Evan Royster, Redskins Offensive Sleeper

Washington Commanders

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Let me preface this by saying I fully believe that Roy Helu will be the Redskins starting running back, have the most carries, as well as, make his mark as a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game. While Helu may be the starter, he’s not the type of back who is going to get 20+ carries a game, even if he is fully healthy. So the depth of the running back position is key, and while it is expected to be a camp battle between Evan Royster, Tim Hightower and a couple of rookies, don’t be surprised if Royster wins the primary back-up role. Furthermore, expect Royster to force the Redskins to give him a few more touches than they typically would.

Evan Royster

Why am I so optimistic about a 2nd year 6th round running back, who didn’t even make the 53 man roster until the final 6 weeks of the season? Well the answer is simple, last year wasn’t a fluke. Now I don’t truly believe that Royster can maintain his 5.9 yards per carry average next season, over 100+ carries. Just 9 running backs last season with 100 or more carries managed a yards per carry average over 5.0 (and only one of them, Reggie Bush was over 200 carries). So I don’t think Royster will be one of those backs, but I do think he could manage a very good 4.6-4.9 yards per carry average. While it is important to remember that it was a small sample size last season, consider some of the following stats:

-Of Royster’s 56 rushing attempts, an astounding 54 of them went for positive yardage (according to the ESPN game logs). And the two carries that Royster didn’t manage to move the ball forward went for no gain, meaning that in 56 attempts Royster didn’t have a single negative carry. Now over a larger sample his percentage of positive carries would likely decrease, and he’d probably have a negative gain in there, but it is an impressive stat. It is also a stat that speaks volumes as to why a running back who ran a 4.6 40 yard dash at the scouting combine, can have some success in the NFL.

The key for success in a zone blocking scheme is vision (one cut ability is a close 2nd), which is an area that Royster excels in. His ability to get positive yards on nearly every rush, is exactly what the zone scheme is intended to do. While the zone scheme is designed to provide opportunities for big plays, the majority of your runs will end up being between 2-6 yards. These short runs, set up the intermediate and longer runs, but the key is those short runs, and that they remain picking up positive yardage.

-Now despite the lack of deep speed, Royster was not a “3 yards and a cloud of dust” running back. His season long, 28 yards, matched that of the more heralded Roy Helu. Helu, who has much greater speed, had just 4 carries of 20 yards or more, Royster had half as many (2), but did so in 56 carries compared to Helu’s 151. Royster had 5 runs over 15 yards, and to put that in perspective it is as many 15 yard runs as Tim Hightower had in 84 carries (Helu had 8 such runs). So while Royster might never be a great bet for 40+ yard runs, he can still come up with some big runs.

-Another area where Royster shined (and a big reason why he did so well), was what he did after contact. Royster averaged 3.38 yards per attempt after contact. To put that number in perspective, among the 70 or so backs with 50 or more carries last year, that number would have ranked third in the league (Fred Jackson and Darren Sproles were ahead of him). Given how much contact the Redskins backs are likely to endure behind a shaky offensive line, that could be a key stat for the Redskins.

Now in the end so much of the Redskins rushing success will depend on factors outside of the running back’s control (the offensive line, a passing attack that keeps defenders out of the box, and quality play calling), but there is at least some potential here. Royster might never be a starting caliber running back, but I think it is clear (even with the small sample size) that he is capable of being a productive number 2 back. And for the Redskins that could be a nice advantage off the bench.

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