Washington Redskins Running Backs
The Washington Redskins will open the 2012 season, based on projections from today’s roster, with 4 running backs vying for an opportunity to be the guy in Mike Shanahan’s popular system. Ignoring the Quarterback situation until the end of this article, the focus is on what these guys can do no matter which quarterback is in the game.
Tim Hightower, who re-signed with the team just a few days ago, posted 84 carries for 321 yards (3.8 yards per carry) last year with only 1 touchdown. He went down with a knee injury around mid-season and finished the year on IR. Shanahan loves a guy like Hightower, who is big, quick, and physical. Hightower can presumably be an every down back, and he’s solid in the passing game as well. Durability isn’t quite a concern with the knee injury even though it was his first significant action as an every-down guy, knee injuries are freak accidents and Tim should be okay once he’s at 100%. His prospects with this line, another year in the system, and better blocking at WR & TE, are very high if he can earn playing time back from the young backs Helu & Royster.
Roy Helu played a little early on in the season, was featured more as a receiving back early on (setting the franchise record for most catches in a game over Hall of Fame WR Art Monk) but the team turned to a more run-oriented scheme the second half of the season, primarily with limited options at receiver and an adjusted gameplan with the pitch-stretch. Helu carried the ball 151 times for 640 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and found the endzone twice on the ground. He fumbled once, the first time he’s done so all through college and his rookie season, but it doesn’t appear to be much of a concern moving forward. Helu grew as a pass protector, and was reliable in the pass game. Late in the year with a bad ankle (from a tackle, not being worn down), Helu took a screen pass 40+ yards and burned everyone on the field on his way to the endzone. He has impressive speed and toughness, and with a year under his belt, he should have opportunities to dominate and prove himself worthy of being Shanahan’s next 1,000-yard rusher.
Evan Royster started the year on the Redskins practice squad, and got called up at mid-season when Hightower went down, Torain got cut, and Tashard Choice got released. Royster saw limited carries prior to his two starts to finish the season, but ran the ball 56 times for 328 yards (5.9 yards per carry) but didn’t find the endzone on the ground. However, Royster looked a lot like the kid out of college, running hard, making decisive cuts, hitting holes before they opened, and getting huge chunks of yards at a time. The rare 1-3 yard run negated his average, and he didn’t have any huge 90 yard runs, in fact, his longest rush was only 28 yards, but he was constantly breaking 12-14 yard runs, getting 17 first downs. Royster showed subtle rookie impatience flaws, catching himself slipping at the second level, but he’ll knock that out in his second year as he settles more into the pace of the game instead of trying to play too fast.
The Redskins also acquired a young back in Alfred Morris out of Florida Atlantic. During his college career, he amassed 497 attempts in 35 games started, for 2,343 yards (4.7 yards per carry, 66.9 yards per game) and 18 touchdowns. His best season came in 2009 when he ran for 1392 yards on 236 attempts (5.3 yards per carry) with 11 TD’s, averaging 116 yards per game. Time will tell how he transitions to the pros, but his college numbers alone are impressive, and as I’ve said countless times, if Mike Shanahan drafts you in the mid-rounds of the NFL Draft as a running back, chances are you’re a steal, perfect for his system, and you’ll have some success on his team if you dedicate yourself to his offense and playing hard.
So what are the Redskins looking at in 2012 at Running Back? There are 3 potential starters on this team, all three could earn a starting job on most rosters, and all three have the potential to run for 1,000 yards. Helu, if healthy, gives you a possible chance at 2,000+ all-purpose yards. Hightower can be a bruising, 3-down back who can keep defenses tired, constantly rotating players, and keeping your younger, faster backs fresh. Royster is a threat to be one of the best pure runners on the team, if not the league, but durability could be a concern and we were only teased with 2 games, albeit 2 which were identical to his best [most] days in college, which would lead you to believe he’s every bit as good as he wants to be.
Robert Griffin III Threat
Throw in Robert Griffin III as a runner and this team’s potential on the ground skyrockets. Add his threat on draw plays and the ability to get to the point of the handoff on a stretch play in a timely manner (which Rex was unable to do) and the backs’ production should increase. Then throw in his threat to keep defenses honest with 3 or 4 receivers and these guys will see fewer defenders in the box, making their job all the more easy.