2010 saw literally no production from running back outside of Ryan Torain and an occasional burst from Keiland Williams. The position was overhauled with all but Torain in 2011 with draft additions of Roy Helu, Jr. and Evan Royster, and the addition of former Arizona Cardinals back Tim Hightower.
Ryan Torain - Started the season injured from a broken hand, and didn't see action until Hightower went down with a knee injury and had a very successful game against the Rams. Following that, however, was lackluster performance after lackluster performance where Torain was missing the burst, cuts, and losing yards constantly as he fought to create an edge that didn't exist. Torain finished the season released from the roster several weeks before the finale.
Tim Hightower - Hightower proved competent and durable, and knew the system well enough. He wasn't bad in the passing game either. However, darker days in the run game left many fans longing for Hightower's return, not realizing that in his performances when healthy, he was never a tremendously exceptional producer. In fact, his best day came against the Cardinals when Helu spelled him and ripped off huge yardage himself in both the run-game and pass-game to wear down the defense and provide a change of pace. However, an entire offseason for Hightower and an offer to bring him back would likely draw more production out of the big, local back, not to mention there's plenty of competition in the younger guys on the team.
Roy Helu - Helu quickly became a fan favorite after his early performances, but as fast as he gained attention, he was taken out of the gameplan for an overly pass-happy Kyle Shanahan and didn't see much action until late in the year. Helu didn't provide much in terms of points (not as though anyone else did) but he showed a spark and the hint at breaking a bunch of long ones had blocking maybe held up or maybe had we stuck with the run just a little more. He's decisive and anticipates the hole to open up before it actually does, often guessing right. He's got really good hands (he set the Redskins' franchise record for receptions in a game with 14), and he got better pass-blocking as the season went on. He ended the year a little banged up though, especially his leg, but he still turned in one of the most impressive plays of the offense this year WITH a bad wheel, outrunning everyone on his way to a long touchdown on a screen pass. He also became the Redskins' first rookie in decades to rush for 100+ yards in 3 consecutive games. Helu with more carries and a good spell could definitely be a franchise back.
Evan Royster - Royster spent the bulk of the year on the practice squad, and started the final two games of the season after the release of Torain and injuries limited Helu. Royster picked up where Helu left off and ran for 100+ yards in each of his 2 starts with the team. Royster had an insane 6.4 yards per carry average, as he constantly ripped off big gains. He ran a little more powerful than Helu, straightline, but showed a gear we didn't realize he had and proved to be a lot faster & quicker than most thought he was. It came with a price though, as he continually lost his balance and tripped up, often in open field. Once he learns to play with his feet under him at a more appropriate speed in traffic, he'll start ripping long ones.
Overall grade for backs? C, to be fair to the fact that Torain was on our roster this season. I said in my draft recap that Mike Shanahan may have drafted 2 future franchise running backs in 1 go... and while we're a long way from truly determining that, we're well into an evaluation where that looks like favorable foresight. Shanahan may have his deepest position battle next season at running back, with 3 competent guys who can get the job done. He may have opportunities to trade one as well for good return, but I'm hoping we can watch Helu & Royster run for years in Burgundy & Gold.
Next up: Quarterback
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