Redskins coach Jay Gruden has a very high opinion of running back Rob Kelley. He surprised many by making the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie last year and when starter Matt Jones faltered, Kelley took over as the starter for the last nine games.
“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden told reporters earlier this week at the NFL meetings in Phoenix.
“I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”
Actually, Kelley had 65 carries as a senior at Tulane, for 232 yards and one touchdown.
But Gruden’s overall point about Kelley being a little-used back in college. In four years with the Green Wave he never had as many as 100 carries in a single season.
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Kelley got 168 carries in the NFL last year, gaining 704 yards. He scored six touchdowns, the same number that he scored in 49 games at Tulane.
Gruden was not done singing Kelley’s praises.
“He had some of the greatest two-yard runs I’ve seen,” the coach continued.
“He gets back to the line of scrimmage, he keeps his feet moving, he protects the ball. He’s going to get better in pass protection. Catching the ball, he did a nice job. He dropped a couple here and there but for the most part he catches the ball. I really think the vision he has he’ll be more patient as a runner this year. I think he’s going to be a good back, I really do.
“A lot of people think we need a great running back. I think Rob is a great running back, I really do.”
While that certainly is a ringing endorsement, Gruden wouldn’t shy away upgrading the position in the draft.
“There are some special players in this draft, if they’re available they’d be hard to pass up, quite frankly,” Gruden said moments after lauding Kelley.
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Two of the running back considered “special” who may be available when the Redskins make their pick in the first round are Dalvin Cook of Florida State and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford. In a separate interview with JP Finlay of CSN, Gruden talked about those two backs.
“That’s the thing about those two guys, they can move around,” said Gruden. “They’re not just lining up in the I formation running the power play. They can line up outside at different spots, play receiver, catch the ball out of the backfield and they can also run it between the tackles. They’re not just one dimensional players, they’re very exciting.”
So to sum up the coach’s thought process here, Gruden thinks that Kelley is a “great” running back but the team would find it tough to pass on “special” and “exciting” alternatives. It doesn’t sound to me like Kelley should get too comfortable with the idea of being the lead dog at running back. And those Redskins fans who have earmarked that first-round draft pick for defense may end up being very disappointed.