It’s hard not to be blown away by what Chris Thompson has done for the Washington Redskins through two games. His average of 13.1 yards per touch is sixth best in the NFL. He is one of seven players in the league with at least three rushing or receiving touchdowns. He is one of just five players with at least 80 rushing and receiving yards, alongside brand names Todd Gurley, Kareem Hunt, LeSean McCoy and Ty Montgomery. Thompson is often described as a change-of-pace back, and his pace is apparently frenetic: He has been the most explosive player on Washington’s offense and has scored three of his team’s four offensive touchdowns.
All that — along with the rib cartilage injury suffered by Rob Kelley on Sunday — has led some to wonder whether Thompson might be worth a look as the team’s featured back this weekend against the Oakland Raiders. Coach Jay Gruden already addressed that possibility earlier this week, and he sounded dubious.
“Chris has got such a defined role for this offense — and it could be expanded — but he’s so important to us on third down we just have to be careful,” Gruden said. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world. We don’t want him to get 20-25 carries a game and get a lot of pounding on that body. He’s definitely needed in pass protection and the routes and all that stuff on third down and red zone. So we’ll try to expand his role a little bit, but we don’t want to go too crazy with him.”
Which wasn’t enough to dissuade a certain Hall of Fame Redskins running back from suggesting a full-time role for Thompson.
“I’m going to tell you what, two words: starting back,” John Riggins said of Thompson on ESPN 980 this week. “That’s who they need to be playing. He’s the starter. Had he been the starter, been in there for some of those plays [against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday], they would have probably had 275 yards rushing. I think definitely he’s the best runner they have right now, as far as picking holes and finding daylight.”
Riggins said the team’s younger backs, Samaje Perine and Mack Brown, should also be given a look. And he praised Kelley’s effectiveness in traffic. But he said the same thing so many viewers observed on Sunday: that Kelley seemed to leave yards on the field more than once by not choosing the proper line to avoid defenders.
“He’s like a counterpuncher; he runs good inside a little bit, but don’t give him too much space,” Riggins said. “His instincts are bad, and he does a little shake and bake and then runs straight at the defender. There was a couple of plays that I felt like if he takes it in a different direction, that he’s definitely going to get more yards, if nothing else. …
“The instincts were bad,” Riggins repeated later. “That’s one thing for a runner that’s supposed to be part of the package, is that your instincts tell you where all the daylight is and how you can make the most yards. His seem to be not up to par with most running backs, where he’s actually initiating contact by going towards the defender.
“I mean, it makes no sense at all, and maybe that’s because he doesn’t have any confidence in his speed,” Riggins said, and then discussed one of those plays, which I believe is shown above. “I don’t think he feels very confident with his speed. If he breaks that out to the [outside] and he does have a little bit of speed, who knows? You put Chris Thompson in that same situation, he would have broken it outside, I believe. I mean, he turned it back in there where there were three defenders.”
Riggins said that some running backs are praised for running over defenders, but that he always preferred to “make the least amount of contact you can, because that slows the ball down. It slows down your momentum, it slows down the progress, and ultimately you don’t gain as many yards.”
“For him to make that decision to just run straight at that safety and give himself up is nuts, because he can easily get at least five more yards, no matter what his speed is,” Riggins said. “I mean, if Trent Williams was in that position with the ball, he would have gained another five or seven or 10 yards.”
Which is why Riggins would like to see Thompson get a chance, regardless of Kelley’s health and Thompson’s diminutive stature.
“I still think Chris Thompson is their best back,” he said. “He can run between the tackles. How much smaller is Chris Thompson than Warrick Dunn? I thought he was tiny, and he made people miss. I mean, that’s the skill of it.”
Dunn is listed on NFL.com as 5-foot-9 and 187 pounds, almost identical to Thompson, who is listed at 5-8 and 191 pounds.
Riggins, in any case, was complimentary of Washington’s offensive game plan and execution on Sunday, which was led by its dominant run game. (The Redskins gained 229 yards on the ground, 39 more than any other team has gained in a game this season.) The Hall of Famer said that was especially noteworthy in light of the subpar blocking from the Redskins’ tight ends, which prompted former tight end Chris Cooley to suggest that the team should really just stop calling Jordan Reed a tight end.
“Yeah, I agree,” Riggins said, then joked about one of Doc Walker’s favorite terms. “The way [Reed] blocks, and the way he attempts to block, it’s manhood issues. He doesn’t want to mix things up, the way it looks to me.”
He then described one play when left tackle Trent Williams had to back up into his own backfield because of a poor angle taken by Reed while he was blocking a linebacker.
“It’s like, good God. I mean, he’s a detriment out there if you’re going to run the ball,” Riggins said, suggesting the team should only play Niles Paul on running downs, even if that gives away their intent.
“Because [Reed’s] a detriment, actually, in my opinion,” he said. “But as I said, looking on the bright side, they were still able to accomplish all this and do it all with really not much help from the tight end position, blocking-wise. So credit to the team, credit to the coaches, credit to everybody.”