With Derrius Guice tearing his ACL during the Redskins’ first preseason game, now we need to know what’s going to happen in the Redskins backfield. Jay Gruden says he’s happy with the with the backs on the team right now (if that was true, why would they draft a running back with a second round pick?). Sinceit doesn’t look like they’ll be signing any veterans, so we have to take a closer look at the current running backs on the roster.
The back to get most excited about is Chris Thompson. Even when Guice was healthy, Gruden assured everyone that Thompson would retain his pass catching/third-down role and Guice would be “more of a first-, second-down banger.”Thompson may not pick up many of the carries which would have gone to Guice, but it’s even more likely now that the Redskins will be playing from behind, and forced to throw the ball early and often.
Thompson was a force to be reckoned with last season. In the nine weeks he played he led the Redskins in both rushing and receiving yards, had more receiving yards than any running back in the league, and was the RB7 in PPR formats. In 2018, the only changes to Thompson’s situation have been beneficial to his fantasy value. The backfield is the same: Kelley and Perine didn’t take away from his 2017 production and likely won’t this year either, given that neither of them is an adept pass catcher. Kelley has 25 catches in 22 career games, and Samaje Perine only had 22 catches in 2017 even though he was the only healthy back for a big chunk of the season. The wide receivers are basically the same, the offensive line is healthy as of now, and he has a new quarterback in Alex Smith. Smith loves to check down to his running backs and has produced three top 8 running backs (in terms of receiving yards) in the last five seasons; Kareem Hunt (2017), Spencer Ware (2016), and Jamaal Charles (2013).
The one caveat to Thompson’s upside is that there were reports that he may not be fully healthy until November. He managed to avoid the PUP list and all signs indicate that he’ll be available to play week 1, but he’s been limited in practice and says he doesn’t feel 100%. If he doesn’t get any preseason action, I would be hesitant to pull the trigger on drafting him.
What about Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine? That is a question that no fantasy owners wants to have to ask themselves. The Redskins offensive line was one of the most injured units in football, but Kelley and Perine averaged 3.1 and 3.4 yards per carry, respectively. Kelley was the starter to begin 2017 but didn’t play well enough or long enough to solidify that job. Perine, however, didn’t do enough either to usurp the job.
The Redskins drafted Perine early in the fourth round of the 2017 draft with high expectations. He reached at least 1,060 yards and 12 touchdowns in all three of his college seasons and Oklahoma. He’s a bruising runner who relies on strength and vision to collect yards, but doesn’t have good lateral quickness or elite speed. Perine can push the pile with his leg strength, but if paths aren’t created by the offensive line, he won’t pick up more than a few yards. In 2017, the Redskins ranked last in the league in yards created before contact per Pro Football Focus. Trent Williams is an All-Pro left tackle, Brandon Scherff has made two consecutive Pro Bowls at right guard, and Morgan Moses took a big step forward last year at right tackle. If this offensive line can stay intact, they may be able to create more openings for Perine to burst through, but that’s a best-case scenario.
Rob Kelley is of a similar mold to Perine, but without the draft pedigree. Kelley came to the Redskins undrafted before the 2016 season, won the backup job in camp and preseason, and then the starting role fell into his lap when Matt Jones got injured in week 7. Kelley is also a move the pile type of back. He doesn’t go down easy but he doesn’t have the lateral ability to create on his own. In 2016, the Redskins intact offensive line graded out as the 12th best unit on Pro Football Focus which helped him a lot. In 2017 the depleted line dropped to 23rd.
The Redskins backfield will likely be a true committee with Kelley and Perine sharing the early down work and Thompson catching passes. Unless one of Kelley or Perine becomes the unquestioned starter, neither will be worth much in redraft leagues. The Redskins haven’t produced even an RB2 since Alfred Morris in 2014, though Kelley and Perine would be lucky to crack the top 36 if they are splitting carries and not catching many passes.