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2017 Redskins depth chart preview: Running back

2017 Redskins depth chart preview: Running back

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.

This series started on defense and you can see all those posts here. On offense we’ve pu the wide receivers and tight ends under the microscope. Today the focus turns to the running backs.

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.  

Departures: None

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.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Jay Gruden squashes perception that Alabama defenders don't produce in NFL

Jay Gruden squashes perception that Alabama defenders don't produce in NFL

Alabama dominates college football in a way few teams ever have. In the last two seasons, the Crimson Tide has lost just two games, winning one national title and narrowly missing a second.

The strength of 'Bama, year after year, is their defense. Nick Saban coaches it, Nick Saban knows it, and Nick Saban demands the best from his players. 

Oddly, however, a few recent Alabama defenders drafted to the NFL have not produced. Or at least their production did not match their draft status. 

It's not too hard to pick names that fit that perception. Rolando McClain. Terrance Cody. Dre Kirkpatrick. And at running back, Trent Richardson didn't help.

Still, the Redskins invested heavily in the Tide during the 2017 draft. Their top two picks played for Saban's defense last year, and Washington coach Jay Gruden does not buy any part of the perception that 'Bama products regress in the NFL.

"I don’t see any negative whatsoever with them going to Alabama," Gruden said late Friday night.

The 'Skins selected Jonathan Allen in the first round and Ryan Anderson in the second. Both guys started on the Tide's front seven, and both players dominated.

"They come there and they are well coached. Anytime you watch college football, and you watch other defenses, no disrespect, and then you flip on an Alabama game, it’s different," Gruden said. "The speed is different. They are well-coached, they are in their gaps, they play hard, they play physical, and that’s from Week 1 until the end. That has to appeal to you as a coach. They are using their hands, they are physical, they are chasing the ball, they are running to the ball."

The perception, right or wrong, has two main positions. The first is that the Alabama defense looks so good because it is full of five-star recruits. When everyone is good, or great, on the college level, it's hard to truly judge any singular player's game tape. The second is that Saban is so exhausting, so demanding of his players, they arrive to the NFL with too many reps.

For those around the NFL, both theories are laughable. Pro scouts know game tape. How else can they judge a future first rounder when he matches up against a walk-on? And for every alleged 'Bama bust, think about Haha Clinton-Dox or Landon Collins or C.J. Mosley or Dont'a Hightower. 

Might some Tide players get overdrafted because of their success and high profile? That's a different conversation. What's certain is the Redskins are quite confident in both of their Alabama draft picks.

"We know they are both highly intelligent guys. They understand football, understand X’s and O’s and they both play very hard with a high motor and they are well-coached."

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Redskins focus on defense through three rounds in the NFL Draft

Redskins focus on defense through three rounds in the NFL Draft

Coming into the offseason, there was plenty of talk coming from the Redskins organization that the team needed to upgrade the defense. Those who have been following the team for a while have heard this for many years now. However, usually the talk is just that, with more draft capital and free agency money going to the offense year in and year out.

But this year things are different.

The lion’s share of free agent spending went to the defense. They added linemen Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee, linebacker Zach Brown, and safety D.J. Swearinger. Now they have started off their draft with a laser focus in the defensive side of the ball.

RELATED: Redskins add cornerback with first round talent, but injuries pushed him to the third round

In the first round, they were delighted to take Jonathan Allen, the top-rated defensive lineman on their board. In the second round they went with outside linebacker Ryan Anderson, a teammate of Allen’s at Alabama. Then in the third round the pick was cornerback Fabian Moreau out of UCLA.

It’s been 20 years since the Redskins have gone so heavy with defensive picks at the top of the draft. Not since 1997 have they taken defensive players in the first three rounds of the draft. That year they took DE Kenard Lang, LB Greg Jones, and LB Derek Smith in rounds one, two, and three, respectively.

We will see how much impact the three draft picks have on the defense and, as Redskins fans have learned over the years, an influx of free agents on defense doesn’t guarantee improvement on that side of the ball.

But at least the Redskins organization is putting its money, and its draft picks, where its mouth is and that has be considered a positive development.

MORE REDSKINS: Redskins make it two Alabama defenders in the 2017 draft class so far

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.