Why the Washington Redskins Need to Draft a Running Back

Roy Helu was more important than you might think, and relying solely on Alfred Morris may not be the best approach.

Not long ago, the duo of Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris gave Washington a combination of youth and productivity that suggested good things were in the team’s future.

Of course, that has not been the case.

The team hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005, they continuously seem to draft as if they’re playing Ouija, and Dan Snyder continues to be Dan Snyder. Out of all the murky misgivings, public and private missteps, and Griffin’s injuries and on-field woes, there is still Alfred Morris.

Since the Redskins drafted Morris, he has yet to record a sub-1,000 yard rushing season. He also owns the franchise record for most rushing yards in a single season, with 1,613 yards in 2012.

But Morris can’t last forever. While he’s young and talented right now, even the toughest running backs succumb to the physical demands of playing every down in the NFL. The delicate balance of running back usage relies on offensive diversity and contributions of additional running backs. Morris will need the right balance support from other running backs to maximize the output of his best years.

Perhaps surprisingly, for the last three years, the Redskins have had a good backup for Morris in Roy Helu. Whether Helu influenced Morris’ run of success is up for debate, but the effect of Helu’s move to Oakland on the running game in DC requires a closer look.

It’s Roy Helu. Who Cares?

Considering that Morris has dominated Washington’s raw production, the loss of Helu may not seem like a significant departure. However, according to the analytics, Helu was an efficient piece in the offense.

In terms of Net Expected Points (NEP), numberFire’s signature metric that measures a player’s influence on his team’s ability to score, Helu made the most of his chances. Here’s a look at Helu’s 2013 and 2014. (He was injured nearly all of his first year in 2012.)

YearReceptionsRec NEPRB RankRushing AttemptsRush NEPRB Rank

Based on relatively few receptions and rushing attempts, Helu was ranked in the top 40 in both Rushing and Reception NEP in 2013 and 2014 out of more than 160 running backs. Pretty damn good for a primarily third down back.

When compared to backs of similar volume (between 30 and 70 carries in a given year), Helu also compares nicely. In 2013, Helu’s Rushing NEP per carry (0.03) ranked ninth among 31 running backs. In 2014, his 0.04 Rushing NEP per carry ranked sixth among 29 rushers.

As for receiving, his 2013 Reception NEP per target (0.28) ranked him just 16th among 33 backs with between 20 and 50 receptions. In 2014, his 0.50 ranked fifth among 44 backs.

As of right now, the Redskins have not found a replacement for Roy Helu -- something that, from looking at his metrics above, may not be trivial. Alfred Morris is great, but without Helu, who can the Redskins rely on for Morris’ supporting cast?

Here are a few scenarios.

Scenario 1: You Wish

Helu was injured for most of Morris’ freshman NFL campaign. As a result, Morris saw the lion’s share of the snaps -- and set the franchise record for rushing yards in a season. Let’s assume that the Redskins can’t find another Roy Helu type-player, and Morris is forced into taking more snaps in 2015.

Morris is still young (26 years old), so an uptick in snaps in his fourth season as a pro shouldn’t kill him. Fantasy owners can rejoice in the potential for more opportunities for a young, healthy, proven running back. In Scenario 1, Morris’ backup doesn’t matter because he picks up the slack, and breaks his own franchise record with 1,700 rushing yards.

Scenario 2: You’d Be Encouraged

Chris Thompson and Silas Redd, two halfbacks that are still on the Redskins’ roster, don’t have a lot of experience, but they do have a lot of potential. Thompson is only 5’7’’ 192 pounds, so he’s built more like a punt returner, but his breakaway speed is a real threat. Redd was a stud at Penn State and USC, amassing over 3,000 yards from scrimmage (5.3 yards per touch) and 21 touchdowns.

The sample size is too small to make significant conclusions, but Redd did maintain a Success Rate (the percentage of carries leading to positive NEP gains) of 50.00% last year and showed promise in the pass game as well.

Full NameRushesRush NEPSuccess RateRecRec NEPCatch Rate
Silas Redd166.9250.00%87.3480.00%
Chris Thompson3-0.4666.67%61.8785.71%

Prorating Redd's Reception NEP per target (0.73) to the 47 targets that Helu saw in 2014 (an unlikely scenario), Redd would have secured a Reception NEP of roughly 34.31. That would have ranked fourth among running backs in 2014.

In Scenario 2, this unproven backfield would have to pick up the slack in Helu’s absence. Thompson and Redd could split enough time to save Morris’ legs, while showing that the small sample sizes from the 2014 season weren’t a fluke.

Scenario 3: You Know That This Will Probably Happen

What we didn’t tell you about Thompson and Redd is that despite being talented, they’re also injury-prone. Before Thompson’s junior year at Florida State, he broke two vertebrae in his back, causing him to miss the entire season. And Redd’s injury list is long: undisclosed injury his freshman year, collarbone and sternum injury his sophomore year, sprained his ankle his junior year, injured both knees his senior year.

In Scenario 3, the Redskins would enter 2015 with the intent of spelling Morris with the duo of Thompson and Redd, which could work for the first half of the year.

However, if those injuries do occur, then Washington is forced into Scenario 1 and can only hope that Morris can shoulder the load offensively until the end of the season.

Targeting a Back in the Middle Rounds

If you're a Redskins fan -- and you're hoping for Scenario 1 but expecting Scenario 3 -- we can't blame you. The scary part about the situation in Washington is that the backfield is both unproven and frail behind Morris.

Entering the draft, a draft that has an especially deep running back class, it would be reasonable for the Redskins to select a running back in the in the later rounds.

The team clearly needs to find a solid replacement for Helu -- and an insurance policy for Morris. If USC product Javorius Allen is still available in the fifth round, the Redskins should gobble him up. He’s a well-rounded, workhorse running back. Allen can even pass block, which is something Griffin hasn’t seen much of in the NFL.