While I don’t necessarily believe he needs to beg to make the roster, I did see more than a decent number of comments a couple weeks ago implying that rookie running back Jawan Jamison was nothing more than a practice squad guy and hopeful project.
As most of us know, a backfield under the control of Mike Shanahan is an unpredictable one.
The head coach’s track record of turning relatively unknown college prospects into household names dates back more than a decade and it hasn’t exactly changed since he arrived in Washington three years ago.
In his first season with the team in 2010, Shanahan lost starting running back Clinton Portis to injury and then watched Ryan Torain rush for a team-high 742 yards on 162 carries.
The following season, Tim Hightower went down after just five games with an ACL tear and fourth-round rookie Roy Helu finished the season as the team’s leading rusher with 640 yards.
And last season, as we all clearly remember, a sixth-rounder out of Florida Atlantic by the name of Alfred Morris—who was thought to be nothing more than a practice squad late-round flier—burst onto the scene and finished the year with 1,613 yards on 335 carries.
But expecting Morris to duplicate that same production in 2013 isn’t logical.
This isn't to say that Morris isn’t capable of it or that we wouldn’t all like to see it, but Shanahan isn’t about to run his prized asset into the ground with another 320-plus carries this year.
Thanks to another efficient offseason, he won’t have to.
During last month’s draft, Shanahan and the Redskins added two new running backs to help lighten the load in Florida State’s Chris Thompson (fifth round) and Rutgers’ Jamison (seventh round).
Thompson is thought of as a game-breaker. He has the agility, acceleration, quickness and speed to complement the Redskins offense and he’s versatile as both a runner and receiver.
Despite bringing with him a rough history of injuries and currently recovering from ACL surgery, there are high hopes for Thompson. The coaching staff loves him as a prospect and his skill set fits all too well in Washington.
But this other guy, Jamison, don’t sleep on him.
I’m not here to tell you that he will supplant Morris at the helm or that he’s the second coming of Ray Rice, but I like Jamison’s chances this summer. He can help the Redskins offense.
Last season, the Redskins lacked a receiving threat out of the backfield. Whether by way of injury or lack of ability, the offense only had 41 receptions amongst all backfield players. Evan Royster brought in a position-high 15 catches.
Guess who brings a reliable set of hands?
Jamison hauled in 28 receptions for 323 yards and two scores last season as a sophomore, demonstrating the vision and shiftiness necessary to turn short passes into decent gains.
A lot of what made Morris such a likable product on the field last year—in addition to his obvious production—was his style of running. He’s a powerful downhill runner that packed steam and rarely went down on first contact.
A bit thinner through his top half, Jamison still packs a similar punch behind a stocky and proportionate 5’8″, 203-pound frame. He has the ability to juke and bend, he’s a lot more agile than he appears and he can rush effectively both inside and outside.
Jamison’s not quite a meatball with legs, but he’s close.
It wasn’t that long ago we saw a running back run a rather unimpressive 40-yard dash at the combine only to turn into one of the league’s most proficient running backs.
Similarly, Jamison clocked a 4.68 40 at the combine in February (per NFL.com). But don’t mistake him for a slug. He can get through the line and move, at times giving safeties nothing more than a chasing chance.
We saw this type of deceptive burst out of Morris last season. Even for a bigger running back, he had seven runs of 20-plus yards and three of 30-plus.
Does the offensive scheme in Washington help? Certainly.
Shanahan drafts guys that fit and Jamison works. He has the vision, he has the cutting ability and he can turn it upfield when he finds a lane.
If you think about Jamison as a third-down back, he offers a little bit in each situation—he can run, catch or protect.
It’s a perfect combination.
Finally, although no one likes to make light of an injury, the roster may end up taking shape in favor of Jamison.
Roy Helu was drafted a couple years ago to be the Redskins’ home run threat in the backfield. He had the speed, he could catch and he showed early development as a pass protector.
Since his injury, however, there’s a thought that Helu may be deeper in the hole than anyone originally anticipated.
If Helu ends up as damaged goods, if his speed and explosiveness are limited due to injury, he could very well end up off the roster.
In such a case, a guy like Jamison—who can receive out of the backfield and shows potential as a pass-blocker—could step in.
Perhaps it seems a bit crazy to think a seventh-rounder like Jamison could become a fixture in the Redskins offense in just his first year on the job. But we’ve seen crazier.
Behind Morris, the running back position is wide open. Although it's still very early, things seem to be aligning just right for a rookie looking to make the squad—and said rookie struts all the characteristics Shanahan looks for in a running back.
Once more fans witness Jamison’s versatility, I think they’ll get a better idea of why the rookie has a solid chance of winding up on the final 53.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
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