Despite plans to roll with promising second-year pro Matt Jones as their starting running back in 2016, the Washington Redskins still could, and probably should, address the position during this week’s NFL draft.
Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott is regarded by many as the top running back available, but even if he remained available when Washington picked 21st overall, General Manager Scot McCloughan likely wouldn’t pull the trigger on him.
Although depth must improve at running back, Washington has more pressing needs, such as defensive line, inside linebacker and safety help.
As the Redskins proved with Alfred Morris in 2012, it’s possible to find a quality back later in the draft. And it appears that the team should have a fair amount of options. The biggest question involves the kind of back the Redskins seek, and which round makes the most sense for them to snag that player.
In Jones, Washington has a big, physical runner who coaches hope continues to learn how to use his size (6 feet 1, 231 pounds) to his advantage. Chris Thompson is a smaller (5-8, 193), shiftier back who provides both a good change of pace as a runner, and a receiving threat out of the backfield.
However, Washington could use another back capable of both helping shoulder the rushing load, and providing better pass protection.
Because of durability concerns around both Jones and Thompson (neither has made it through an NFL season unscathed), it would make sense for Washington to draft a player that fits more of a complete back mold rather than that of a complementary piece.
Arkansas boasts a couple of options in this department, and both should be available in the third to fourth round. Junior Alex Collins and senior Jonathan Williams both run with a physical style and also offer good versatility.
In 2014, Williams led Arkansas with 1,190 rushing yards, and Collins trailed him with 1,100 yards of his own. Williams (5-11, 220) missed the 2015 season with a foot injury. Collins (5-10, 217) racked up his third consecutive 1,000-yard season (1,577 yards, 20 touchdowns) to become the first Razorback to do so since Darren McFadden.
Had he been healthy, Williams – who is a little more shifty than Collins, and also excels as a power runner – could have had similar success.
Later in the draft, West Virginia’s Wendell Smallwood could draw consideration. He, like Thompson, is more of a scatback type. At 5-10, 208, Smallwood (a projected fourth to fifth rounder) is a little lighter than your average workhorse back, but offers great skills as a home-run threat, or receiver out of the backfield.
However, later still, another intriguing prospect is Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson. Jackson (6-0, 220) started only his senior season, but he made the most of it, rushing for 1,089 yards and a school-record 16 touchdowns. Almost equally as impressive was the 4.4-second 40-yard dash time that Jackson turned in at his pro day. Jackson, who projects as a sixth-round pick, figures to fit well into a power-running scheme such as Washington’s and also likely could contribute on special teams.
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