I think it is clear to most people that Alfred Morris is an integral part of the Redskins offense and that if he were to go down with an injury it would be a fairly significant setback to the team. While he was an iron man for the team down the stretch, carrying the ball 20 or more times each week of the 7 game win streak, the Redskins need to be prepared for life without Morris given the high injury rate among NFL running backs. Now obviously there will almost always be a bit of a drop-off when you are talking about replacing one of the top backs in the league, but a team has to do their best to mitigate that drop-off as much as possible. How do the Redskins fare in this department, perhaps better than they are given credit for:
-Helu Jr. offers quite a bit as a change of pace back who can be used to attack the edges of the defense more as well as be a weapon out of the backfield. While his speed is definitely his best asset he is also known as a quality one cut runner who has good field vision. Helu also helps out as a good option as a pass protector an area that is obviously very important to the Redskins. Just giving RGIII a split second longer than another running back could be the difference between a big play and a bad loss. Helu did have multiple 100 yard rushing games when he was a starter late in the season in 2011. Though he didn’t have any major games, he proved capable of running this offense and being effective. If Morris were to miss a couple of weeks, there would be a drop off, but he should handle his own and limit how far down the running game would go. The big negative with Helu is his own inability to stay healthy. Multiple injury issues have plagued him throughout his career so far, and he is coming back from a foot injury so his effectiveness for this year is understandably questioned.
-The Redskins drafted Chris Thompson in the 5th round this year with the idea in mind that he could be a weapon. Thompson has electric speed and could develop into a very dangerous option on the perimeter in the running game as well as a nightmare for linebackers to cover in the passing game. While his speed and agility exceed that of Helu, he isn’t a guy who could really be expected to run between the tackles and take on blitzers in the passing game. It is hard to envision him as ever being an every down back, even as a back-up. He could help in a running back by committee approach to help replace Morris, but not a 20 carry a game type of option. The other concern with Thompson is that he too is coming back from an injury, after he tore his ACL last year. (He also has a serious back injury in his past as well).
-Jamison was the Redskins 7th rounder, but he could possibly be the Redskins best all-around back-up option. He comes from a zone system in college and gets very high marks for his vision and ability to run between the tackles. He doesn’t have break away speed, but he can be shifty in his ability to change directions. The best thing he has going for him is he doesn’t have the injury history that Helu and Thompson have. If Morris were to go down he might be the best option to take over the lead back carries (though he would likely be splitting time).
-Royster isn’t much of an athlete, at least compared to his peers here, but he did have two highly productive games to close out the 2011 season for the Redskins. Unfortunately he dealt with injuries all of last season which definitely limited his effectiveness. As a result he was a poor back-up option for the Redskins. Royster does know the system, and has decent vision and break tackle ability, but he’s not dynamic nor does he do anything exceptional. If the injuries to Helu or Thompson prove to be too much he could be a decent back-up though (if he’s healthy).
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-There is more promise and potential in this group than they are given credit for, but the real issue is the injury bug. With Helu and Thompson coming off pretty major injuries, their ability to last all season has to be in question. Also, they are likely to be pretty limited early in the year. If Morris was to miss a couple games in the first month or two, the Redskins back-ups might not be up to the challenge. Given the injury concern, I really believe it is wise for the Redskins to take 3 back-up running backs to go along with Morris and a full back (Darrel Young). Now if the Redskins didn’t have quality depth I wouldn’t suggest it, but either Jamison or Royster would be a nice extra insurance policy for this team this season. It might not be the deepest RB group in the league, but if they are healthy they should do an above average job replacing Morris, which is really all you can ask for.