Alfred Morris had nothing short of a miraculous season. As a 6th round rookie, he had 335 carries for 1,613 yards (4.8 ypc) and 13 touchdowns. His overall impact was nearly that of Robert Griffin III, and when Griffin was not himself due to injury in the final game of the season, Morris took over and rushed for 200 yards to send the Redskins to the postseason. Despite that impressive rookie year, the Washington Redskins need to ensure their running back future and invest in some depth, because it is likely that what Morris did is unsustainable.
Morris’s 335 carries would rank him in the top 10 of carries in a season over the last 5 years. Typically players with 300+ carries have seen their production fall off the next season. While there are premier backs who aren’t as easily affected, they still see a dip in their numbers. For example Adrian Peterson saw his highest carries in his sophomore season with 363 and he maintained a 4.8 ypc. The next season his carries dipped to 314 and his ypc went to 4.4, and he saw his carries per game continue to dip for the next two seasons until it went back up this past season. Now Peterson was obviously still one of the leagues best even when his carries went down, but it’s worth noting that he wasn’t immune to seeing his numbers fade slightly.
What’s even scarier than Morris’s number of carries is his percentage of carries among running backs/full backs, which came to 89.5%. That is an insane workload for anyone, and just not a viable plan for Washington’s continued success. That is the epitome of putting all your eggs in one basket, and can’t be allowed to happen again. While last season Robert Griffin III was able to carry quite a bit of the load with his 120 rushes, that won’t be the case this season. Even if Griffin is healthy for week 1, he’ll likely be limited in his mobility for at least part of the season. Also the Redskins should look to scale back his runs when he is 100%. That means that some extra carries will need to be heading the running backs way, and Morris can’t be asked to shoulder more of the load.
While it is easy to point to Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster as possible options due to their success at the end of the 2011 season, 2012 proved that they are unreliable for the role. Yes both backs were banged up, and Helu had to go on IR, but that could easily happen again. There is no guarantee that either back will be effective enough to take some carries back from Morris. The Redskins need to bring in additional talent and competition both with free agents and rookies. Now in neither case should they invest much in doing so, but Washington can not afford to get complacent here.
So far the focus has been on cutting back Morris’s carries, and while that is important, the biggest reason quality depth needs to be brought in is the fact that Morris may need to miss a significant amount of time next year. Despite there being no injury track record, it needs to be a very real concern for the Redskins. Running backs have a high injury rate, and it can happen to anyone. Last year the other three NFC East teams all saw their starting running back deal with injuries that kept them out of multiple games (and made them less effective in others). In addition to those backs a host of other teams (SD, Pitt, Jac, Buff, Den, etc.) saw running backs going down with injuries. Whether it would be for just a game or two, or half a season plus, the Redskins need to have a plan in place on how to get by if the worst happens and Morris gets injured.
What do you think the Redskins should do for their back-up running back?