Robert Griffin III may be dominating the headlines, but it's time the NFL also took notice of fellow Washington Redskins rookie Alfred Morris. The 2012 sixth-round pick is quickly emerging as the latest star find at running back by head coach Mike Shanahan.
Morris is thriving running behind the Redskins' zone-blocking scheme. Through four games, Morris has amassed 376 yards on 82 carries. He is averaging an impressive 4.6 yards per rush and has already scored four touchdowns.
In Week 4, Morris recorded his first 100-yard rushing effort as a pro. This came against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that was ranked first against the run after three weeks.
He has emerged from obscurity to quickly become the focal point for the NFL's best rushing offense. Selected from Florida Atlantic, Morris was the starter for a team that registered a 1-11 record last season.
What, then, could have recommended him to Shanahan? As I've stated in previous articles, the first thing to notice about Morris is how quickly he makes decisions once he receives the handoff.
Speed of thought is the essential quality for zone runners. That and equally quick cutting ability are what Shanahan looks for. So he can ignore every runner who doesn't excel in those areas, even if they are more well-rounded prospects.
That's how Morris goes from sixth-round choice to NFL rookie starter. He may not have possessed elite speed at the collegiate level or top-notch receiving skills or refined pass-blocking technique.
Those are the attributes that first-round prospects combine, and the absence of them is what keeps a back like Morris in the later rounds. Yet for Shanahan, that prototype grading is immaterial, as he only answers the particular requirements for his specific system.
That's why the Redskins coach has found so many star runners in the later rounds. He unearthed Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary and Reuben Droughns while with the Denver Broncos.
Morris now certainly belongs in that company. While he is not fast or even particularly quick, he is so decisive once he identifies a gap that he often has five or six yards before a defender hits him.
A natural low centre of gravity and deceptive power allow Morris to seemingly always gain extra yards after first contact. Once he is through a crowd, Morris is shifty in the open field, as evidenced by the moves he displayed on his 39-yard scoring run against the Bucs.
Morris was a solid workhorse in his first three starts and is improving week-to-week. His performance in Tampa showcased the big-play ability all great zone runners have once they learn to regularly exploit the scheme.
Griffin will continue to garner most of the attention, but defenses can no longer focus solely on stopping the dual-threat quarterback. They must also try and find ways to limit Washington's new star running back.