It’s no denying the Redskins are literally hurting at running back. Injuries have swept through the group in a heap and seemingly overnight the team’s strongest offensive position is now its weakest due to health. As the Redskins are down to two fully healthy running backs and the team is bringing in notable free agents for workouts, don’t expect them to sign any one of them with the intentions of them being a starter or playing a significant role.
On Sunday, the Redskins worked out four-time pro bowler Jamaal Charles and the New York Giants’ leading rusher in 2017, Orleans Darkwa. And now an NFL Network report surfaced that 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson will visit Redskins Park on Monday. In both Peterson and Charles their prime is long behind them, however, the two have 11 trips to the Pro Bowl between them and their names draw headlines. Yet, if it was up to Redskins head coach Jay Gruden and his coaching staff, neither of the options would be in Washington for very long.
Entering training camp, it was hard press to find a backfield group in the NFL that was more impressive top to bottom than what the Redskins were expected to trot out. Second-round draft pick Derrius Guice was pegged by many analysts as the steal of the draft. Guice was to lead a group that included multiple young and notable starting-caliber backs. The Redskins’ leading rusher in 2017 Samaje Perine, the dynamic all-purpose back in Chris Thompson, last season’s Week 1 starter Robert Kelley, the multi-skilled Byron Marshall, and the speedy Kapri Bibbs joined Guice to create the best running back competition in the league.
In the matter of two preseason games that notion seems eons ago. Guice tore his ACL on a long run that was negated by a holding penalty in Washington’s preseason opener against the New England Patriots. A week later, Perine bust open a 30-yard run on his first carry against the New York Jets only to suffer an ankle injury at the end of the run. Marshall replaced him but on his second carry, he too suffered an ankle injury. And just like that the Redskins lost three promising backs.
Guice is out for the season. Perine is expected to miss at least one week. Marshall initially was expected to miss two to four weeks, but Gruden admitted on Sunday Marshall could be placed on injured reserve. That leaves Kelley and Bibbs as the only two fully healthy running backs on the roster, as Thompson is working his way back from a broken leg he suffered last November when his leg got rolled on as then-quarterback Kirk Cousins was being tackled against the New Orleans Saints.
And yet still, the Redskins are confident what they have inside their locker room is all they need provided they suffer no additional injuries.
“We’re not looking for a starter right now [at running back],” Gruden said per Kimberly A. Martin of the Washington Post.
Darkwa, 26, has the strongest case of any of the running backs that have been revealed to have or be scheduled to have workouts, to stick around beyond preseason. Last season he rushed for 751 yards, five touchdowns and averaged 4.4 yards per carry. Darkwa had more yards and touchdowns and a better yards-per-carry than Peterson and Charles.
Peterson is at the tail end of his career after being the most dominant running back in the NFL earlier this decade. Last season he signed with the New Orleans Saints after his 10-year stint with the Minnesota Vikings ended. However, it was clear early for the Saints he was not a good fit as Alvin Kamara, the 2017 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, emerged as a better complement to Mark Ingram. Peterson was traded to Arizona, where he started six games rushing for 448 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
Charles was one of more dynamic running backs in the NFL but since a second torn ACL in 2015, he has struggled to reclaim the dynamics he once possessed. After never quite recovering and going through a second surgery in 2016, his nine-year stay with the Kansas City Chiefs was over and he signed with the Denver Broncos before the 2017 season. He rushed for 269 yards and one touchdown while averaging 4.3 yards per carry in a limited role.
While starter is not on the Redskins’ radar, needing a back or two to make it through preseason should be the top priority. Thompson is not expected to play at all in the preseason and Gruden has shown all indication that Kelley is the Week 1 starter. Kelley has started each of the first two preseason games. So, there should be a conscious effort to limit his work the final two preseason games.
Meanwhile, with Thompson still not 100 percent, Bibbs is certainly the team’s best healthy receiver of the group. Against the Jets he snagged seven receptions for 47 yards. He can change direction and gears to knife through defenses much like a healthy Thompson. Bibbs even has strong pass protection skills. Perine is week-to-week, and the least injured of three ailing running backs. He provides a great backup option to Kelley as the workhorse of the group. There’s an argument, if healthy, he should be the Week 1 starter ahead of Kelley. And while the names of Kelley, Perine, Thompson and Perine don’t bring the name value of say Peterson or Charles, they are better options in 2018 than either.
Gruden said the Redskins are “covering their bases” with two more exhibitions games remaining before they travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals to open the regular season on Sept. 9. The free agent workouts are primarily just in case the Redskins running backs cannot regain their health. If anyone signed may not be around for long.