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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 18, 24 days before NFL free agency starts.

Tandler’s Take

The topic for today’s post comes from Twitter:

When I asked for topics for this post, the subject of the running game came up with several of them. And since John brought up the draft, let’s look at that as a potential solution.

Let’s first establish that the Redskins’ running game was not good enough last year. I don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this but here are some numbers. They were 28th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. If you like to weigh more complete metrics, they were 28th in rushing DVOA. If you want to look at a key situation, they were last in the league in yards per first-down rushing attempt. Last year a team gained 100 yards rushing or more 274 times. The Redskins got there five times.

I’m going to leave it at that here since, again, if you’re reading this you probably watched a lot of their games and you don’t need to be persuaded that the running game was largely unproductive. Yes, there were injuries that had the offensive linemen playing snaps just days after being signed and the broken leg suffered by Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley’s various ailments. But the Redskins haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rushing yards since Jay Gruden became the head coach. Rushing game struggles are an ongoing issue.

I am going to work on the premise that those who advocate having the Redskins improve their running game via the draft are talking about drafting a running back in the first or second round. That may be overgeneralizing but that gives me a good-sized chunk of data to work with and still be able to analyze it in the 1000 words or so I am allotted here.

I’m also going to call a 1,000-yard season the minimum that would be expected out of a back drafted in the first two rounds. There are other ways a back can contribute, of course, and we can deal with them separately.

From 2010-2017, there were 45 thousand-yard rushing seasons by players who entered the league during those years (all data via the indispensable Pro Football Reference unless noted). Twelve of them were accomplished by players drafted in the first round. Six came from second-round picks, six from third-rounders, four from the fourth, three from the fifth, four from the sixth and none from the seventh. Oh, and there were 10 thousand-yard seasons that came from undrafted players.

It should be noted that four of those seasons from undrafted players came from the Texans’ Arian Foster. And two each came from LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. So those 10 thousand-yard seasons should not be seen as an indication that there is a treasure trove of running back talent going undrafted every year.

Back to the first and second rounders, the combined 16 thousand-yard seasons doesn’t mean much in isolation. How many backs were drafted in the first two rounds in that time? How many opportunities have they had to post big seasons?

In the past eight drafts, 34 running backs were drafted in the first and second round. That group has had 170 opportunities to post a 1,000-yard season. What I mean by opportunities is the number of seasons that have elapsed since the player was drafted. The six backs drafted in the first two rounds in 2010 have each had eight chances to gain 1,000 yards in a season so they have combined for 48 opportunities (6*8). There were five backs drafted in the first and second seven seasons ago, so there have combined for 35 opportunities, and so on. Through the eight years that adds up to 170 seasons.

The combined 16 thousand-yard seasons in 170 opportunities comes to a success rate of 9.4 percent when it comes to reaching the bar that most fans would set as the minimum.

A couple of things need to be pointed out here. There are some backs like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, and Christian McCaffrey who do not have any big rushing seasons on their resumes but have been valuable catching passes out of the backfield. And some like Dalvin Cook, who was injured after a promising start last year, and McCaffrey seemed destined to have 1,000-yard seasons in their futures. So all of the backs who have not gained 1,000 yards in a season are not necessarily draft busts or failures.

But here are first-round running back busts, just like there are busts at every position. There were 12 running back picked in the first round of the past eight drafts. Javid Best, David Wilson, and Trent Richardson clearly were disappointments (the former two struggled with injuries). Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and C.J. Spiller have had some success but perhaps not enough to justify being first-round picks. It took Mark Ingram a while, but he got rolling in his sixth NFL season. I want to see more out of McCaffrey before judging him and Melvin Gordon needs to continue his upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that even with small sample sizes of data in the books on Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette they were home runs. So was Todd Gurley.

So out of 12 first-round backs in the last eight years, you have three clear busts, three moderate disappointments, four top-level performers (including Ingram) and two TBD.

In any case, it’s clear that just drafting a back early is not a panacea for a struggling running game. Blocking (from both the line and the receivers and other backs), play calling, scheme, and some intangible factors like attitude (as Brian Mitchell will tell you) all play into the success and failure of moving the ball on the ground.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Redskins schedule preview: Week 15 vs. Jaguars

Redskins schedule preview: Week 15 vs. Jaguars

We’re previewing every game of the 2018 season with a look forward and a look back. Up today, it’s the game against the Jaguars. 

