Lowly ranking should motivate Commanders running back room in 2024

This was more fuel to the fire.
Brian Robinson Jr.
Brian Robinson Jr. / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

No position group looks the same where the Washington Commanders are concerned. Adam Peters used his first offseason as general manager to churn over almost half the playing personnel. This was a drastic and necessary measure in pursuit of laying better foundations for the future.

Washington's running back room was spared any significant upheaval. There was one major tweak, which saw veteran Austin Ekeler join the ranks in free agency after Antonio Gibson walked in favor of the New England Patriots. One cannot see this as anything other than an upgrade that should help rookie quarterback Jayden Daniels considerably.

Ekeler brings experience, red-zone prowess, and exceptional route-running out of the backfield. Gibson offered similar qualities but lacked the same production. This should also complement the skills Brian Robinson Jr. brings to the table after an encouraging second season in a professional environment.

Commanders running back room given lowly ranking by Pro Football Focus

Despite these encouraging signs, Trevor Sikkema from Pro Football Focus listed the Commanders' running back unit at No. 24 in his league-wide rankings. It seemed a little low, although the analyst predicted Ekeler could be in line for a bounce-back campaign after reuniting with former head coach Anthony Lynn in the nation's capital.

"The Commanders ranked 16th in PFF rushing grade in 2023 before subbing out Antonio Gibson for Austin Ekeler this offseason. Ekeler is coming off the lowest single-season rushing and receiving grades (65.1 and 57.4) of his career, but a change of scenery for him in Washington could lead to a bounce back. Behind Ekeler, Washington haw Brian Robinson and Chris Rodriguez Jr., both of whom earned rushing grades above 73.0 last season."

Trevor Sikkema, PFF

If those tasked with backfield responsibilities needed any additional motivation, they have it. Ignoring all the outside noise formed a key part of Washington's offseason strategy under new head coach Dan Quinn. But bulletin board material like this can provide an extra sense of motivation to silence the doubters all the same.

It's a solid blend that offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury must put to good use. Much will also depend on Washington's much-maligned offensive line, which has flattered to deceive in recent years but should be improved on the interior thanks to the signings of Nick Allegretti and Tyler Biadasz.

If Ekeler proves there's still something lift in the tank and Robinson takes another surge forward in Year 3, the Commanders have a running back duo to set the tone. The Commanders can also provide Chris Rodriuguez Jr. with opportunities to shine after the 2023 sixth-rounder flashed as a rookie.

It would be a big disappointment if the Commanders had the No. 24 rushing attack at season's end. This also doesn't account for Daniels' dual-threat ability under center. Something that adds a different dimension and should keep opposing defenses honest from start to finish.

Washington's offense was unbalanced and uninspired in equal measure last season with Eric Bieniemy calling the shots. There needs to be a strong emphasis on establishing the run this time around. The Commanders have the personnel to make it work - something that could make Quinn's team difficult to beat once early momentum is generated.

That's the plan, anyway.