We know the Washington Redskins have two locks at running back, but how the position shakes out after that is up for debate.
Derrius Guice is perhaps the most obvious player with a guaranteed roster spot. A surefire first-round talent that fell to the Washington Redskins at No. 59, Guice has the speed, quickness, and balance through contact that the Washington Redskins have been missing for longer than they know. The question isn’t whether Guice will make the roster, but whether he’ll start the season as the No. 1 back, or be eased into the role, as Jay Gruden has often done with rookies.
Chris Thompson is about as much as a lock as Guice is. In truth, the two can’t be compared, as both players serve different roles. Guice can be the Washington Redskins’ all-purpose back, while Thompson is reserved to more of a scat back role. That’s not a slight to Thompson, because the former fifth-round pick is one of the best in the NFL, in that regard. His receiving abilities and shiftiness in open space are assets that the Washington Redskins enjoyed last season, and if he can come back fully healthy, that won’t change in 2018.
Behind the top two spots, however, the running back depth chart is one in flux. Samaje Perine seems to have the inside track on the No. 3 slot, given his draft status, but there are four running backs fighting for the last final spot on the roster, and the battle will ultimately come down to versatility.
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In this context, versatility describes what a running back can and can’t do. Is he fast? Is he quick? Does he have a well-rounded game? Can he pass block? Catch out of the backfield? These are the things that the Washington Redskins will be looking for out of their candidates: Robert Kelley, Byron Marshall, Kapri Bibbs, and Martez Carter.
Many would expect Robert Kelley to have an advantage on his competition, given he has two years of NFL experience, including starting experience with Washington. But Kelley, despite the positive reports coming out of OTAs, is far from a lock.
The Washington Redskins have a good short yardage running back in Samaje Perine, and if they’re forced to choose between Kelley and Perine, they’ll likely choose the younger back, whom they actually spent draft capital on. Meanwhile, Marshall, Bibbs, and Carter are all more explosive, more versatile backs than Kelley. Marshall, in particular, has a background as a productive receiving back, and this may bode well for him in the eyes of Jay Gruden. Byron Marshall is also younger than Kelley and Kapri Bibbs, which may hold value, given the typically short shelf life of a running back.
The Washington Redskins’ offensive staff will be looking to put together a versatile running back cast, but with, at the most, four spots to be had for running backs, and with three spots likely locked, tough decisions will have to be made. If Robert Kelley can improve his quickness and his receiving ability, then he could make a case to stay, because that’s ultimately what it will come down to. But the other backs have a head start.