After starting the 2016 season at 0-2, the Redskins have won 6 of their last 8 games to move to a 6-3-1 record and a playoff spot as of Week 12.
The reasons for this are many. The receiving core is extremely dangerous, featuring a break out year for Jamison Crowder, the top 5 TE Jordan Reed, Pierre Garcon, and DeSean Jackson. The offensive line has continued to be one of the better units in the league, picking up where they left off from last year. Kirk Cousins has lessened the mistakes that plagued Washington earlier this season. Josh Norman has improved the secondary with his arrival.
Now all of a sudden, the Redskins have a boost in the running game. As opposed to 20th in rushing in 2015, this year they rank 10th. The big factor in recent weeks (and I mean big) has been Rob Kelley, or as he’s known in DC, Fat Rob.
Undrafted out of Tulane, Kelley has come out of nowhere to become the Redskins’ starting running back. In his last 3 games, Kelley has carried the ball 20+ times, and has rushed for 321 yards and 4 TD in those 3 games on 4.8 yards per carry.
Everyone is wondering where this guy came from. 2015 draft pick Matt Jones was expected to be the starting running back, but due to fumbling issues head coach Jay Gruden has put his faith in Kelley as the RB1, and it’s paying dividends thus far. And for a guy that never rushed for 100 yards in a game since high school, Kelley is a very talented back.
One reason the Redskins and fans like Kelley is because of his explosiveness in the short area. As shown in the GIFs above, he’s quick at the cutback, and shows a surprisingly excellent amount of field awareness for an undrafted pick. Kelley’s jump cut on the touchdown play in the 2nd GIF is exceptional, as is the ability to keep fighting for yards. At 228 lb he is certainly “Fat”, but he’s also elusive.
Kelley’s combination of strength and elusiveness make him a dangerous back. In the first GIF, Kelley combines both traits to give the Redskins a big first down. In the 2nd GIF, Kelley breaks loose in space before attackle a tiny gap between two Eagles defenders, breaking a tackle, and piling on a huge gain that is only stopped by a pull of his dreadlocks. One thing you may have noticed from these GIFs is how hard #32 runs. Kelley’s size and aggression at the contact point make him a difficult back to bring down, and it’s that fight that has impressed the Redskins staff.
Kelley’s ability to see small holes is also a highlight. On this play, Kelley plants his feet when he finds one, resetting and bursting through. It’s only for a short gain, but it highlights how great Kelley’s awareness is in these situations. Kelley has a lot of short gains this season where he’s looked impressive thanks to his athleticism, and in some of these cases, has allowed for better field position for the Redskins.
But Kelley’s most impressive trait is his ability to make something out of nothing. His size certainly plays a major factor in this, but it’s also the aggression and awareness of his surroundings that also contribute to this.
In the first GIF, the play appears to be dead as Kelley hits the line of scrimmage, but his size and aggression allow him to make an important play, as the small amount of yardage helps set up a touchdown pass on the very next play. In the 2nd GIF, Kelley turns a hopeless 1st and 20 into new life for Washington, again matching up excellently at contact with his strength (though the poor tackle attempt also helps).
The 3rd GIF is perhaps Kelley’s most impressive play of his rookie season. Running right into a brick wall, Kelley is somehow able to avoid being tackled, turns around, and turns a loss into a 7 yard play, continuing to fight for yardage well after his momentum is stopped at contact. It’s a fantastic play by the running back, and his ability to revive dead plays is something he has done throughout the 2016 campaign.
Robert Kelley is a quality running back. While he lacks in the receiving department, he makes up for it with his balanced skill set of elusiveness and strength running the ball. His play in space is impressive, but it’s his play at contact that really stands out. You don’t see this level of aggression from many other running backs (Thomas Rawls, a fellow undrafted back, being an exception).
Kelley isn’t just making the most of his opportunity. He’s revived the Redskins’ running game. His efficiency and explosiveness have added another dimension to the Redskins’ already dangerous offense. He faces an important test on Thanksgiving against the rival Cowboys, and it’ll be intriguing to see what he can do next.
Robert Kelley is a great story this season, and for Redskins fans the added quality and talent make the Fat Rob story even better.
(Featured image via Redskins.com)