Probably no player on the Redskin roster illustrates the fickleness of football fans better than Helu. Only a year and a half ago, most of us didn’t consider running back a high priority in the 2012 draft because both Helu and Evan Royster had made the team in 2011 as rookies and, in a small sample size, showed promise.
Helu, lest we forget, cracked the starting lineup for the first time on Nov. 6 against the 49ers and proceeded to break the all-time team record for receptions in a single game with 14. After splitting time with Ryan Torrain the following two weeks, Helu earned the starting job outright on Nov. 27 and rushed for a then-Redskin rookie record 108 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries against a Seattle Seahawk defense ranked in the top 10 at the time. One of the season’s signature moments came when he hurdled Roy Lewis en route to a touchdown.
He responded with two consecutive 100-yard performances — including a 126-yard outburst against the New England Patriots. His three consecutive 100-yard games still stands as a Redskin rookie record, and he finished the season as the team’s leading rusher, earning himself a spot on the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America all-rookie team even though he suffered a toe injury against the New York Giants that robbed him of his burst. All told, he led NFL rookie running backs with 642 yards despite splitting time with Royster, Torrain and Tim Hightower, and you’d have sworn he had a bright future in the Nation’s Capitol.
Flash ahead a year, however, and Roy Helu is the quintessential forgotten man. When his turf toe problems returned in the 2012 preseason, it opened the door for Alfred Morris to grab the running back job, and now Helu is feeling a little like Wally Pipp.
What 2012 stats? His second season came to an abrupt end when he was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 26 due to lower leg injuries and turf toe. He finished the season with exactly two rushing yards and 45 receiving yards on seven receptions.
Key Improvement in 2013:
Obviously there’s nothing more important to Helu in 2013 than just staying on the field. After his frustrating 2012 campaign, he went to a foot specialist who found previously undiagnosed cartilage damage in his left foot, which was surgically repaired in February. Helu believes he will be close to 100 percent by the start of OTAs and full-go by the time training camp starts in July. The Redskins apparently aren’t convinced, though, or they wouldn’t have taken a pair of running backs in the 2013 draft. Chris Thompson, in particular, poses the greatest immediate threat to Helu, given his speed and receiving talents.
With Morris firmly entrenched as the first- and second-down back, Thompson and Helu are likely competing for the job of third-down specialist and, assuming both (or either) are healthy, it will make for one of the more intriguing training camp battles. Thompson has more speed and elusiveness, but Helu has some wiggle to his game, too. And at 219 pounds, Helu has the heft to step in as a full-time starter, too, if Morris gets nicked up—a near-certainty for someone who runs as hard as he does.
Bottom line: If Roy Helu’s foot is really healed and he resembles the player he was for a tantalizing stretch in 2011, he’s a factor on this team. If not, the Redskins have other options and appear fully prepared to move on.