With the addition of Samaje Perine in the draft, will the Redskins handle 2017 with a running back by committee approach with the rookie sharing carries with Rob Kelley? Let’s look at Jay Gruden’s history to see if we can get an indication.
In 2014, Jay Gruden’s first season as the Redskins’ head coach, he operated what was essentially a one-man show at running back. Alfred Morris had 265 rushing attempts. The other tailbacks, Roy Helu, Chris Thompson and Silas Redd, combined for 59 carries. That comes to a split of 82 percent of the tailback carries for Morris, 18 percent for all the others.
In 2015, a committee emerged. Morris still led the team in carries but his attempts dropped to 202. Rookie Matt Jones had 144 rushing attempts, Chris Thompson had 35, and late-season addition Pierre Thomas had 11. That is a split of 52 percent for Morris, 37 percent for Jones, and 12 percent for the other two combined.
Last year the numbers make it look like a committee but it really wasn’t. Robert Kelley led the tailbacks in carries with 168 while Jones had 99. With Chris Thompson logging 68 rushing attempts and Mack Brown getting nine, it looks like Kelley (49 percent of the tailback attempts) and Jones (29 percent) were a committee. But Kelley had only 17 carries in the first seven games while Jones had all 99 of his in that time span. From Week 8 on, Kelley carried 151 time while Jones was inactive ever week.
Looking back at Gruden’s coaching tenure in Cincinnati, 2014 in Washington resembles 2012 in Cincy in terms of the rushing attack splits. BenJarvus Green-Ellis took 80 percent of the tailback rushing attempts. But the next season the Bengals drafted Giovani Bernard. In 2013, Green-Ellis had 56 percent of the tailback rushing attempts and Bernard had the other 44 percent. That more closely resembles the 2015 Redskins.
To close to loop here, in 2011, Gruden’s first year with the Bengals, Cedric Benson had 70 percent of the tailback carries.
So here is the percentage of tailback carries the leading rusher had in each of the five seasons that Gruden has overseen an NFL offense:
If you’re looking for a consistent philosophy here you’re not going to find it. Gruden has adjusted to the talent he had. When he had a strong lead back and limited second and third options, the lead back got most of the work. When viable alternatives were present a committee emerged.
So, what will it look like this year with the addition of Perine, a powerful, 235-pound fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma? He is used to splitting time, getting about the same number of carries as Joe Mixon with the Sooners last year.
But Perine can handle a heavy workload when he needs to. In 36 games with the Sooners he had 20 or more rushing attempts 16 times including five with more than 30 carries.
As a rookie last year, Kelley had 21, 22, and 24 carries in his first three games as the starter. He didn’t have a 20-attempt game the rest of the season. The decreased workload did not necessarily come about because he couldn’t handle it. Game situations dictated fewer rushing attempts as the Redskins slumped to a 2-4 finish down the stretch. Still, Kelley did leave the Week 16 Bears game with a knee injury and although he played against the Giants the next week, he averaged just 2.75 yards on 13 carries. While it would be unfair to question Kelley’s durability at this point, we will see how he handles the punishment as a primary back over 16 games.
The one thing that seems certain is that Jones won’t be taking carries away from anyone. Even before the team drafted Perine there were reports that they were looking to trade him. If they can’t make a deal it looks like his slide from committee member to unquestioned starter to the end of the bench will conclude with him getting released.
Thompson’s 68 carries last year were a career high. He had 38 rushing attempts while Jones was the primary back and 30 when Kelley was the work horse. The 2013 fifth-round pick will continue his role as a change of pace back who, barring an injury to another back, will continue to average four or five rushing attempts per game.
Perhaps Brown can earn a regular role but for the time being he seems destined to playing special teams when he is active on game days.
Since Perine hasn’t even put on a helmet yet it is difficult to project what his workload will be. However, if he is the player the organization believes it drafted he likely will get more than the 99 carries that Jones got this year.
If he does get, say 8-10 carries per game in short yardage and in relief of Kelley that should make it more of a true committee. While Gruden may go with the hot hand and one back may get significantly more action in a given game than the other, it wouldn’t be surprising to see each back getting 40 to 45 percent of the tailback carries with Thompson getting most of the rest.
MORE REDSKINS: Roster shuffle will continue through rookie camp, OTAs