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Roster battle: Assessing the competition among Redskins running backs thru two preseason games

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Derrius Guice is out for the year; Chris Thompson is a roster lock. Of the remaining backs competing for roster spots, who looks the best?

Washington Redskins v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Redskins are holding running back tryouts in Asburn today because things are getting a little thin following a number of injuries, both major and minor.

In addition to the running back losses we already knew about, Jay Gruden added another name to the list at his Saturday post-practice press conference.

I haven’t seen a full list of names for who would be trying out today — Gruden was being a bit coy in the press conference when asked — but there’s at least one familiar name:

It seems crazy, but with the level of injuries that the Redskins have faced at the running back position in just training camp and two preseason games, a player like Darkwa (or someone else) is not only assured of being added to the roster, but has a real shot at being active on the regular season roster for the opening game in Arizona.

But that’ll be another article for a different day.

Today, we’re going to look at the running backs not named Guice or Wellman that played against the Patriots and Jets in the first two weeks of preseason to see if we can sort out the running back battle among the incumbents before any new competition arrives. The analysis will include Martez Carter, despite the fact that he has already been waived; in fact, the analysis ranked him last among the backs on the roster before he was waived, lending credence to the Redskins’ decision to let him go.

The evaluator

I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I am not the kind of guy who can break down film one play at a time. Knowing my limitations, I turn to others for help when I need it.

Gibbs4potus (@westcoast_skins) did an outstanding job breaking down film on every undrafted rookie free agent in Redskin training camp in May, and he was the brains and the brawn behind the fine article looking at the competition at the returner positions among Redskin rookies that was published yesterday.

The rating system

As Kirk Cousins was always so fond of saying, “Every play is its own entity”. Comparing all the elements of a single running play with those of another is very much an apples-to-oranges comparison. There are just so many elements involved: the blocking, the play of the defense, the running back’s decision-making and explosion. In a deep-dive-breakdown where we compare two plays side-by-side, all those elements can be discussed and analyzed.

This article, however, is supposed to be more of a broad-brush overview of several players across dozens of plays. In the end, we decided to rank each play as if it were a hotel or restaurant — with a 5 star system. It’s simple, intuitive, and allows for easy comparison.

The structure of the article

The article will be presented in three parts:

Part 1 - I will list all the 5 star plays in a summary format

Part 2 - Each running back under review will be listed one-by-one, and every run that player has had in the preseason to date will be ranked from best to worst

Part 3 - The players under review will be ranked from best to worst, with a short commentary on what expectations are for that player based on performance in the two preseason games

Let’s get to it.

Analysis from Gibbs4potus

Without Derrius Guice for the 2018 season, the Redskins will need to decide on their workhorse running back to pair with Chris Thompson. Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine battled for the job during the 2017 season and now, without Guice in the mix, they have resumed that battle. Perine is likely to be inactive or affected by injury for at least the 3rd game, against the Broncos, while Rob Kelley is one of only three running backs currently healthy enough to practice.

Kapri Bibbs and Byron Marshall also spent time as the Redskins workhorse running back during the team’s injury riddled 2017 campaign. Rookie UDFA, Martez Carter joined the competition for 2-3 spots on the roster alongside Chris Thompson, though he was waived with an injury designation on Saturday.

I have rated each pre-season run from each of these five players on a scale of 1-5. 5=excellent, 4=above average, 3=average, 2=below average, 1=poor.

Part 1 - The full list of five-star runs

  • Samaje Perine - Patriots, 2nd Quarter, 12:46
  • Samaje Perine - Patriots, 2nd Quarter, 11:31
  • Samaje Perine - Jets, 1st Quarter, 7:41
  • Kapri Bibbs - Patriots, 4th Quarter, 3:27
  • Martez Carter - Jets, 3rd Quarter, 7:25
  • Martez Carter - Jets, 3rd Quarter, 6:55

Part 2 - The rating of every run by every back

Here is my analysis of how they have performed during the Redskins first 2 preseason games:

Rob Kelley

Washington Redskins v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Rob Kelly ran the ball 11 times over 2 games. His best runs were in short yardage situations in game one vs the Patriots.

