Terrell Davis was an NFL MVP and a Super Bowl MVP. Mike Anderson rushed for 15 touchdowns and almost 1,500 yards as a rookie. To say the least, Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan has had success with running backs he drafted in the sixth round.
When rookie running back Alfred Morris starts in today’s season opener against the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome, we’ll find out whether Shanahan still has the low-round golden touch.
The Redskins’ most productive player on offense during the preseason, Morris impressed with his hard-charging running style. He also displayed “an innate ability” to elude would-be tacklers, Shanahan told me recently.
By the time the Redskins chose Morris in the sixth round, 172 other players had been drafted. Morris isn’t an especially fast running back (in comparison, Redskins’ second-year back Roy Helu is much faster).
Although Morris rushed for almost 3,600 yards and 27 touchdowns in a productive college career at Florida Atlantic, he played for a team that went 1-11 last season. One longtime NFL decision-maker who evaluated Morris told me he “really didn’t jump out on film.”
In fact, from what we’ve heard, Shanahan only gave Morris a look after Florida Atlantic Coach Howard Schnellenberger personally reached out to Shanahan to ask him to give Morris a chance. Shanahan looked at the tape and liked what he saw.
“He’s a very thoughtful, sincere young man,” Shanahan told me last week. “He really has a good approach.”
Helu is fast and Evan Royster, the Redskins’ other second-year runner, is elusive. But neither possesses the one-cut power that Morris showed each time he carried the ball during the preseason.
The “stretch” play is the staple of Shanahan’s running attack. Once the back receives the handoff from the quarterback and begins to run wide, he must quickly identify the correct running lane after making one cut. Morris was very effective on stretch plays throughout the preseason.
Here’s the big question: How will Morris fare in pass protection? In college offenses, running backs rarely have full-field responsibility in picking up blitzes. Morris was responsible for half the field in Florida Atlantic’s offense. Not surprisingly, Morris struggled at times in practice and the preseason (his missed assignment led to a fumble in the second preseason game).
In the third preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, however, Morris received a perfect grade in blitz pick-ups. “Sure did,” Shanahan said.
Morris is hungry. Shanahan likes that.
“I didn’t expect to get as many chances as I did” in the preseason, Morris said. “But once I got them, I think I made the most of them. That’s what I wanted to do.”