Looking at Alfred Morris' Chances of Delivering an Encore Performance

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 15, 2013

Dec 30, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris (46) stiff arms Dallas Cowboys safety Eric Frampton (27) during the second half at FedEX Field. The Redskins won 28 - 18. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA Today Sports

Based on what we pointed out on Monday, it's pretty much a consensus in the D.C. football society that second-year running back Alfred Morris is the nicest player on the Washington Redskins (and quite possibly in the history of the world). 

But is it also possible that Morris is the best player on this Washington team?

Keith McMillan of the Washington Post pointed out on Tuesday that Morris was listed ahead of Robert Griffin III on the top-100 list released this week by CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco. 

You could argue that Griffin is far too low in the No. 83 spot, but that's a discussion for another day, and Prisco does have RG3 bunched with fellow second-year pivots Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. Besides, Griffin's injury could have factored in. 

What's important is that Prisco, who is known for downplaying the importance of running backs, lists Morris in the No. 41 spot, behind only Adrian Peterson at that position. Morris was also listed ahead of big names like Andre Johnson, Jared Allen, Ray Rice and Roddy White. 

"He rushed for 1,613 yards as a rookie sixth-round pick to finish second in the league," wrote Prisco. "He is a tough, powerful inside runner who is a perfect fit in the Washington scheme."

So is it possible that a guy who was passed on 172 times in last year's draft has already become the best player on a playoff team and will somehow continue to dominate after finishing second in the league in rushing as a rookie? 

While not quite breaking from his modest nature, Morris admitted last week to Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports that he felt he could have done even more in 2012. 

I left a lot of yards on the field last year. Looking back on film, a lot of it was my aiming points in certain runs, or I was too tight and I couldn't get outside. Being more patient with my cutbacks -- I tended to cut back too soon. I was blessed, and I definitely don't take it for granted. Last year's behind me -- I'm beyond that.

Sadly, we see far too many backs shock the world as rookies before coming back to earth as sophomores and seeing their football careers die at the same age as most rockstars. The latest example came right here in the NFC East, with DeMarco Murray's yards-per-attempt average dropping from 5.5 in 2011 to 4.1 during an injury-plagued 2012 campaign. 

In the last decade, Julius Jones, Kevin Jones, Cadillac Williams and Steve Slaton have all suffered similar fates after electric debut NFL performances. 

Defenses know what to expect from Morris this time around, but he's a unique back. He doesn't make his money by outrunning guys or resorting to a go-to move or cut. Instead, what you see is what you get. There were a lot of times last year where defenses knew what was coming but still couldn't do much to slow Morris down. 

Maybe that's the difference. Maybe that's what will separate him from the Joneses and Murrays and Slatons. Plus, he's built like a truck and is thus more durable than those aforementioned rookie sensations-turned-sophomore disappointments. 

How much of Morris' success should be linked to Griffin? Not as much as you might think. While having the offensive rookie of the year at quarterback was certainly helpful, and the read-option definitely worked to Morris' advantage, there's evidence that Morris is good enough to keep excelling regardless of what scheme is being run and who is under center. 

From Pro Football Focus, who actually ranked Morris higher than Prisco did (but below Griffin): 

While many want to attribute the success of Morris to a scheme that benefited him, that's unfair to a player who finished third in the league in yards after contact and finished third in the league in forced missed tackles in the running game.

And while many rookies tend to hit walls in November or December, Morris actually gained steam as the 2012 season progressed. During the final six weeks of 2012, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry and led all NFL backs with eight touchdowns. 

With all that in mind, don't expect Morris to fade one bit in 2013.

I guess nice guys don't always finish last.