Redskins Rumors: Robert Kelley expected to be lead back ahead of Samaje Perine
Last year, Robert Kelley was the young, up-and-coming running back who was relegated to backup duties behind a veteran. This year, Samaje Perine may be that guy.
The Washington Redskins are entering their second straight season with questions at the running back position. Last year, there were questions about second year player Matt Jones, who entered the year as the starter. Many wondered if Jones would be able to handle a full workload. Some thought that his running ability paled in comparison to undrafted rookie Robert Kelley. Still, Jones was given an opportunity to start in the first seven weeks of the season, before Kelley ultimately replaced him in Week 8.
This offseason, the team has a very similar situation. This time, Kelley is the strong second year player who may not be able to handle a full workload. He is battling against a young draft pick who has a great combination of strength and athleticism in Samaje Perine.
Perine has long been a favorite of mine, but he will face an uphill battle to win the job after the preseason. According to Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post, Kelley is holding the advantage early in the 2017 season and he well may be the lead back.
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"At this point, it’s clear that Rob Kelley will be the starting running back. Kelley has been the first running back to receive carries with the first team, when he’s healthy. Redskins Coach Jay Gruden’s past would also suggest that Kelley should receive most of the carries during the regular season. He started Alfred Morris over Matt Jones two years ago. Last year, Jones had the starting job despite Kelley’s impressive performance during training camp and the preseason."
Really the biggest factor in this whole situation is Jay Gruden. He really prefers having a running back who has proven himself start the season as the lead back. This has been a common pattern among NFL coaches, who rarely start a rookie in Week 1 unless they believe he has transcendent ability.
It actually makes sense to have Kelley begin the year as the starter. He did prove to be a durable option last year and early on, he rarely, if ever, had a carry that went for negative yardage. He will allow the Redskins to ease Perine into the rotation and get a feel for what type of game he will have at the NFL level.
At the same time, Kelley wore down in the end stretch of 2016, so using him as a lead back does come with some risk. He has not handled a full workload in the NFL or in college over a full season. He will need to prove that he can do so early on, or Perine will continue to eat into his workload. Still, more likely than not a 50-50 split by midseason would be the best option for the team.
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While Perine may have more upside, Kelley is definitely the guy right now. It will be interesting to see if that changes during the preseason. If not, Kelley could have a good year and may be a sleeper in fantasy for 2017.