Mike Shanahan has an impressive track record of producing 1,000-yard seasons from no-name running backs.
Undrafted free agent, late round selection and “where in the hell did this guy even come from?!” are all pedigrees associated with Shanahan’s RB rotations of the past.
Unlike last year, the Redskins don’t have a collection of AARP applicants to rush the football for them.
On the contrary, the Skins boast a talented squad of young and hungry runners just itching for the chance to prove themselves.
Here is a look at Washington’s options at the running back position
Mike Shanahan drafted Ryan Torain when he was with Denver in the fifth round of the 2008 draft. Obviously, the familiarity factor is there. The fact that he appeared in 10 games with the Skins last season also means he is the probable “starter” heading into training camp.
Although injured frequently last season, Torain rushed for 752 yards and four tuddies at a 4.5 YPC clip. Torain also caught 18 balls for 125 yards and two scores.
He is a volume runner who gets more effective as the carries keep coming. Some scouts have labeled him a poor man’s Clinton Portis.
Torain is not going to burn you with speed. Instead, he will use his 6’1” and 212 pound frame to try and power his way through arm tackles. He is not especially elusive and will not break anybody’s ankles in the near future.
While a solid option, Torain has probably already reached his ceiling as a rusher.
The major knock against Torain, aside from his proneness to injury, is his decision making. Shanahan’s one-cut-and-go running style depends on a rusher finding a crease and then immediately accelerating through the open hole.
Too many times last season Torain attempted to reach the outside on his rushes. If your not making your money with your speed, I would suggest taking that first sign of daylight Mr. Torain.
The Skins signed Keiland Williams as an undrafted free agent after last year’s draft. Williams made the most of his playing time despite not getting a carry until Week 5.
The LSU product rushed for 261 yards and three touchdowns for a 4.0 YPC. He proved to be a very capable receiver out of the backfield by nabbing 39 balls for 309 yards and two touchdowns.
If Williams is to get any playing time this season, it will likely be as a third down back. With some improvement in his blitz pick-ups and pass protection, Williams could prove to be a valuable role player in Washington’s roundtable of running backs.
Selected in the sixth round of this year’s draft, Royster will come into training camp with a lot of competition. A likely practice squad player this year, Royster has the ability to work his way onto the Redskins roster in time.
At 5’11” and 212lbs, Royster has only average height and speed. This is probably the biggest reason for his lack of power. At Penn State, Royster didn't consistently pick up extra yardage after initial contact. It’s safe to say he will never be a short yardage back.
However, Royster does flash ability in the passing game. He is quick enough to get separation from linebackers and has solid body control. But, too often he does let passes bounce of his body.
Royster’s quality patience and vision is what most attracted Mike Shanahan’s attention. Royster is good at setting up his blockers and waiting for holes to open up. This is a skill that will prove valuable in Washington’s specific rushing attack.
Roy Helu is a name that has been getting a lot of buzz ever since the Redskins made him their fourth round selection. There are plenty of reasons to anxiously await this kid’s debut.
Helu rushed for 1,245 yards and 11 tuddies last season at Nebraska. He’s got above average agility and some nice acceleration. He has the speed to consistently get to the outside and turn the corner.
While not overly spectacular, Helu has the ability to make tacklers miss in the open field and the speed to produce big chunks of yardage at a time. When decisive as a runner, this kid can make you pay with his combination of size and quickness.
At this point, however, he is too much of a finesse runner for a guy who is 5’11” and 220lbs. Helu needs to incorporate a little attitude in his running and not shy away from contact. If he can add a power element to his rushing, Helu can be a dynamic back for the Redskins this year.
Expect this kid to get some carries early and often once the season begins.