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Redskins position outlook: Running back

Redskins position outlook: Running back

Over the next few weeks, JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2016, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2017. We’re starting things off with a look at the running backs.

Running back

2016 starters: Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson (3rd down)

Backups: Matt Jones, Mack Brown, Keith Marshall (IR)

Free agents: Thompson, restricted

Rewind: Kelley took over as the starter for Jones after seven games. He started off well, averaging 107 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry over his first three games as the starter. His production slowed considerably in the last six games, with an average of 47 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry. Still, it was a very good, totally unexpected season for an undrafted rookie

On the other hand, Jones had a very disappointing season compared to the expectations that he carried into 2016. After Alfred Morris left via free agency Jones was anointed The Man. There was no serious competition for the starting running back job throughout the offseason and training camp. Things started off pretty well as he was starting to figure out where to run. Through the first six games, Jones averaged 4.9 yards per carry and he was on pace to gain over 1,100 yards on the season.

Related: #RedskinsTalk podcast: A new deal for Cousins?

But then came the game in Detroit. Late in the first quarter the Redskins had a first and goal at the seven. Jones took a handoff up the middle and after gaining five yards he was fighting for a couple more. The ball came out and the Lions recovered in the end zone. Jones carried five more times the rest of the game and he was inactive the remaining nine games of the season. We’ll examine that a bit more in the “fast forward” section.

For the first time in his career, Thompson remained healthy and played all 16 games. The third-year player posted over 700 yards from scrimmage split almost equally between rushing (356) and receiving (349). He did well pass blocking and he scored a clutch touchdown late in the game against the Eagles, a 20-yard run around left end to put the Redskins ahead in the last two minutes.

Brown was promoted from the practice squad after Jones was deactivated. His season highlight was a 61-yard touchdown run in Week 16 to run up the score against the Bears. There was some fan buzz about Marshall because of his speed but the health problems that plagued him at Georgia continued in the NFL.

Fast forward: In an age of running back by committee the Redskins took a different approach. Jones had nearly all the carries in the seven games he started and Kelley had the lion’s share of the work in the last nine games. Thompson got some work here and there but he had more than four rushing attempts in a game just four times.

It was just such change from Jones being the unquestioned starter for the offseason and for the first seven weeks of the regular season to Kelley being the unquestioned starter with Jones on the sideline in street clothes that it raises questions for 2017.

Is Kelley good enough to be the running back for the team that the Redskins aspire to be, one good enough to advance deep into the playoffs? His early performance would indicate that he is but he didn’t exactly have a strong finish.

More Redskins: Free agency to-do list

What do they do with Jones? He was a third-round pick just two years ago. You would think that would give him some security at least through 2017. But it appeared that there was something beyond just a key lost fumble that had him on the inactive list for the final nine games. Did he fail to respond to coaching? Was there another attitude-related issue that instantly pushed him from being the unquestioned starter to being a forgotten man?

Eventually we will find out but not until free agency in the draft. If the Redskins go after even a mid-level free agent halfback or a mid-round running back in the draft that player isn’t going to replace Kelley or take Thompson’s third-down role. It would mean that Jones could start thinking about life after the Redskins.

Thompson is almost certain to return. He could come back on the restricted free agent tender or maybe the Redskins will sign him to a relatively modest two-year deal

The wild card is Marshall. It took Thompson a few years to learn how to keep his body ready to play. Marshall may not have that long but if he stays on the field his speed will get him a look.

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

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Burning Questions: Which Washington Football Team player has a lot riding on 2020?

Burning Questions: Which Washington Football Team player has a lot riding on 2020?

As training camp continues to build, JP Finlay and Pete Hailey will answer burning questions related to the Washington Football Team.

Up next: Which player, outside of Dwayne Haskins, has a lot riding on 2020?

Pete's pick: Sean Davis

Washington's free agency class is crowded with players on one-year deals, which is something Ron Rivera loves.

"A lot of these guys want to come in and say, ‘Hey, give me an opportunity to compete, let me prove myself,'" Rivera told the media a few months ago. "I love that guys are betting on themselves, that they’re going to come in and prove that they belong, that they deserve an extensive contract." 

Sean Davis is one such guy who's betting on himself, and should he win that bet, it'll do a ton for his career as well as for the franchise, too.

First, look at it from Davis' point of view. The ex-Steeler was a useful contributor during his first three years in Pittsburgh, but in 2019, he appeared just once before landing on injured reserve in mid-September. He needs to bounce back to ensure his NFL arrow is pointing upward again.

As for Washington, well, they've been looking for a pair of safeties to rely on for more than a decade now. They're locked in with Landon Collins at one spot, and with Davis being just 26 years old, he looks like an ideal candidate to slide into the other. 

Davis must be healthy, clean up his tackling and handle his coverage duties well, though, for both he and the organization to be happy. If he comes through, expect his next contract to far outweigh the one he's currently on.

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JP's pick: Fabian Moreau

Cornerbacks can make big money if they prove an ability to stay on the field and cover, and fourth-year Washington CB Fabian Moreau has a real opportunity this fall to show he can do both.

A third-round pick in 2017, Moreau came to Washington with plenty of fanfare from his college days at UCLA. Things haven’t really clicked yet, but the 2020 season presents a chance to take over a starting outside cornerback spot.

For the past few seasons, Moreau has been overshadowed by Josh Norman and Quinton Dunbar, but neither player is in Washington anymore. Moreau has also dealt with injuries. As a rookie, he barely played while working back from a torn pectoral and last year he missed a chunk of time with a hurt ankle. 

BURNING QUESTIONS: WHO WILL BREAK OUT?

Now, in 2020, Moreau needs to show up. 

Washington signed Kendall Fuller this offseason and he will nail down one spot in the secondary while Moreau and Ronald Darby compete to start opposite Fuller. If Moreau can win that job, and then play well on the field after that, he stands to see a major payday next year in free agency.

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Former Washington RB Derrius Guice a free agent after going unclaimed on waivers

Former Washington RB Derrius Guice a free agent after going unclaimed on waivers

Derrius Guice is officially a free agent.

The running back unsurprisingly went unclaimed on waivers after Washington released him on Friday. Guice is now free to sign with any team. 

The 23-year-old was released by Washington on Friday after he was arrested on domestic violence charges. Guice, who had become a fan-favorite during his two-plus years in Washington, has denied all accusations against him, per his attorney. 

Additionally, Guice -- who is usually active on social media -- has deleted both his Instagram and Twitter accounts.

While a healthy Guice would likely be an upgrade to many backfields across the league, it's unclear if any teams will take a chance signing him

Guice's NFL career thus far has been all potential and little production. While he's shined when on the field, the running back has missed 27 of a possible 32 games due to multiple knee injuries since Washington selected him 59th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. 

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TALK PODCAST

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