4 STARS (Patriots, 14:30, 1Q) Early in the first quarter on 3rd and a half yard, Kelley was hit a yard and a half deep in the backfield but was able to slip the tacklers and get the first down with a 2 yard run.

4 STARS (Patriots, 1:33, 1Q) Late during the same quarter, Kelley made a rare, for him, quick bounce outside to the right on a 2nd and 1 play. He gained 5 yards and a first down.

3.5 STARS (Jets, 10:54, 1Q) Kelley ran the ball from the Jets 10 yard line down to the 6 early in the first quarter. I think Kelley could have gotten more but he did carry a tackler with him for a few yards.

3 STARS (Jets, 11:05, 2Q) On the very next play, Kelley runs 2 yards down to the 4 yard line after being contacted at the line of scrimmage.

3 STARS Kelley’s last run vs the Jets was a draw play and he was contacted by defenders In the backfield just after the handoff. Kelley is able to elude them enough to gain a positive 2 yards instead of taking a loss.

3 STARS (Jets, 6:30, 1Q) Kelley gained 4 yards on what appeared to be a read option run (I don’t know if McCoy had any intention of keeping the ball) to get into the red zone.

2.5 STARS (Jets, 7:02, 1Q) On the play before that, Kelley gain 3 yards to get to the Jets 20. He was contacted at the line of scrimmage but I thought he should have had more yards due to the momentum had built up.

2 STARS (Jets, 14:30, 1Q) Kelley began the game vs the Jets with a couple of below average runs. On his second carry, he gained 1 yard on his first run but spun around and missed the cutback lane outside of Paul Richardson when he ducked his head.

2 STARS (Jets, 14:28, 1Q) Kelley gained 2 yards on his 2nd carry of the Jets game by running into the back of an offensive lineman. 2.0 rating.

2 STARS (Patriots, 15:00, 1Q) Kelley had another short gain to begin the Patriots game (and the Redskins preseason). He hesitated after the handoff and was tackled quickly but fell forward for a yard. I believe he could have more yards if he had hit the hole quicker.

1 STAR (Patriots, 5:20, 2Q) Kelley’s final carry vs the Patriots was his poorest of the preseason. He had an opportunity to sprint to the end zone in the second quarter but hesitates and is stuffed in the middle of the line for no gain.

Samaje Perine

NFL: Washington Redskins at New England Patriots Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

5 STARS (Jets, 7:41, 1Q) Samaje Perine had only one run vs the Jets but it was an excellent one. Perine saw J.P. Holtz turn a defender and he exploded through the hole as defenders flailed at his ankles for a 30 yard gain.

5 STARS (Patriots, 12:46, 2Q) Perine had similar explosion vs the Patriots on a 14 yard run in the second quarter. He showed great balance and quickness and a nice stiff arm on the play.

5 STARS (Patriots, 11:31, 2Q) Perine Bounced outside, eluding 2 tacklers and outrunning another on a 20 yard gain. This play was called back for holding.

3.5 STARS (Patriots, 2:34, 2Q) Late In the second quarter, Perine carried tacklers for four yards up the middle.

3.5 STARS (Patriots, 3:45 3Q) In the third quarter, Perine has a blocker pushed in front of him when he tries to run off tackle to the left so he cuts inside quickly for a tough four yards instead of a big loss on the play.

3 STARS (Patriots, 11:31, 2Q) Perine ran for 3 yards in the middle of the line.

2.5 STARS (Patriots, 4:39, 3Q) Perine ran up the middle for a 2yard gain.

2 STARS (Patriots, 9:55, 2Q) Perine had the edge outside left with blocks set up if he could have out run the linebackers but pounded the rock inside instead and was stripped of the ball after the whistle.

