The Washington Redskins' run game wasn’t broken last year, though it certainly could use some repair work. Perhaps that’s why ESPN’s Mel Kiper followed Todd McShay in projecting a running back to the Redskins with the 17th pick in the first round.
Last week, McShay opted for Florida State’s Dalvin Cook. This week, Kiper opted for Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey in his Mock 3.0. Cook would come with more question marks because of fumbles, durability concerns and off-field issues. McCaffrey runs a 4.48 in the 40-yard dash -- and showed excellent patience as a runner.
Both would add an element missing in the Redskins’ offense. Both have versatility because of what they can do in the pass game – McCaffrey can run patterns out of the slot, too. It would certainly give the offense more pop and a more consistent run game can help the defense. See: Cowboys, Dallas (2014, ’16).
That said, it would be nice to add more pop to the defense. It would be nice to add a playmaker to the defense. Many spots on that side could use an upgrade. Defense should be the priority in the draft (but with 10 picks, not all will be on that side of the ball).
But why is everyone talking about running backs? I’ll make it clear: They like Rob Kelley and are content to roll with him. But if there’s someone more explosive available? Of course the Redskins would be interested, whether that’s in the first round or third or whenever. Not every team wants to pick one in the opening round, but there are exceptions.
The run game posted solid numbers for the season, ranking ninth in yards per carry and tied for sixth in touchdowns. But a deeper dive reveals this: The Redskins struggled vs. the better run defenses. In five games vs. defenses ranked among the top 10 in yards per carry allowed, the Redskins failed to surpass 100 yards as a team against any of them and averaged 3.16 yards per rush. Four of their 100-yard games as a team occurred vs. defenses ranked 20th or worse in yards per carry – and six were vs. teams ranked 16th or lower.
Finally, in the last six games, the Redskins finished three games with 2.94 yards or less per carry (all losses); they had three games where they finished at 4.65 or better (two wins). It’s not just a matter of running more often, it’s about doing it better vs. good teams.
Kelley is a good, tough runner and a nice story after making the roster as an undrafted free agent. He played with an injured knee down the stretch. In his first three games, Kelley rushed for 321 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.79 yards per carry. In his last six, he rushed for 280 yards, two touchdowns and 3.3 yards per pop. That’s not all his fault, of course. There were run-blocking issues; some along the line and others at tight end. But the point is: There's room for improvement.
The Redskins also like Chris Thompson, an evolving third-down back. Beyond those two, though, are more questions: Will Matt Jones evolve and run with more power? Will Keith Marshall, coming off a knee injury, look a lot better than he did last summer? Is Mack Brown someone who could end up with a bigger role?
For a 16-game season, the Redskins have one proven back (Thompson). Kelley, barring a change, will get a chance to join him. But it’s why the Redskins would consider a potentially dynamic back; someone who can make defenses pay even if holes are clogged. It’s not a screaming need. The question, though, is whether it would make them better. I’m more in favor of addressing the defense in the first round (without forcing the pick) and understand that you can select a running back after the opening 32 picks. But finding a back who can do everything -- with speed? That will be tempting -- and hard to dismiss.