The Washington Redskins 2012 season was much better than most anticipated. Starting a rookie quarterback in Robert Griffin III and a rookie RB in Alfred Morris is not an ideal situation but the Redskins made it work. Not only did they make it work, but the two went on to become one of the best rookie backfield combinations of all time, leading the Redskins to the #1 rushing attack in the NFL. With the ransom of draft picks we gave up for RGIII, we had high expectations for him (and he managed to somehow exceed those) but not many were favorable of the Alfred Morris selection in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. After the 2012 season, many have changed their tune on Morris. I'm not telling anyone anything they don't already know, but should opinions have been changed? Or is Alfred Morris just that good? Let's take a look.
From the 2012 NFL Draft to Week 1, Alfred Morris went from camp body without a position to starting RB for the Washington Redskins. Injuries at the running back position gave Morris an opportunity to shine in the pre-season and he capitalized on it. After being announced by Mike Shanahan as the starter for Week 1, he finished the 2012 season with 335 carries, 1,613 yards, and 13 TDs with a 4.8 yards per carry average. Morris finished 2nd in the NFL in rushing, behind only Adrian Peterson. He broke the Redskins all-time single season rushing record, was named to the PFW All-Rookie Team, named 2nd Team All-Pro, was a 3x NFL Pepsi Rookie of the Week, and was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week and the FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Week for his performance in Week 17 against the Cowboys. He was named the 64th best player in the entire NFL by his peers on the NFL's Top 100 List. But, I ask again, is he as good as his numbers indicate? How valuable is he to the Redskins?
It's clear that Alfred Morris benefited from Robert Griffin III in the backfield. How much did that help? Like many before him, he benefited from both the zone-blocking scheme and stretch plays. He benefited from the pistol, the option and the triple-option. Was it his talent that earned those numbers or the fact that defenses in the NFL weren't prepared for this type of offense? Would Morris have gained as many yards if we didn't have a running threat at the QB position? RG3 kept backside defenders occupied on stretch plays and optimized Alfred's running opportunities on option plays by giving him the ball when the defender they "optioned" stayed with the quarterback. Coming out of a small school in FAU, Morris played against weaker competition. At the 2012 NFL Combine, Morris did not stand out among his peers, running a slow 4.67 and only putting up 16 reps at the bench press. What scouts couldn't measure was his heart and determination, and he has a lot of both. But is that enough? Forty times are over-rated, but would a more explosive player put up better numbers in this offense last year? How important is he to the Redskins offense? Is Alfred Morris a must keep? Is he tradeable?
Before you dismiss this article after that question, keep in mind, Shanahan has done this before. As we all know too well, Shanahan traded RB Clinton Portis to the Redskins for CB Champ Bailey and a 2nd round pick. Portis played two seasons for Mike Shanahan and racked up 563 carries, 3,099 yards, 29 TDs with a 5.5 yards per carry average. Portis also had 71 catches for 678 yards and 2 TDs. He was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the PFWA Offensive Rookie of the Year, and was named to the Pro Bowl after 2003. Portis had equal, if not better, production than Alfred Morris and Mike Shanahan traded him after his 2nd season with the Broncos. Would you be upset if Alfred Morris was gone before or after this year? Would you trade Alfred Morris for a shutdown CB and a 2nd round pick? What CB? If not a shutdown CB, is there a different position you would consider? What player from that position?
(Note: I'm not advocating we trade Alfred Morris, but with Mike Shanahan's reputation for being able to find "no-name" running backs to fit his system, and after drafting two more RBs, a discussion on the matter isn't as out-of-the-realm as it seems at first glance.)