Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, July 12, 15 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.
The Redskins last played a game 192 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 60 days.
—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/17) 5
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 29
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 52
How good can Rob Kelley be if he starts 16 games?
Running back Rob Kelley was one of the Redskins’ pleasant surprises on 2016. He was brought in as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane and at one point he was, per Jay Gruden, “the ninth-string running back.” He fought his way up the depth chart and he made the 53-man roster. When starter Matt Jones faltered in midseason, Kelley got the nod.
As a starter, his production was good, if not particularly impressive. He rushed for 601 yards on 151 attempts (4.0 yards per carry) with six touchdowns.
Again, that’s fine but not Pro Bowl caliber. However, some advanced statistics suggest that a Rob Kelley who starts from Week 1 on could be a very, very good runner.
Looking at Football Outsider’s evaluations of running backs in 2016, Kelley was 17th in their DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement), which measures how much better a running performs compared to a replacement level back or your basic rock-bottom player. As the name says, the results are adjusted to the strength of the defenses the running back faced. If you want more details on the metric, go to the FO site.
I looked at the rankings and it struck me that most of the backs ahead of Kelley were starters for the entire season. I wondered if Kelley would have ranked higher if he had done what he did for 16 games as a starter.
I reached out to Mike Tanier, who is one of the numbers crunchers at Football Outsiders, to find out. He said that as a runner, a Rob Kelley who started 16 games could compare favorably to one of the best running backs in the NFL.
“It's not crazy to say that over 16 games Kelley might have been up next to [Cardinals RB] David Johnson in the FO ratings,” said Tanier. “Johnson had similar DVOA but many more carries.”
For the entire season, counting the seven games before Kelley was a starter, the Redskins rookie had 168 rushing attempts compared to 293 for Johnson, who was ninth in running back DYAR.
“DYAR was built to reward players who are ‘pretty good’ over lots and lots of carries or passes, Tanier explained. “If you base your rating system on being above some kind of average, players like Kelley can actually get jobbed by the system.”
Tanier was quick to point out that Kelley could be on the same level as Johnson, who was a first-team All-Pro for the Cardinals as a second-year player in 2016, only as a runner. The Cardinals’ running back also has great value as a receiver (in 2016, 80 receptions for 879 yards), an ability that Kelley (12 rec., 82 yds.) has not yet displayed.
But if the Redskins can get something close to Johnson’s 2016 rushing production (293 attempts, 1239 yards, 16 TD) out of Kelley they would be quite happy.
Again, this isn’t to say that Kelly might be the equal of Johnson. The receiving yards are a big part of the picture. Still, it will be very interesting to see what Kelley can do if he starts 16 games.
Tandler on Twitter
They might. Signed Galette a couple of years ago. But I think mostly they like what they have.— Rich Tandler (@TandlerNBCS) July 11, 2017
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