Byron Marshall

Washington Redskins v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

3 STARS (Patriots, 0:30, 4Q) Byron Marshall finished the game vs New England with a four yard run.

2 STARS (Jets, 11:45, 2Q) In the Jets game, Marshall evaded a tackler with a cut inside, gaining a yard. He looked slow with his decision making.

1 STAR (Jets, 12:58, 2Q) A couple plays before that, Marshall gained a yard inside but had an opening outside to the right that he didn’t see because he put his head down to plunge forward.

1 STAR (Patriots, 1:55, 2Q) On his other run vs the Patriots, Marshall stopped when the edge was cut off and lost four yards.

BiB: The scope of this article is to look at each back based on his runs — receiving targets are not included. Everyone knows that Byron Marshall is more of a receiver, and that — if he were to make the Redskin regular season roster — it would likely be as a backup 3rd down player behind Chris Thompson. He had a wonderful catch and run touchdown against the Patriots to open up the team’s scoring this preseason, but this analysis indicates that — unlike Chris Thompson, who can carry the ball as a running back very effectively inside or outside the tackles — Marshall poses very little threat as a runner. This may be enough for the Redskins coaches and personnel staff to look elsewhere when deciding the final roster spots.

Kapri Bibbs

NFL: New York Jets at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

5 STARS (Patriots, 3:27, 4Q) Kapri Bibbs had the longest run of the preseason in the fourth quarter vs New England. He showed good burst and vision on a 41 yard run off tackle.

4 STARS (Patriots, 9:05, 4Q) Bibbs ran for a tough 7 yards on his first carry of the preseason. He started outside before cutting back inside eluding tacklers.

4 STARS (Jets, 10:45, 3Q) Bibbs made a nifty spin move in the hole vs the Jets on a four yard gain.

4 STARS (Jets, 1:00, 2Q) Bibbs ran for a hard earned first down on a two yard run vs the Jets.

3 STARS (Jets, 12:43, 3Q) Bibbs was corralled by the Jets on a tough one yard run up the middle.

3 STARS (Patriots, 5:26, 4Q) Bibbs ran for a difficult three yards vs New England.

2.5 STARS (Jets, 3:10, 2Q) The Jets stifled the Redskins run game again on a zero yard run by Bibbs.

2 STARS (Jets, 8:39, 2Q) Bibbs was dropped for a two yard loss vs the Jets.

2 STARS (Patriots, 3:18, 4Q) Timon Parris was beaten badly on a two yard loss vs the Patriots.

Martez Carter

New York Jets v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

5 STARS (Jets, 7:25, 3Q) Martez Carter exploded into the game vs the Jets after not playing vs New England. His first run was electrifying as he escaped from a defensive lineman’s grasp, bounced outside, using his hand for balance to gain 9 yards and a penalty for a first down.

5 STARS (Jets, 6:55, 3Q) Carter followed up with a jump cut outside and sprinted down the left sideline for 33 yards.

3 STARS (Jets, 1:24, 3Q) Carter found the running tougher after those two carries and gained three yards here.

3 STARS (Jets, 10:55, 4Q) Carter gained one yard here. 3.0 rating.

2 STARS (Jets, 5:42, 3Q) The Jets stopped Carter after one yard.

2 STARS (Jets, 6:24, 3Q) Carter stopped for no gain.

2 STARS (Jets, 9:15, 4Q) Carter loses three yards with nowhere to go on his last carry.

Part 3 - Overall Rankings

The Redskins won’t make their decisions on which running backs make the roster solely on their preseason performances but they will carry a lot of weight. Here is how I see the roster shaking out for the running backs other than Chris Thompson who will be the third down and change of pace back:

#1 Samaje Perine

Samaje Perine makes the roster as the probable starter. His average rating as a runner during the preseason has been 3.56, above average. Perine is a good receiver also (but only about average compared to RBs around the league). He has improved his pass blocking and had no mistakes in that area. Perine was used as a returner some last season and was average.

