Why the Washington Redskins might have most uncertain running back situation in NFL

We can examine the Redskins runners all we want, but comparing to other backfield helps put the potentially dicey situation into perspective.

When it comes to pondering the Redskins running back situation, it's important to remember the words of Microsoft founder Bill Gates: Context is king.

As a unit, Washington's backfield is the most uncertain on the roster. One question I've pondered since the team headed for the summer exits before next month's training camp is whether this group's uncertain tag trumps all others in the league.

Heading into training camp, second-year RB Matt Jones, known for his power and three-down potential, but also fumbles and injuries, is the main man. Scatback Chris Thompson, who missed all offseason practices with a shoulder injury is next on the depth chart, though the diminutive back isn't a bell cow option. Maybe Mack Brown, Keith Marshall, or Robert Kelley fills that role. Considering their current labels are 2015 practice squad member, injury-prone seventh round pick and undrafted free agent, that's a loud maybe.

Until the Redskins add more help, something I believe they will before or during training camp, this is the group. Let's see how this group stacks up with the 31 others from around the league based on that uncertainty aspect.


* The plan involved looking at the top three runners on each team's depth chart. In some cases, like Minnesota (Adrian Peterson), Los Angeles (Todd Gurley) and Atlanta (Devonta Freeman), there was no reason to go beyond the starter.

* Of course, surprises will emerge, like rookie Alfred Morris in 2012. Of course, some projected impact additions will disappoint, like DeMarco Murray last season in Philadelphia. This wasn't about projecting the future, but gauging level of unease. We don't know for sure that Ezekiel Elliott will rock and Darren McFadden recently suffered an elbow injury, but the Cowboys are feeling good with those two and Morris. Murray is coming off a miserable season, but his new team, Tennessee, surely feels confident with the combination of Murray and rookie Derrick Henry.

Nine* teams made the uncertainty cut. Starting with the AFC, here's a look at each of those RB units, the team's ranking last season (yards per carry) and 2016 thoughts.

* Put New England's personnel almost anywhere else and they make the list. Under Bill Belichick and based on how the Patriots use their backfield, they don't.

* Debated San Diego, but Melvin Gordon should rebound after a blah rookie season and Danny Woodhead is there to help.

Baltimore - Justin Forsett,  Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon

YPC - 3.9 (21)

2016 - Forsett couldn't live up to his impressive 2014 campaign and missed the final six games with a broken arm. He also turns 31 during the upcoming season. Allen could end up as the starter despite averaging 3.8 ypc during his rookie season. That is unless fourth round pick Kenneth Dixon, second in FBSS history with 87 touchdowns, jumps them both. All will run behind a transitioning offensive line.

Cleveland - Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Glenn Winston

YPC - 4.0 (16)

2016 - Projecting the Browns backfield is tricky because 1) the other offensive skill positions are brutal and 2) the offensive line is stacked. If the passing game can simply become adequate, Crowell and Johnson turn into interesting options.

Indianapolis - Frank Gore, Robert Turbin, Jordan Todman

YPC - 3.6 (31)

2016 - Gore, 33, is coming off a career-low 3.7 ypc, though he nearly achieved his fifth straight 1,000-yard season. Andrew Luck's injuries brought down the offense and the addition of center/first-round pick Ryan Kelly should boost the ground game. If Gore can't keep the engines humming, then, um, hmmm. Turbin hasn't received a chance to shine during his four seasons. Maybe there's a reason.

Miami - Jay Ajayi, Kenyan Drake, Damien Williams

YPC - 4.3 (9)

2016 - The Dolphins underutilized Lamar Miller last season despite tremendous success. Now Miller is in Houston and Ajayi, a fifth-round pick last season, takes over the starting role. The 228-pounder has star potential, but for now, that's more hype than substance. Drake should secure a prominent pass-catching role -- if he can remain healthy -- after shining at Alabama.

Chicago - Jeremy Langford, Ka'Deem Carey, Jaquizz Rodgers

YPC - 4.0 (16)

2016 - Matt Forte took his Pro Bowl skills to New York. Langford helped fantasy owners at times during his rookie season, but his 3.6 ypc ranked fourth worst among 44 NFL backs with at least 100 carries. Carey hasn't popped during his two seasons.

Detroit - Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner

YPC - 3.8 (25)

2016 - Abdullah entered his rookie season with splashy headlines, but ended up all wet in terms of sheer production (597 rushing yards) and then suffered a shoulder injury. He did average 4.2 ypc and showed plenty of wiggle in open space. Riddick won't challenge for the starting role, but he caught 80 passes in 2015.

San Francisco - Carlos Hyde, Shaun Draughn, Mike Davis, Kelvin Taylor

YPC - 4.0 (16)

2016 - Similar to Matt Jones, Hyde's physical running style makes him susceptible to more injuries; he missed 11 games over his first two season. The 2014 second round pick does have the goods for three-down success. Draughn excites nobody, but he can help as an inside runner and pass catcher.

Seattle - Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise, Christine Michael

YPC - 4.5 (7)

2016 - Marshawn Lynch retired. That's even more of a concern since Rawls is recovering from a season-ending ankle injury, though coach Pete Carroll insists he'll be ready by Week 1. Seattle drafted the upside-rich Prosise in round three for third-round duties. Michael finally flashed potential when Lynch and Rawls missed time last season.


Washington - Matt Jones, Chris Thompson, Keith Marshall

YPC - 3.7 (28)

2016 - Jones certainly brings the needed power, speed and hands for every down work. Whether he can remain healthy and in the good graces of the fumble-adverse coaching staff is the question. Yet with those concerns, the Redskins really have no semblance of a Plan B. Thompson isn't built for heavy work. That's not an issue for Marshall, Brown or Kelley, but who knows those untested options can truly do.

So, do the Redskins have the most uncertain backfield situation? Well, maybe, especially considering that they have realistic lofty team aspirations unlike the Browns or 49ers and maybe the Ravens. Tell me Jones, a true fantasy sleeper with RB1 potential, plays at least 14 games and gets a grip on the fumbling and perceptions change. That there is no clear option if Jones goes down for whatever reason is frightening. Maybe that changes if someone from the Marshall/Brown/Kelley wows in Richmond or some veteran (Arian Foster? Chris Polk? Joique Bell?) signs.

My rank of the uncertain nine:

9) Seattle

8) San Francisco

7) Baltimore

6) Indianapolis

5) Detroit

4) Cleveland

3) Miami

2) Washington

1) Chicago

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