Now, the one-cut running back that is able to thrive in Mike Shanahan's system is usually not a household name; not because Mike does like household names, but rather because he feels he can find value in this style of running back later in the draft. 2011 fourth round selection Roy Helu out of Nebraska is a perfect example of this.
Helu is a 6' 220 pound back with excellent speed, good power and vision, solid hands, and a willing blocker. Helu excelled in Nebraska's inside and outside zone scheme, that utilized the stretch, toss, dart and read. The system employed athletic linemen, and the duel-threat ability of quarterback Taylor Martinez to make life easier on running backs. Patience, vision, misdirection, and speed were all vital aspects of the Nebraska rushing attack that saw Roy Helu amass 1245 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. He had a whopping 6.8 yards per carry average, and only lost 47 rushing yards on the season - in other words, Helu was always getting positive gains. So why did a running back as productive as Helu slip to the fourth round?
Evan Royster, a sixth round draft choice in 2011 is another Shanahan type of back. Although he does not have Helu's speed, Royster is very similar in that he has great vision and patience, good hands, and always seems to be going forward. Royster has great balance, and seems to turn his body just enough on contact to deflect the hits, and always fall ahead. Royster was Penn States all-time leading rusher surpassing blue and white greats such as Curt Warner, Franco Harris, Ki-Jana Carter, Larry Johnson, Blair Thomas and D.J. Dozier to name a few.
Now, there are some great running backs in the NFL today. Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Frank Gore, Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Steven Jackson, Michael Turner, Matt Forte, Rashard Mendenhall, DeAngelo Williams, Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew to name a few. Aside from Foster and Turner all of the other backs are higher round picks. Now, in the Mike Shanahan system, we as Redskins fans have the luxury of not having to spend as high a draft pick on running back, yet hopefully, if history holds true, gain as equal, or greater reward from these later round gems Shanahan is able to find.
Is the zone, one-cut running back truely skillful, or is this type of back simply a product of a productive system? In Denver, I would say it was the latter, but in Washington, that chapter has yet to be written. Hopefull, we'll all soon find out.