Campfire Chat: What's Going to Happen in the Washington Backfield?

The Footballguys staff hangs out and discusses what's going on in Washington

A year ago, Matt Jones had a tenuous hold on the Washington running back job. He faltered early, and Rob Kelley took the reigns. This August, it feels like Kelley is far from a sure thing to stick as the team's starting running back. Draft pick Samaje Perine is listed as a backup to Kelley, but the rookie has generally been the first Washington back taken in fantasy drafts. And Chris Thompson is still around. What does your crystal ball say here? Is there any value to be found?

Andy Hicks: It looks like the complicated backfield that is Washington is going to be shorter by what looks like a serious injury to Keith Marshall. The main focus though is going to be Samaje Perine V Robert Kelley as the lead back. Chris Thompson is destined to be the 3rd down, receiving back. Matt Jones is likely to be cut or traded, but if bodies keep falling may be kept around. Mack Brown didn't make the final roster to start the 2016 season, but looked great in preseason and made an impact in week 16 against the Bears. I wouldnt rule him out as the worst deep, deep sleeper out there. Essentially though we need to concentrate on Kelley v Perine.

I have not been a fan of running backs drafted from the 4th round onwards, although in each of the last 3 years we have seen Jordan Howard, Jay Ajayi and Devonta Freeman make me reconsider that proposition. Ajayi and Freeman however offered very little as rookies and almost always a back drafted in the 4th round onwards fails to reach the level of a fantasy RB2/RB3, if he is considered a draftable back. Kenneth Dixon was the boom rookie late round back last year, David Cobb the year before that. Samaje Perine has the opportunity to make an impact, if he can learn to pass protect and adapt to an NFL offense. He seems like a good guy and will play to his talent level, but is that good enough? A below par 40 time indicates he may struggle to make a major impact and I have a preference for the slightly more experienced Robert Kelley. For better or worse, Washington knows what it has in Kelley and the rookie will have to out play him. Kelley is more than likely to start the season and if he and the team are playing well then it will be hard to displace him as the lead back. Either way, I wouldnt be surprised if we are in the same boat for the 2018 season as Washington adds to the talent pool through the draft or free agency. Right now Perine seems overpriced, and that price could go up further if he doesnt look lost during camp. Obviously he is the shiny new toy and in a seemingly open competition all we are seeing is upside. Often the reality is different. Kelley has limited upside, but we have seen him play and he can play to the level of a bottom end fantasy RB2.

Chad Parsons: Chris Thompson saps the PPR potential of any other back in Washington's rotation. I will start there. As it is with a few other backfields around the NFL, the incoming rookie (Samaje Perine) - a Day 3 pick I should mention - is being projected to surpass the incumbent (Rob Kelley) swiftly and decisively by their respective ADP.

I expect Rob Kelley to begin the season as the starter with Samaje Perine, if he progresses, to impact the workload split by midseason. Neither has more than low-RB2 upside, however, unless Chris Thompson is inactive.

Let's remember Washington's pass game is one of the more loaded depth charts around the NFL with Terrelle Pryor (1,000-yard season in his first extended action as a wide receiver for the woeful Cleveland pass game in 2016), Josh Doctson (Round 1 pick), Jamison Crowder (coming off best season to-date), Jordan Reed (elite tight end when healthy), and Vernon Davis (still one of the most athletic tight ends in the NFL). This offseason centers on the pass game. Expect the run game to be a baseline unit at best.

Jason Wood: I seem to be butting heads with Chad a lot. I nearly choked on the notion of Washington having one of the more loaded depth charts. Terrelle Pryor had a 1,000-yard season thanks to being the only healthy option in a team forced to throw non-stop. He parlayed that into a 1-year, $6 million "prove it" deal in Washington. I see Pryor as woefully miscast as the #1 receiver on the team. I'm excited about Doctson, but he needs to stay on the field, something we didn't see in his rookie season. Reed is incredible, but isn't healthy. He's on the PUP already, by the way.

Let's also not forget Sean McVay left town to coach the Rams. The team fired their well-respected GM in a mysterious turn of events, and re-installed control to someone most fans and industry observers can't stand in Bruce Allen. Oh, and the team has done everything possible to alienate their franchise quarterback.

Washington is high on my list for teams most likely to crash and burn in 2017. As a result, I don't want to invest too much in the roster including at the running back position.

Phil Alexander: Let someone else in your league take on this headache. Chris Thompson will get his usual 40+ receptions, making him a worthy desperation flex starter in PPR leagues. And that's the only thing we can safely project in Washington's backfield.

Kelley is the incumbent starter. He's reportedly in great shape and most Washington beat writers claim he has the upper hand on Perine...for now. Still, early drafters are taking Perine ahead of Kelley, and in the same range as several backs with a clearer path to opportunity, including Frank Gore, Danny Woodhead, and Terrance West.

The love for Perine is probably more of an indictment of Kelley, a former fifth-string UDFA who sputtered down the stretch in his audition as Washington's starter last year. Regardless of what you think of Perine or Kelley from a talent standpoint (Perine is decidedly more talented), these two are competing for the role of two-down back in an offense that has combined for only 17 running back rushing touchdowns the past two seasons.

Plenty of players going in the same ADP range as Kelley and Perine -- guys like Woodhead, Willie Snead IV, Emmanuel Sanders, and Russell Wilson -- are far more likely to exceed seventh round value. Unless there's an injury or it becomes clear in training camp Kelley or Perine have won the job outright, it doesn't make sense to pay the current asking price for either of them.

Justin Howe: Unless one separates noticeably this preseason, it's not worth the headache. Phil's right. Their cumulative rushing totals will be worth something, but they look all set to yo-yo. Neither would catch noteworthy passes in a complementary role, and neither looks attractive even as a designated goal-line back.

The audacity of a fantasy drafter taking either of these guys - especially the inefficient Kelley - over Snead or Sanders is just unconscionable.

Wood: I think Perine can be a viable workhorse in the NFL, but right now a lot of people are drafting him as though it's a foregone conclusion. I'm treating Perine flexibly. If it looks like Kelley is the guy during the preseason, I will likely become interested in Perine b/c his ADP will fall and he'll become a high upside lottery ticket. Kelley does nothing for me, so I'll pass on him no matter where he comes off the board.

Chris Feery: I agree that this situation is not worth the headache at the moment, but I’ll add in the caveat that I like Perine’s chances to emerge as the workhorse as the season moves along. As the others have mentioned, he’s already being drafted as if that’s a no brainer. That price is a bit too steep for me, but my interest gets piqued when I see him fall. As for Kelley and Thompson, I’m not too enthusiastic about either of them, but Thompson can be considered for a late flier in PPR leagues.

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