Week 15 December 16, TIAA Bank Field

2017 Jaguars: 10-6, First in AFC South, lost AFC championship game 

Projected 2018 wins per Westgate SuperBook: 9

Early line: Redskins +8

Key additions: G Andrew Norwell, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, WR Donte Moncrief, 

Key losses:WR Allen Hurns, WR Allen Robinson

Biggest questions: 

  • QB Blake Bortles was very inconsistent during the season and there was talk of the team looking for a replacement for him prior to their run in the playoffs. Does he have what it takes to get the team back into serious contention. 
  • The team also got an inconsistent season out of RB Leonard Fournette, the No. 4 pick in the draft. Can he put together the monster season that would justify his draft status and help elevate the Jaguars to elite status. 
  • The Jaguars went from 25thin scoring defense in 2016 to second last year. Will they fall back to the pack this year?

Series history

The Redskins lead the all-time series 5-1. The Jaguars only win against them came in 2002.

Series notables

The first time: September 28, 1997, Jack Kent Cooke Stadium—In the second game ever played at the Redskins’ new stadium, Jacksonville took a 9-0 lead in the second quarter, but then-Jags QB Mark Brunell threw a pair of interceptions that set up two Washington touchdowns and the Redskins won 24-12. Gus Frerotte threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns and Terry Allen gained 122 yards on 36 carries. 

The last time: November 14, 2012, FedEx Field—Jay Gruden got his first win as the Redskins’ head coach in this one. Robert Griffin III went out of this game early with an injury and Kirk Cousins passed for 250 yards and two touchdowns in his place. It was the defense that dominated this game, racking up 10 sacks, tying the team record set in 1977. Ryan Kerrigan got four of those sacks, tying the team individual record for sacks in a game. The Redskins won 41-10.

The best time: October 1, 2006, FedEx Field—A taught, exciting game came to an explosive end when Santana Moss snared a pass that Mark Brunell perhaps should not have thrown and streaked to the end zone, giving the Redskins a 36-30 overtime win over Jacksonville.

The reason the throw was risky was that two defenders were near Moss as Brunell fired it to the speedy receiver. Somehow both of them missed it. Moss grabbed it, spun around and bolted the rest of the way to complete the 68-yard game winner.

It was Moss’ third touchdown reception of the day. In the first quarter, he caught a long pass from Brunell and executed a nifty spin move near the goal line to complete the 55-yard touchdown play. An eight-yard Moss TD catch early in the third quarter put the Redskins up by 10 but the Jags battled back to tie it with six seconds left. That set up Moss’ overtime heroics. 

The worst time: November 10, 2002, Alltel Stadium—The Redskins came into the game riding a two-game winning streak and at 4-4 they were squarely in playoff contention. A strong running game had been their best asset during their surge to .500 and, with the Jaguars sporting the worst run defense in the NFL, there was every reason to believe that the Redskins would take the land route to another win.

But coach Steve Spurrier had different ideas. "I was dumb enough to think we could throw it up and down the field," Spurrier said. "We ran a little bit here and there. We had a little success there early, and I got away from it too much. The second quarter, I kept thinking at midfield, we could throw the ball from there. But we didn't do it very well. So, looking back, I called a lousy game."

His defense didn’t play very well either. The Redskins scored first but the Jaguars scored 26 unanswered points and came out with a 26-7 win.

Redskins schedule series

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS  and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS  and on Instagram @RichTandler

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The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list

The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list

Every offseason the NFL Network polls a number of current players to determine the Top 100 stars in the league.

It's a fun discussion topic during an otherwise slow time in the football calendar, and while the rankings carry no official meaning, it would be silly to dismiss the process altogether. After all, these are players voting for their fellow players. 

Over the last few seasons, the Redskins have seen a various number of their players make the list. Trent Williams is a mainstay, Jordan Reed made an appearance, and while he was playing in Washington, QB Kirk Cousins made the list. 

For example, in 2017, Cousins ranked 70th on the NFL Top 100. That same season, while quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, Smith came in at 81 on the list. 

Now Redskins QB, there is a bit of a mystery surrounding Smith.

The NFL has revealed numbers 100 to 11, and Smith hasn't made the list. Cousins, now a Viking, landed 94th, the first QB on the list.

Another 10 QBs have been named to the Top 100: Jimmy Garoppolo (90), Derek Carr (60), Philip Rivers (56), Case Keenum (51), Deshaun Watson (50), Jared Goff (38), Matt Stafford (31), Matt Ryan (29), Ben Roethlisberger (18) and Russell Wilson (11).

Smith had the best statistical season of his career in 2017, and he led the NFL in passer rating. He certainly belongs higher on the Top 100 than a number of the quarterbacks listed above, particularly young players without his track record of success like Keenum, Watson or Goff. 

But does Smith deserve a Top 10 ranking in the NFL?

For Smith to make the list, it will mean a Top 10 ranking. Consider too that Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Carson Wentz have not yet landed on the Top 100. All four of those players seem like locks for the Top 10, which will be revealed next Monday night on NFL Network. 

It might seem surprising for Smith to land in the Top 10 of the NFL Top 100, but it would make zero sense for him to be left off the list altogether. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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