The Redskins are part of the way through the process of retooling their 2017 roster. While the major part of free agency is over, they still can add a few veterans all the way through training camp. They have 10 picks in the draft that starts April 27. In this series, we’re going to take a look at what has changed on the Redskins roster since the season ended and what they need to add to remain competitive in the revived NFC East.
2016 final game starter: Rob Kelley
You know the story here. An undrafted free agent, a surprise inclusion on the 53-man roster and the unquestioned starter by midseason.
Projected 2017 starter: Kelley
Jay Gruden has stated a couple of times that Kelley will line up with the first team when the offseason program gets to that point. In his nine starts he ran for 601 yards with an average of 4.0 yards per carry and six touchdowns. In 16 games that projects to a shade over 1,000 yards and 11 TD’s.
That’s good production for a back on a pass-first team, which is now the Redskins’ identity. If they want to run more, however, the might look at a back in the draft. More on that in a bit.
RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 9.0
2017 reserves: Chris Thompson, Matt Jones, Mack Brown, Keith Marshall
Thompson stayed healthy for 16 games for the first time in his career and it’s no coincidence that he had career highs in both rushing yards and receiving yards. He will remain the third-down back.
MORE REDSKINS: What will they do with pick No. 17?
Brown had a good preseason and he broke off a 61-yard run near the end of the Bears game. Marshall will have to show that he can stay healthy; his speed is intriguing but he needs to be available.
Jones was the unquestioned starter all offseason last year and he had his moments in the seven games he started. But fumbling problems and other issues quickly got him buried on the bench. In fact, he was a healthy inactive the last eight games of the season. Gruden neglected to even mention him when going through the running backs on the roster when he met with reporters at the NFL meetings last month. He has the physical tools to be a solid contributor but he has to straighten out his issues.
Where can the running backs find improvement?
If Kelley maintains his 1,000-yard pace from last year and plays in 16 games that would be a positive development but it wouldn’t really represent much progress over last year. Jones also was on a 1,000-yard pace over his seven starts.
And, let’s face it, a back gaining 1,000 yards isn’t a very big accomplishment. Last year 12 backs ran for 1,000 and three others came within 50 yards of doing so, meaning that almost half of the teams in the league had one. If the Redskins are truly going to bolster their running game they likely will have to spend a high draft pick to get a back who can run for 1,200-1,400 yards and be a threat to take the ball to the house on any play, a back like Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey. Or, they can roll with what they have and remain a pass-first offense, which could well be Gruden’s inclination anyway.
Locks and bubble players
Kelley and Thompson are the only locks. The rest of them had better work hard and hold on to the ball. And if they use a high draft pick on a running back, Jones, Brown, and Murray all could be gone.