Mike Shanahan selected 21 players in the 2011 and 2012 drafts, and the 17 who remain on the roster are set to enter a critical stage in their development. In the coming weeks, Redskins Insiders Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will take a look at what those players have accomplished thus far and what they still must do in order to solidify their status in the NFL.
Who: Alfred Morris
Position: Running back
Draft year/round/pick: 2012/6th/ 173rd
Career to date:
Nobody paid much attention when Morris was drafted out of Florida Atlantic. The rookie spotlight that year was on quarterback Robert Griffin III. Although Morris showed the ability to run well in the Redskins’ zone blocking scheme the battle for the starting running back job appeared to be between second-year players Roy Helu and Evan Royster.
But Morris was the surprise starter for the season opener in New Orleans. After he gained 96 yards on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns the job was his. He became the first Redskin to average 100 rushing yards per game as he set the team record with 1,613 rushing yards. His signature game came in the season finale, the win and in game against the Cowboys. Morris rolled for 200 yards on 33 carries as the Redskins won to take the division.
Going into last year many wondered if Morris would be as effective without a full-speed Griffin to take attention away from him. Whatever the reason, his rushing numbers were off across the board—yards (1,613 to 1,275 in 2013) average per carry (4.8 yards to 4.6) and touchdowns (13 to 7). Still, it was a pretty good “off” year. Morris’ 2013 rushing yardage was still the 11th-most in a season in team history.
Morris will be playing in the Pro Bowl next Sunday, an honor that eluded him in his record-setting rookie season.
Outlook for 2014:
In his three seasons as offensive coordinator in Cincinnati Jay Gruden had two 1,000-yard backs. In 2011 Cedric Benson picked up 1,067 yards on 273 carries and BenJarvus Green-Ellis carries 278 times for 1,094 yards in 2012.
Last year Cincinnati didn’t have a 1,000-yard back but Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard combined to rush for 1,451 yards. So despite his reputation for being pass happy (a reputation he earned by calling pass plays 56 percent of the time in his three years with the Bengals), he still values the running game.
While Morris might not ever match the 335 rushing attempts he had as a rookie he should get a steady diet of carries. What might be a challenge for Morris is adjustment to a possible change in the primary blocking scheme. Gruden’s Bengals relied more on the power running game with zone plays sprinkled in as a change of pace. Morris has run primarily behind zone blocking. Morris should be able to make the adjustment but we won’t know how well he does it until we get a few games into the season.