May 17, 2010

Ranking The RBs

One thing we have learned under the new Bruce Allen/Mike Shanahan regime is that the Washington Redskins have taken a more passive approach to spending in free agency.

However, that doesn't mean that the Redskins are shying away from big-name players.

Three of the running backs currently on the Redskins roster are all households names. Despite the star power of Larry Johnson, Willie Parker and Clinton Portis, Portis is the only one set to make over five million bucks this season.

All three have seen better days, but the 'Skins front office is hoping that a change of scenery and a little competition between these three could spark an improvement in a running game that was ranked a lowly 27th in 2009.

With a crowded backfield, many are anticipating that one of the three could be cut from the final roster. All three require plenty of touches while both Portis and Johnson are egotistical and have recently been part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

All three have been 1,000 yard rushers in the past and Parker has a pair of Super Bowl rings. So there is plenty for Shanahan to work with in the backfield.

Ranking the backfield was no easy task and the possible addition of Brian Westbrook could further complicate things yet here is the rankings along with which of the three is most likely to be cut.

1. Willie Parker

Parker is an ideal fit for Shanahan's one-cut, zone blocking scheme and though he has a less than stellar injury history, he has fewer carries in his career than either of his other two counterparts (1,253 for Parker while Portis has over 2,100 and Johnson has over 1,400).

Shanahan isn't a coach who will stick with a guy due to name recognition. He usually plays whoever he feels will best help him win each Sunday. We saw it in Denver with Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary, Mike Bell, Tatum Bell, etc.

If Parker can stay healthy, he can give the 'Skins a great set of wheels. His straightline speed is phenomenal and if the blocking up front improves as expected, Parker could end up being the man in DC.

The main concern here is whether or not Parker can stay healthy. He has missed chunks of time since entering the league and last year he started just three games for the Steelers.

2. Larry Johnson

Johnson is a bigger back at 230 pounds. He isn't a prototypical Shanahan runner, but he was brought in to boost the ground game in the red zone.

Johnson can make plays anywhere on the field, but as of late his attitude off the field has led to suspensions and a ticket out of Kansas City.

Johnson played in Cincinnati after leaving the Chiefs in the middle of the 2009 season. He had one game where he rushed for over 100 yards (the Redskins as a team only had one game where a RB ran for over 100 yards), but spent most of the season backing up Cedric Benson.

He averaged over four yards a carry with the Bengals, but only twice in his eight year career has he rushed for over 1,000 yards.

The question is: can Johnson overcome personal issues and find himself on the field again? If so, the Redskins can expect him to be the first string RB at best and a great situational runner at the worst.

3. Clinton Portis

Portis is an enigma. He has been a key member of the Redskins since 2004, but recently he threw former teammate Jason Campbell under the bus. This came a year after Portis called out former head coach Jim Zorn for his gameplanning schemes.

Portis sat out of the majority of practices in 2009 after showing up to training camp out of shape. He sat out the second half of the season with a concussion and lacked focus and effort when playing during the first half.

Shanahan won't tolerate any of that this season. Portis is on a short leash and he knows it.

The upside to keeping Portis? When motivated and in shape, he can still rush for over 1,000 yards.

His legs aren't what they used to be, but Portis has the vision to be a solid back on first and second down. He is a back who can give you 4.5 yards per carry behind a decent line. In addition, he is one of the best blocking RBs in the NFL.

We saw that Portis could play early in 2008 when he tore through the first half of the season. Since then, he has been a shell of his former self.

An impressive preseason would alleviate concerns that his best days are behind him, but one false step and Portis might find himself unemployed.

4. Ryan Torain

Torain was signed several weeks ago and came over from Denver where he spent his 2008 rookie season under Shanahan.

His career numbers include 69 yards rushing on 15 carries and a TD. He could end up being an intriguing wild card.

He has fresh legs and being a Shanahan draftee, he could fit the mold of what Shanahan is looking for in a back. Preseason will give a good indication of whether or not Shanahan has long-term plans for him.

Overview: Portis is third because quite simply, Shanahan has shown a desire to move on from the Joe Gibbs and Jim Zorn eras. He wants to make his own mark on the team.

Portis has done nothing to distinguish himself the past year and a half and as such, Shanahan will need to see an elite performance from Portis this offseason should Portis want to remain with the team.

Larry Johnson and Willie Parker aren't likely to be cut because they were signed this offseason. Unless either of them completely disappoints in training camp, they should be on the final roster.

This further pushes Portis put of the picture because he is set to make big money this year. Johnson and Parker are cheaper, fresher options.

The goal of the ground game this year appears to be running back by committee. Neither of the three needs to have a big season; all that needs to happen is for the three to make the most of their opportunities and move the ground game into a top 15 rushing attack.

I believe Shanahan isn't planning on using this threesome as a long-term option. They are just in place to bolster the run game for a year until Shanahan sets into place his blocking schemes. Then, he will make the move to add a franchise RB unless one of the current backs has a career rebirth.

The big weakness for the run game in 2010 is once again the lack of a change-of-pace third down back. Parker is fast, but not quick with gamebreaking abilities. There is also the lack of a consistent receiving threat out of the backfield.

Prediction: I see Portis as being the odd man out (especially if Brian Westbrook is signed) with Parker as the starter going into the season. Johnson will be the goal-line back and Torain will see some third down action.

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