Roy Helu has unique qualities that will serve him well this year.
Alfred Morris may have grabbed the headlines for the Washington Redskins so far, but Roy Helu Jr. will claim some for himself as the season goes on.
We saw limited action from Helu on Sunday as he acted as the third-down back—even lining up in a receiving position on certain occasions. Helu had just two carries against the Saints, as well as three receptions for 25 yards.
Morris deserved the start, there’s no question about that, but this is Mike Shanahan’s stable of running backs. It’s impossible to predict how he will play them.
Although Shanahan has said that Morris is the starting back, does anyone really trust that statement?
Both Helu and Evan Royster will get more carries, definitely. Both have also proved they can gain yards in this league and it’s only a matter of time before they see the field more regularly.
Here are three reasons why Helu will storm the NFL this year.
Helu can leave players behind with his speed.
If the emergence of Morris is to affect any of the existing backs, it has to be Royster. Royster and Morris share the ability to make quick cuts at the line and find the seam, but both lack the natural ability to stretch the field through sheer pace.
Helu has this ability, and in an offense that likes to stretch the field with misdirection plays, he is vital to its success. If Helu breaks one tackle, he’s unlikely to be caught for another.
Against Tampa Bay in the preseason, Helu showed his worth. He totaled 90 yards from 15 carries and two touchdowns, and also had two receptions for 34 yards.
For his first touchdown, he beat the defensive end on pace alone, threw himself over another defender and was in the end zone. You won’t get that from Morris or Royster.
Helu will pick up a lot of carries on the outside, ans will also provide a viable receiving threat. His pace allows him to leave defenders behind in situations where other running backs would have to fight for yards after the tackle.
While Shanahan has a deserved reputation for utilizing whichever back has the hot hand, he also knows the skill set of his players. He understands there are circumstances where one player is more suitable than others, and this is where Helu’s pace gives him the advantage.
They have many abilities, but Royster and Morris aren’t going to explode off the line and immediately stretch the field for Robert Griffin III to exploit. Helu will do that, and watching him tear past defenders was one of the more enjoyable sights of last year.
Look for it to continue this season.
Helu's receiving ability adds an extra dimension to his game and makes him a real touchdown threat.
It’s that word again. The 2012 Washington Redskins are the house that versatility built, with Helu being yet another example.
There is no other player on the Redskins roster who is likely to post a 100-yard game as a receiver, then follow it up in another game with 100 yards from the backfield.
Helu did both of those things last year, with the 105 and 41 yards—receiving and rushing, respectively—against San Francisco being an obvious highlight.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Helu averages 14.75 yards per reception. He posted 126 yards rushing against the New England Patriots. If there is that sort of talent on a football team, the coach doesn't keep them off the field for long.
There are concerns about his durability, which is why he will never be the every-down back for the Redskins. It’s just not his style, and his recent Achilles troubles make it pointless to expect him to play that role.
As we saw against the Saints, Helu is likely to be used on third downs, making plays on the outside or acting as an extra receiving option to confuse defenses.
Although he would undoubtedly like to get more than 10 touches a game, this is the best way to use him at this point. He still hasn’t had a lot of practice this year and can’t be expected to carry the running game at this stage.
As the season goes on, Helu will become more involved. The Redskins have the majority of their division games at the end of the season. If he remains the starter, Morris will be pretty banged up by then, so it will be useful to have a game-changer like Helu ready to take the field.
If the Redskins are to make the playoffs, they need to go at least 3-3 within their division. We saw how the Redskins used the running game to great effect against the Giants last year; if they are to do it again, they need Helu to be healthy.
With Hightower gone, Helu's divisional experience will be vital this year.
It might seem ridiculous to suggest that Helu is a veteran running back, having only started five games. However, when Tim Hightower was cut that’s exactly what he and Royster became.
Helu has already shown he can play in the NFL, and is a more complete back than both Royster and Morris. In addition to his two touchdowns against the Bucs, Helu looked good in picking up the blitz and showed noticeable improvement on last year.
Morris showed some ability in this area against the Saints, but there’s no substitute for experience when reading an NFL defense. Up against his division rivals, Morris will be targeted as a weakness in pass protection by very strong defensive players.
Morris will make mistakes and learn from them as the year progresses, but he can’t be considered the No.1 back when there are more complete players on the roster and he’s only played one meaningful game.
Helu will always have the durability concerns that have dogged him since his Nebraska days, and it will be those concerns that prevent him from becoming a true No.1 back.
However, he now knows his strengths within the league and has the most reliable hands of all the running backs—I’m letting him off the fumbled handoff he then kicked out of bounds against Tampa—and also offers a receiving threat that cannot be ignored.
As noted earlier, Helu’s ability to change games will prove useful against the Redskins’ division rivals.
Don’t be worrying about Helu if he’s not much of feature in the first few weeks; as usual, Shanahan knows more than he’s letting on.