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Roster Review: Running Backs

Posted Feb 22, 2012

With free agency and the NFL Draft fast approaching, Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman breaks down the Redskins' roster position by position. Up next: running backs.


With free agency and the NFL Draft fast approaching, Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman breaks down the Redskins' roster position by position. Up next: tight ends.

With rule changes in recent years, many NFL teams have favored wide-open passing attacks on offense. In turn, this has led to a departure from the franchise running back to the running back by committee approach.

The Redskins employed a running back by committee approach in 2011 more by necessity, though. Injuries and ineffectiveness forced the team to rely on a pair of rookies late in the season.

Overall, the Redskins increased the team’s rushing productivity by almost 200 yards over 2010, finishing with 1,614 yards. The team relied on a dozen ball-carriers for at least one rush, only five of which were running backs.

The team’s leading rusher was rookie Roy Helu. He had 640 yards in 15 games with five starts. He also led the team with 151 carries, and averaged 4.2 yards per carry with two touchdowns.

Helu was a fourth-round pick in last year’s draft, and was not expected to fill a key role in the offense this season. When backs ahead of him were lost to injury and ineffectiveness, he provided a spark on all facets of the offense.

Helu registered three consecutive 100-yard games on the ground, setting a rookie franchise mark, and one 100-yard game receiving.

Fellow rookie Evan Royster also finished the year on a strong note, starting the last two games after beginning the season on the practice squad.

A sixth-round draft pick, Royster finished second on the team in rushing yards (328), and added another 68 yards on nine receptions.

Veteran back Tim Hightower was acquired at the start of training camp last year and battled his way to a starting job in Week 1.

The Alexandria, Va. product had his best career start against the Panthers in Week 7, but a torn ACL in the third quarter ended his season.

He finished the season with 321 yards and a touchdown on the ground, adding 78 yards and a score through the air.

Tristan Davis spent two different stints on the Redskins practice squad and was signed to a futures contract in January.


GARY FITZGERALD'S POSITIONAL ANALYSIS

At first glance, the Redskins' running back position appears to have solid depth.

Helu and Royster showed promise as rookies last season and they are expected to compete for the starting job in 2012. They could be a strong complement to each other for years to come, provided they continue to improve.

Hightower enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, so his future is uncertain. He wants to return to the team and Mike Shanahan has praised his work ethic, so they could be a match for at least one more season.

Acquiring a running back appears unnecessary, especially if Hightower re-signs. The position can't be dismissed among Redskins' off-season needs, though.

If the opportunity is there to acquire an elite-level running back, either in free agency or the NFL Draft, then it has to be a consideration.


Three NFL Running Backs Eligible for Free Agency

As of February 22, 2012; names listed are in no particular order

-- Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens: Rice has proven that he is a dynamic playmaker that can do it all for an offense. He has speed and elusiveness that would fit the Redskins’ zone blocking scheme, and has cracked 2,000 yards from scrimmage in two of the last three seasons. He is unlikely to leave Baltimore, and is said to be looking for a big contract.

-- Matt Forte, Chicago Bears: Forte is another quality playmaker who has averaged more than 1,000 rushing yards and nearly 500 receiving yards through each of his first four seasons. He was on track for his best season in 2011, and earned a Pro Bowl nod before missing the last four games with a knee injury. He is likewise unlikely to leave Chicago, but looked healthy in the Pro Bowl.

-- Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks: In 2011, Lynch put up his first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2008, gaining 1,204 yards on 4.2 yards per carry. Lynch has certainly found his niche in Seattle as a starter, but has rightfully earned the attention of other teams around the league.

Three NFL Running Backs Available In the NFL Draft

As of February 22, 2012; names listed are in no particular order

-- Trent Richardson, Alabama: Richardson could be the league’s next marquee running back – he has drawn comparisons to Adrian Peterson. He posted 1,679 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards per carry as a junior last year. Like Peterson, Richardson is a physical runner and there’s some concern he could have a short NFL lifespan.

-- LaMichael James, Oregon: James was productive for the Ducks the last three years, posting 1,500 rushing yards each season. Last season was his best: he logged 1,805 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging a whopping 7.3 yards per carry. James had a heavy workload at Oregon, so his long-term durability may be in question. Given his quickness, he has an ability to make defenders miss outside the box.

-- David Wilson, Virginia Tech: Wilson stepped in for Ryan Williams, gone to the Arizona Cardinals in last year’s draft, and had a strong season, compiling a school record 1,709 rushing yards and nine touchdowns for the Hokies. He is 5-10 and 205 pounds, but scouts say he looks a lot thicker and fits the mold of a hard-nosed, between the tackles back.