The Redskins brass believes they need to upgrade the running back position. Jay Gruden and Doug Williams said so this offseason.
That’s all well and good, but it’s time to dispel some myths regarding the run game. A popular misconception exists that the Redskins need to invest in the running back position to run the ball better. It's not correct. Washington has invested plenty at the position, it just hasn't worked.
Plenty of teams run the ball well without investing top draft picks in a running back.
Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing last season as a rookie in Kansas City. Surely he was a Top 10 pick to make that kind of impact?
Nope. Hunt went in the 3rd round.
Nine players rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. Of that group, less than half were first round draft picks. Two of the nine players went in the second round (Steelers' RB LeVeon Bell and Bills' RB LeSean McCoy), Hunt went in the 3rd, Chicago's Jordan Howard was a 5th-round pick and Denver's C.J. Anderson wasn't even drafted.
In 2016, four of the top five rushers in the league weren't first round picks. Yardage leader Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys was a first-rounder. After that it was Howard, 3rd-round pick DeMarco Murray (Titans), 5th-round pick Jay Ajayi (Dolphins) and Bell. David Johnson of the Cardinals compiled more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage that season, and he was a 3rd-round pick too.
The point is running back talent lasts deep in the draft, and Redskins fans need to be aware of that.
The ‘Skins' problem hasn’t been a lack of investment at running back either.
In the last three drafts, the team has taken a running back each year. Samaje Perine in 2017, Keith Marshall in 2016 and Matt Jones in 2015.
While Marshall was a late-round flyer, Jones was a third-rounder and Perine selected in the fourth. The team has invested in running backs, but those investments haven’t paid off.
It’s premature to dismiss Perine. He led the team in rushing last season, and showed improvement in spots. Could he make a jump in his second year? Sure. Also don't forget Robert Kelley, an undrafted running back that emerged in 2016 only to lose most of the 2017 season to injury. There's also Chris Thompson, an elite talent, though he's not a traditional running back.
The pick that really hurt the Redskins was Matt Jones. Drafted in the third round, higher than many expected for the former Florida Gator, he showed glimpses of playmaking ability as a rookie in 2015.
Jones' emergence expedited the exit of Alfred Morris, the last consistent runner on a Redskins roster. But Jones' career went backwards in his second season with Washington. Fumbling and lack of willingness to play special teams forced Jones to the bench, and he was cut in 2017. He signed on with the Colts, but got five carries in five games, and was inactive much of the year.
Morris, meanwhile, had a solid 2017 season playing for the Cowboys. When Cowboys star RB Elliott served his six-game suspension, Morris stepped in well. He averaged nearly 5 yards-per-carry for the season and torched the Redskins for 127 yards and a touchdown in a late November blowout.
The point here isn't that the Redskins cannot or should not invest in a running back in next week's NFL Draft.
It is important to point out that the team has, however, made investments in the last three drafts. And though Washington's attempt at finding a good running back in the third or fourth round hasn't paid off, that's not because it can't. Plenty of good running backs get drafted in the later rounds of the draft.
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