In the early part of the 2011 offseason, the Redskins parted ways with former backfield fixture Clinton Portis. The team was left searching for answers at the running back position and they drafted Penn State's all time leading rusher, Evan Royster, to help fill the void left by Portis' departure. Royster is a downhill, north-south runner that likes to make one cut and hit the hole. Above average vision and cutting ability help him to make defenders miss and get to the second level. Unfortunately, he lacks the speed and explosiveness to do much once he gets there and he too often runs upright making it easier for defenders to tackle him (he got drafted in the 6th round for a reason).
Royster was activated from the practice squad in late 2011 and when he finally got a chance to shine he took it and ran with it. Starts in the final two games of the season produced 304 total yards of offense (245 rushing and 59 receiving), with an average of 6.75 yards per touch. He led the team with 5.8 yards per carry on the year, and ranked in top 25 in nearly every major Pro Football Focus running back category. He had impressed the coaching staff enough to keep him penciled in as the starting running back for the 2012 season all the way into early September.
Rushing: 23 Attempts, 88 Yards, 3.8 Average, 2 TDs
Receiving: 19 Targets, 14 Receptions, 104 Yards, 0 TDs
Royster's run of 2011 success did not carry over into 2012. Preseason knee injuries and the emergence of Alfred Morris cost him his starting job and countless carries throughout the season. The coaching staff didn't seem to have much confidence in him as he only touched the ball 37 times the entire season (he had 45 touches between weeks 16 and 17 of 2011 alone), and when he did get the ball he didn't do much to inspire any confidence either.
He posted only 88 rushing yards on the season and his 3.8 yards per carry ranked last on the team among those with 3 or more carries. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 3rd worst rusher, the worst receiver and the 5th worst overall player on the Redskins in 2012.
Royster was also inconsistent as a pass blocker last year. He had the 6th worst pass blocking efficiency grade (pressures allowed relative to number of pass block snaps) among all running backs with at least 20 pass block snaps. Royster's poor performance in that department induced yet another Alfred Morris promotion over him when Morris overtook him as the 3rd down back in November. His subpar performance as a pass blocker last year was a far cry from the near flawless stint that he had in the role in 2011. Perhaps it was due to nagging injuries, or because a limited number of touches prevented him from getting into a groove; but Evan Royster was underwhelming and did not look like the same player in 2012.
Many people think that the additions of Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison means that the writing is on the wall for the eventual release of Evan Royster, but after taking a look at all the backs and how they fit on the team I'm not so sure. Royster is an underrated and reliable running back that has never missed a game (college and pros), has never committed a penalty, can be your 3rd down back and will consistently fall forward to get you first downs in those tough short yardage situations. The Redskins just don't have another runner like that to back up Alfred Morris. Helu, Thompson and Jamison are all either frail and injury prone, or are too small to be effective in a short yardage role.
A roster spot won't be handed to Royster, but if he stays healthy, works to shore up his pass blocking and regains some of the form that he displayed in 2011 then don't be surprised if he earns one. He may not be the most physically gifted and talented back, but he has succeeded almost every time that he has been given a chance. However, like last year touches will be few and far between; if Royster wants to stick with this team he will have find a way to do more with less this time around.