The Washington Redskins backfield has been anything but consistent in recent memory. With the addition of Mike Shanahan at head coach, the Redskins began embracing Shanahan's new affinity for late-round running backs. Like coach Jon Gruden with quarterbacks, Shanahan appeared to feel you could never have enough cheap running backs at your disposal.
To Shanahan's credit, he was right and probably ahead of his time. The development of the passing offense in today's league has devalued the running back position. Shanahan was ahead of most franchises in recognizing a value in selecting scheme-specific backs in the later rounds, rather than investing premium draft selections early on.
Now the Redskins appear to be a haven for mid- to late-round backs, as the they currently have seven on their roster. While it is clear that some will have to be cut over the next few months, the question becomes, who will it be.
Alfred Morris is the only player who is essentially guaranteed a spot at this point. After a miraculous rookie season, Morris is the bell cow for this offense, but potentially with some new teammates around him.
If he is able to stay healthy, there is no reason to expect Redskins fifth-round pick Chris Thompson not to make the roster. Thompson has an injury-riddled history but also packs elite top-end speed. With experience working out of the read-option offense, Thompson has the inside track to be Morris' change-of-pace backup.
With two spaces gone, one active spot along with a likely practice squad position remain for these five backs. Tristan Davis is a player who has jumped around the league and spent the previous few seasons on the Redskins practice squad. With so much competition, it is unlikely he is able to weather this storm.
Keiland Williams is another interesting name with ties to Washington and has shown his value at times in the NFL. Despite the familiarity, Williams is looking at an uphill battle against incumbents Roy Helu and Evan Royster, as well as rookie seventh-rounder Jawan Jamison.
The name of the game between all three of these backs will be health. Each has battled injuries in the past, and the selection of Jawan Jamison cannot leave either Royster or Helu feeling secure. The pains and rigors of training camp will likely flush out a healthy victor, and there is no reason to expect it will not be the more vibrant Jamison.
The selections of Thompson and Jamison mimic the 2011 draft when the Redskins selected Royster and Helu in the fourth and sixth rounds. Shanahan sees the value in younger backs at a position with such a short shelf life. Helu and Royster have provided great on-field value at times but have failed to withstand the true NFL test: health.
Royster and Helu will likely battle it out for the final spot on the Redskins practice squad, but do not be surprised if Helu's knee injuries creep up again. If that turns out to be the case, Royster will face off against Keiland Williams for a familiar spot as the Redskins' fourth/practice squad running back.