
People outside the organization lauded Kelley’s performance as well. Noted ESPN fantasy football expert and Redskins fan Matthew Berry offered praise in a segment of his show. Furthermore, Berry advised fantasy owners to add Kelley to their teams, as he predicts that Kelley’s strong start will earn him RB1 status, even when Jones returns.
Kelley’s performance, coupled with Jones’ injuries and disappointments, begs the question: Will he be the starting back going forward?
Gruden Refuses To Commit
Gruden did not commit to an answer, but he certainly expressed a desire to keep Kelley heavily involved, according to CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Troy Machir.
I like what I saw in Robert, but it’s not out of the possibility that Matt Jones could come back in here and get some of those reps back….To say that one is so much better than the others – if we had a clear-cut, No. 1 guy, it would be different. But we have a couple guys that are worthy of getting the ball.
Jones sprained his knee and is currently out, but the Redskins think he should be back for the Week 10 matchup against the Vikings.
In his action this year, Jones has disappointed. Ball security has been a serious issue, and he’s had too many runs for no gain or for a loss. By contrast, Kelley did not lose yards on a single play on Sunday.
Based on Gruden’s comments, the two backs will likely see a traditional split once Jones returns, with Chris Thompson receiving third down and passing down looks. For Kelley, this is a significant uptick in carries.
It’s also probable that Jones is on a short leash. Gruden removed him from the game during the fourth quarter against the Lions, following his poor play, and it is unclear how he is recovering from his sprained knee. If Kelley continues to run well, Jones could find himself ousted from the starting spot.
As for Kelley himself, the rookie nicknamed “Fat Rob” at Tulane is just appreciating the novelty of being an NFL player. As Kelley said in the Mattern piece:
It makes me feel good that I can go out and play with those guys. It’s the NFL. It’s the elite of the elite so it feels good going out and playing with them.
If recent trends continue, he’ll have many more opportunities to “go out and play” in the near future.