As the Washington Redskins head into free agency after nearly clinching a playoff spot for the second-straight year, we will look at some of Washington’s key players and grade their 2016 performance.
Player: Robert Kelley
Position: Running back
Contract status: $1.62 million/3 years, expires in 2019
Preseason buzz: Who? The Washington Redskins signed a 24-year-old undrafted rookie out of Tulane that carried the ball less than 70 times his senior season? Robert Kelley came into the season as the Redskins’ third-string running back only because Keith Marshall ended up on injured reserve. It is fair to say Kelley surpassed expectations.
Ended 2016 like: Kelley ended up swiping Matt Jones’ starting gig in Week 8 and never looked back. Kelley was one of just 13 running backs with more than 160 rushing attempts averaging over 4.1 yards per carry. Kelley also put up six rushing touchdowns. Although he lacks top end speed, Kelley made up for it with vision, power and perhaps most importantly, ball security. Of the top-20 running backs in terms of yards per carry this season, Kelley was just one of five to not fumble the ball once.
Season high: The 137-yard, three-touchdown performance Kelley pulled out of his hat on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers was not only his best performance of the season, but it was the most rushing yards a starting Redskins running back had in a game since Alfred Morris rolled for 200 in 2012 over the Dallas Cowboys. At nearly 230 pounds, Kelley is not the most elusive back, but his quick feet and ability to make one-cuts helped out the Redskins struggling red zone offense.
Season low: Week 15 was a difficult one for the Washington offense, but it was especially trying for their run game. Against the 29th-ranked secondary the Carolina Panthers had in terms of yards per game (268.2), Kirk Cousins and the Redskins’ passing attack could only muster up 6.7 yards per attempt. Kelley meanwhile, facing a top-10 run defense, managed just nine rushes for eight yards. Although the rookie running back was able to score a touchdown and added 47 reception yards.
Team award: Redskins’ offensive rookie of the year.
Much to the help of Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff, the Redskins’ two best run-blocking offensive lineman, Kelley opened his NFL career on the right foot. In his first three starts, Kelley averaged 4.79 yards per carry and the Redskins did not lose a game in which Kelley got 20 carries or more this season. Even in his worst rushing performance against the Panthers, Kelley was able to make a difference on the field somehow, moving a pile of Carolina defenders for a rushing touchdown.
For a team that had the eighth-highest passing play percentage in the NFL this season and saw Kirk Cousins throw the ball inside the 10-yard line 40 times, maybe a heavier dosage of red zone-Rob Kelley is in order. Kelley scored five touchdowns on 17 rushing attempts inside the 10, while Cousins threw eight touchdowns on 40 pass attempts this season. Kelley could become one of the Redskins most deadly weapons if he sees a greater volume of touches.
When called upon, Kelley got the job done. The Redskins did not devote themselves to running the ball this season, but when they did, it payed dividends. The NFL may be more of a passing league now, but 13 of the 16 teams that threw the ball most this season (percentage of pass plays) did not make the playoffs. The Redskins also led the NFL in broken tackles this season, with a large amount of them coming from “Fat Rob”, who had 43.
2017 expectations: Head coach Jay Gruden said Kelley will open up offseason workouts as the Redskins’ lead back. Assuming he holds that title throughout the next seven months, Kelley will have a full offseason to bulk up even more and grab first-team practice reps. Unless the Redskins neglect their defensive needs in the first couple rounds of the NFL Draft, or grab a veteran running back in free agency, Kelley should be on pace for 1,000 rushing yards next season. Even if the Redskins do add a running back, Kelley could fit in as a goal line back in almost any offense.
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