As Rob Kelley started to emerge as an undrafted rookie last year in training camp, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden made it clear he liked the young running back. Slowly, Kelley earned game snaps, and eventually took over the top running back spot on the roster.
Matt Jones did plenty to lose that job in 2016, especially fumbling, but don't dismiss Kelley's arrival as just a replacement for Jones. Repeatedly throughout the season Kelley showed an ability to make defenders miss, particularly in the backfield, on plays that Jones did not make.
The folks at Pro Football Focus quantified that exact stat.
Making contact with these four HBs in the backfield doesn't necessarily mean it will result in a tackle for loss. pic.twitter.com/qEH3bFnNgZ— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 4, 2017
Kelley is in some elite company at gaining yardage despite taking on defenders behind the line of scrimmage. That success goes hand in had with Kelley's elusive rating, another PFF stat.
He landed No. 2 in the NFL with a 61.5 elusive rating, behind only Dolphins Pro Bowler Jay Ajayi and ahead of names like LeSean McCoy and David Johnson. On 168 carries, Kelley made 35 defenders miss, and he averaged 2.8 yards after first contact per attempt.
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Those numbers are why Gruden talks about Kelley in gushing terms.
"It’s exciting to see how far he’s come in a short period of time," Gruden said of Kelley. "It’s just natural to him. He can be a runner and he’s very gifted in that regard as far as finding holes and running through people."
A lot of folks assumed fourth-round rookie RB Samaje Perine would immediately push Kelley for the starting job. While there will undoubtedly be increased competition, don't expect Kelley to lose the job easily.
Remember, he can make people miss.
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