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Need to Know: How much will Redskins' rushing game improve in 2016?

Need to Know: How much will Redskins' rushing game improve in 2016?

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, May 20, four days before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 131 days ago. It will be 115 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: OTAs start 4; Redskins training camp starts 69; Preseason opener @ Falcons 83

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—The Redskins were 20th in rushing yards last year and 29th in yards per rushing attempt last year. But to me the most damning stat was their No. 32 ranking in rushing DVOA. The rating takes the strength of the opponents into consideration so the ranking indicates that nobody did worse running the ball than the Redskins in terms of the quality of the rushing defenses they faced.

—But it is possible to make big jumps in this category. In 2011 the Redskins were 20th in rushing DVOA; in 2012 they were second. Now, it should be noted that the Redskins aren’t likely to have two dynamic additions to the rushing game like they did in 2012 with Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris coming on board. But the Raiders were 32nd in rushing DVOA in 2014 and improved to 24th last year. That’s still not where you want to be but it’s a step in the right direction. The Bucs improved from 31st in 2014 to 11th last year. I’d look for the Redskins’ 2016 improvement to be something in between that of last year’s Bucs and Raiders.

—When you stop and count heads at inside linebacker you’re looking at quite a logjam. You have holdovers Perry Riley, Will Compton and Mason Foster. Then there is rookie Steven Daniels and first-year player Martrell Spaight. They signed Terence Garvin as a free agent. And Adam Hayward, a veteran leader who has a relatively light $985,000 cap hit, is still on the roster. If Hayward is healthy that means seven players will be competing for a maximum of five spots. That will be interesting to watch.

—As for Daniels and Keith Marshall, his fellow seventh-round pick, perhaps fans should tap the brakes on their expectations of them. There were 39 seventh-round picks last year. Of those, 20, just over half, did not play in a single game. Only seven even appeared in as many as half of their teams’ games. Six players had at least one start and they started a combined 12 games. That doesn’t mean that Marshall and Daniels will not contribute; Scot McCloughan is certainly capable of finding a late-round gem. But seventh-round picks do face long odds and if they are able to contribute at all it should be viewed as a pleasant surprise and not something that should be expected.

—Many were concerned about Trent Murphy's ability to gain enough weight to be able to survive on the defensive line. Maybe he's not there yet but he's working on it.

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Oddsmakers give Kirk Cousins favorable shot at 2017 NFL MVP

Oddsmakers give Kirk Cousins favorable shot at 2017 NFL MVP

There continues to be a (ridiculous) debate on whether or not Kirk Cousins can continue to be a successful starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins.

In the betting industry, there is not much debate with Cousins being listed with 50/1 odds to win the NFL MVP award this upcoming season from Bovada. Among all the other players listed, he is in a tie for 14th. 

He is coming off back-to-back seasons with seven 300 yard passing games, a team record, and has an abundance of fresh, young wide receivers to compliment his passing style. Last year he was third in the league in passing yards with 4,917, trailing only Drew Brees (5,208) and Matt Ryan (4,944). 

The team may not be poised for a Super Bowl run in 2017-18, but if the team makes a post-season run, who will it be on the back of? Jordan Reed? Rob Kelley? Ryan Kerrigan?

No, it will be Kirk Cousins. 

RELATED: Ex-GM outlines staggering contract for Kirk Cousins

Entering this season at 40-years-old, and defending Super Bowl MVP, Tom Brady is the overall favorite at 4/1. He is closely followed by Aaron Rodgers, and young quarterbacks Derek Carr and Dak Prescott. 

BOVADA 2017-18 NFL MVP ODDS:

Tom Brady, NE — 4/1
Aaron Rodgers, GB — 7/1
Derek Carr, OAK — 9/1
Dak Prescott, DAL — 12/1
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT — 12/1
Russell Wilson, SEA — 12/1
Matt Ryan, ATL — 16/1
Ezekiel Elliott, DAL — 20/1
Drew Brees, NO — 25/1
Andrew Luck, IND — 25/1
Cam Newton, CAR — 25/1
David Johnson, ARI — 33/1
Marcus Mariota, TEN — 33/1
Sam Bradford, MIN — 50/1
Antonio Brown, PIT — 50/1
Kirk Cousins, WAS — 50/1
Julio Jones, ATL — 50/1
Eli Manning, NYG — 50/1
Carson Palmer, ARI — 50/1
Adrian Peterson, NO — 50/1
Philip Rivers, LAC — 50/1
Matt Stafford, DET — 50/1
Odell Beckham Jr., NYG — 66/1
Rob Gronkowski, NE — 66/1
Alex Smith, KC — 66/1
Ryan Tannehill, MIA — 66/1
J.J. Watt, HOU — 66/1
Jameis Winston, TB — 66/1
Blake Bortles, JAX — 100/1
Andy Dalton, CIN — 100/1
Joe Flacco, BAL — 100/1
T.Y. Hilton, IND — 100/1
Marshawn Lynch, OAK — 100/1
LeSean McCoy, BUF — 100/1
Von Miller, DEN — 100/1
DeMarco Murray, TEN — 100/1
Carson Wentz, PHL — 100/1

RELATED: After Derek Carr deal, Cousins' best option may be short-term

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True or False: Rob Kelley will be Redskins leading rusher

True or False: Rob Kelley will be Redskins leading rusher

Robert Kelley emerged as the Redskins top running back in 2016, an incredible story of an undrafted guy working his way to the top. Of course, Matt Jones' problems with fumbling helped push Kelley to the top. 

Redskins coach Jay Gruden speaks highly of Kelley, particularly his fluidity and vision, but the team drafted Samaje Perine in the fourth round this year to provide additional competition in the backfield.

Here's the crucial statement: Rob Kelley will lead the Redskins in rushing yards in 2017.

Finlay: True.

Kelley averaged 4.2 yards-per-carry last season and the Redskins ground game is very much centered on a "4 or more" philosophy. Washington running backs coach Randy Jordan joined the #RedskinsTalk podcast and explained that the team wants a runner it can count on for positive yards more than creating big plays. The Redskins offense, as designed by Gruden, sets up for big plays in the pass game, and the run should allow for proper use of play action. 

In just nine starts last year, Kelley gained more than 700 yards. Project that out over 16 games, and he would be over 1,000 yards rushing. Perine has much to learn about the NFL, and understanding pass protections will take time for the rookie out of Oklahoma. Chris Thompson will be a key part of the offense, but much of his yardage will come via the pass game. 

Kelley will lead this team in rush yards. He's looked great in OTAs and minicamp while the coaching staff believes Kelley is in much better shape this year than he was as a rookie. Write it down in pen. 

RELATED: How will Kelley and Perine share the carries?

Tandler: True.

After the draft and during rookie camp I was saying that there was a chance that Perine could lead the team is rushing this year. But after seeing Perine playing with the big boys in OTAs and minicamp it’s apparent that he has a long way to go to become a consistently productive running back.

One thing Kelley seems to have going in his favor is that he has a very sensible outlook on the NFL. As JP noted, Kelley showed up to Redskins Park in better shape than he did as a rookie. This indicates to me that he understands that being an NFL players is a year-round job. Staying in great shape is important in the league but at running back it’s vital. Kelley gets that and because he does, his chances of being available for 16 games are much higher.

In turn, that improves his chance of being the team’s leading rusher. I’m not sure if he’ll get 1,000 yards—Perine will get things figured out enough to take some carries before the season gets too old—but Gruden will make sure that he gets fed plenty as long as he is available. 

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