Standing at just 5'8", and weighing 191 pounds, Redskins running back Chris Thompson is far from an imposing force in the backfield. The 26 year old former fifth round pick in the 2013 draft from Florida State makes up for that lack of size with heart, intensity, speed, toughness and skill. Do you want to know just how tough Chris Thompson is? As a junior, he sustained T5 and T6 compression fractures in his back against Wake Forest which ended his season. He came back strong for his senior year rushing for 687 yards on 91 carries, and catching 21 passes for 248 yards over 8 games before tearing his ACL in late October. Again, his season was over.
At this point in their football careers, some men would have called it quits. Instead, Thompson aggressively rehabbed the injured knee and followed his dream of becoming an NFL running back.
After being drafted by the Redskins in the fifth round, Thompson set out to prove his doubters wrong. He was given the opportunity to prove himself on special teams, mainly as a returner, but some early struggles led to his demotion. He eventually would be placed on season ending IR after tearing his labrum. The following season, Thompson was released by the team during final roster cuts. He cleared waivers and was placed on the team's practice squad. In December of that year, he was promoted to the 53-man roster, and scored his first receiving touchdown against the New York Giants.
In 2015, Jay Gruden's second season as head coach, the Redskins saw a massive turn-around on offense. Kirk Cousins took on a leadership role at quarterback, and the passing game took center stage. Thompson became a significant contributor in the offense, carrying the ball 35 times for 216 yards, and recording 35 receptions for 240 yards and two touchdowns. 2016 saw even better production as the veteran of the backfield ran for 356 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 49 receptions for 349 yards and two more touchdowns.
Through perseverance and hard work, Thompson had finally found his place in the NFL!
The Redskins running back corps is a bit unsettled in 2017. Second year undrafted rookie Robert Kelley is the projected starter, while fourth round rookie Samaje Perine is expected to see his share of carries in back-up duty. Thompson, the team's proclaimed "third-down back" will be used during obvious passing downs as both a pass blocker and receiver out of the backfield.
Minus his size, Thompson possesses the traits to be a productive NFL starter. He has explosive speed, good vision, exceptional quickness, excellent lateral movement, soft hands and unquestioned toughness. He is the team's best pass block running back despite his 5'8" frame, and can easily be a 50 catch-per-season guy out of the backfield.
On the ground over the last last two seasons, Thompson has averaged 5.7 yards per carry, and has carried roughly four times per game in that same span.
There is no doubt that the Redskins as a passing team. In 2016, Jay Gruden's offense passed the ball 62.44% of the time (up from 59% in 2015), which was good for 8th in the NFL. Despite a massive and experienced offensive line, I do not see this trend changing much this season.
Thompson has earned the right to start at running back for this team. He is certainly not a 20-carry per game type of running back, but he should easily be receiving 15 plus touches per game between carries and receptions (he averaged 7 touches per game in 2016).
Besides not tipping their hand on obvious passing downs by having Thompson in as a "third down back", allowing him to start will give the Redskins the most versatile, explosive running back the team has the opportunity to be on the field for a much larger chunk of the team's offensive snaps, maximizing his big-play potential.
Now, the first question that will come to the top of everyone's minds will be durability - and this is a very valid concern. Some people may feel more comfortable preserving Thompson for those very valuable passing situations, but when a team passes 62% of the time, shouldn't he be on the field with greater frequency?
There are a few other running backs similar in size and skill set to Thompson who are either listed as their team's starter, or who figure to lead their team in touches - Dion Lewis (5'7" 193), Ameer Abdullah (5'9" 203), Jacquizz Rodgers (5'6" 203), Devonta Freeman (5'8" 205) Danny Woodhead (5'8" 204) and Christian McCaffrey (5'11" 202).
Despite the label the Redskins give Chris Thompson this season, it may be wise to give him 15 plus touches per game; leading the running backs in that category, thus making him the go-to guy in an unproven Washington backfield.
How would you feel if Chris Thompson were named the opening day starter, and received the most touches of all our running backs this season?