  • Runner- 4.0
  • Receiver- 3.0
  • Blocker- 3.0
  • Returner- 3.0

#2 Kapri Bibbs

Kapri Bibbs ran very well on the tough short yardage runs and broke loose on a long run also. He excelled as a receiver during the two games. Bibbs had some trouble pass blocking vs the Patriots but looked much vs the Jets in that area. Bibbs was part of the return team but didn’t a chance to bring any kickoffs out.

  • Runner- 3.0
  • Receiver- 4.0
  • Blocker- 3.0
  • Returner- 3.0

#3 Rob Kelley

Rob Kelley looks slimmer, but not really any quicker this year. He did run very tough in short yardage. Kelley is not usually a smooth looking receiver but did look good on one play vs the Jets. Kelley is not considered a very good returner but might possibly be used in that area if needed.

  • Runner- 3.0
  • Receiver- 2.0
  • Blocker- 3.0
  • Returner- 2.0

#4 Byron Marshall

Byron Marshall was electrifying when he scored the first touchdown of the preseason vs the Patriots. He showed excellent route running, hands and acceleration on that play but not much since. Marshall seemed to be winning the primary kickoff return job which would guarantee a spot on the roster but he is hurt again now. Marshall may not be healthy enough to start the season on the roster.

BiB: I want to interject the point again that I asked Gibbs4potus to rank these players as runners (with receiving, blocking & ST taken into account when running skills were rated equally), which is why Rob Kelley is ranked above Byron Marshall, and Bibbs is above Kelley. Clearly, Marshall is the superior receiving back, and might well be ranked above Kelley overall if receiving and returning skills were prioritized over running.

  • Runner- 2.0
  • Receiver- 4.0
  • Blocker- 3.0
  • Returner- 3.0

#5 Martez Carter

Martez Carter was an electrifying player at Grambling St. We saw some of that vs the Jets but he probably needs a season on the practice squad to learn how to run in the NFL. Carter was also a great returner in college. Carter is a bit old for a rookie also at 25 so he won’t be given as much time to develop as other rookies.

BiB: In fact, Carter won’t be given any further chance to develop with the Redskins, unless he remains available and is brought back to the Practice Squad at the end of the month. He was waived on Saturday with an injury designation.

  • Runner- 3.0
  • Receiver- 3.0
  • Blocker- 2.0?
  • Returner- 3.0

Summary

I see Perine being a lock for the roster with Thompson. Bibbs has looked the best of the rest, even though he received some horrendous blocking in the third and fourth quarters of games. Bibbs should make the team, but he needs to get some time (and have some success) returning kickoffs to secure a spot on the roster. Rob Kelly will get the fourth spot and be used as a change of pace runner for Perine.

Marshall has been mostly below average as a runner after his great touchdown catch — and now he is hurt. I think the Redskins will try to put Marshall on the practice squad while he recovers from his sprained ankle. Carter could go on the practice squad also if there is not a greater need at another position.

Poll

Who will carry the ball for the Redskins on the first running play of the 2018 regular season?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Rob Kelley
    (198 votes)
  • 64%
    Samaje Perine
    (441 votes)
  • 1%
    Kapri Bibbs
    (9 votes)
  • 5%
    Chris Thompson
    (35 votes)
  • 0%
    Byron Marsall
    (0 votes)
683 votes total Vote Now

Poll

If you were the decision-maker, which of the following running backs would you prioritize for a roster spot on the final 53?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Byron Marshall
    (90 votes)
  • 64%
    Kapri Bibbs
    (379 votes)
  • 19%
    Rob Kelley
    (117 votes)
586 votes total Vote Now

Poll

The Redskins will sign another running back after tryouts on Sunday. What will be that player’s situation?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    He’s a camp body to get the ‘Skins through the final two preseason games; nothing more
    (31 votes)
  • 13%
    He’ll be allowed to compete, but he’ll have no realistic shot at making the roster for Week 1 of the regular season
    (82 votes)
  • 74%
    If it’s a veteran, he’ll have a genuine opportunity to make the team and dress for the Cardinals game
    (448 votes)
  • 6%
    He’ll be injured before the end of preseason
    (40 votes)
601 votes total Vote Now