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Need to Know: How will the Redskins' running game perform in 2016?

Need to Know: How will the Redskins' running game perform in 2016?

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, July 19, nine days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 191 days ago. It will be 55 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Preseason opener @ Falcons 23; Final roster cut 46; Cowboys @ Redskins 61

—Former All-Pro Redskins tight end, the late Jerry Smith, who played for the team for 13 seasons, was born on this date in 1943.

—Redskins Pro Bowl offensive tackle Trent Williams was born on this date in 1988.

How effective will the Redskins’ rushing game be in 2016?

We’re down to single digits in the countdown to training camp. Before they start stretching for the first practice let’s take out the imaginary casino chips and use them to predict how various facets of the Redskins offense are going to perform this season.

We’ll start with the rushing offense. The numbers for the quartiles are from the 2015 season, rounded to the nearest 100.

Bottom quarter (1300-1500 yards), $20—Teams that rank this low generally don’t even try to run the ball, either because they’re frequently trailing (Chargers, Ravens) or they have a passing game so effective that it makes no sense to run (Patriots). The Redskins should be competitive and while they will favor the pass, perhaps heavily, the run will still be an important part of the game plan.

Lower middle quarter (1500-1700 yards), $45—This is where they were last year, 20th with 1,566 yards. They could easily have fewer carries (429 in 2015) and accumulate more yards by improving on their 31st ranked average of 3.7 yards per rushing attempt. If they can bump that up to the league average of 4.1 yards they could rush 400 times and post around 1,659 yards.

Upper middle quarter (1700-1900 yards), $30—This is up to Matt Jones. If he puts it together and makes handing the ball off to him such an attractive options that Jay Gruden and Sean McVay will have to ignore the team’s attractive passing options. Jones has the size and speed needed to become a top-notch back but he needs to put it together. I’ll give him a shot at doing so but it would take quite a turnaround from last year.

Top quarter (1900+ yards), $5—I just don’t think that the Redskins are going to run often enough to get here. They would have to have 475-500 rushing attempts and with Cousins having Reed, Jackson, Garçon, Crowder, and others to throw to, well, you add up the targets needed to take advantage of the team’s investment in pass catchers. There aren’t enough football to go around.

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “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.”

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

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When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

A four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, Aqib Talib has a long and checkered past, which includes multiple arrests and failed PED and drug tests. The problems aren't new either, the talented cornerback was first arrested as a high school student. In college at Kansas, Talib was suspended multiple times and had multiple positive tests for marijuana use. 

Why does this matter for Redskins fans on the eve of the NFL Draft?

Despite all the trouble, Bruce Allen drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008 when the current Redskins general manager was in the same role for Tampa. While Talib's legal troubles and suspensions continued in the NFL, he also proved to be a highly capable cornerback in the pro game. 

The lesson for those trying to determine the Redskins draft board: Allen might be willing to look past red flags if a player presents good value. Talib did in 2008, and there could be opportunities for Washington in 2017.

Reuben Foster jumps to mind, as the talented Alabama linebacker will enter the league in the substance abuse program. While Foster's issues pale in comparison to other allegations about some draft prospects, players like Joe Mixon, Gareon Conley and Caleb Brantley will also present unique circumstances for NFL teams to evaluate. 

GMs are thrust into the unenviable task of determining a player's character, often in short periods of time. As 'Skins director of college scouting Scott Campbell explained, the team grades every player for their football skills first, and only later adds in character information. From Campbell's comments:

When you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don’t factor in the character. You don’t grade character, you grade talent. So you don’t throw away somebody early that may have some redeeming quality, or there’s a side to the story you don’t know about. You grade football players as football players first on talent, and then when it comes closer to the draft, you start weeding all that, getting more information, deciding, ‘OK, this guy’s not our kind of guy, this guy’s not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted, but good luck to him.

Thursday night the Redskins will be forced to make a determination on the right player for the team. That decision could include judging a player's character, and that could mean balancing legal or substance abuse troubles with talent and ability.

Talib is only one pick in Allen's long personnel career, but it's one worth noting. 

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