Thursday July 30th, 2015

Everyone likes to test his or her football knowledge with trivia. Here’s a great question that will have a surprising answer for even the savvy fan: Only two running backs have put up at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. Can you name them?

If the answer were obvious, it wouldn’t be that much fun to ask. One name is relatively easy. Marshawn Lynch has actually achieved the feat four years in a row, and he hasn’t needed substantial receiving yardage or touchdown catches to do so. The other name won’t come to you quite so quickly. Adrian Peterson probably would be in the group if not for his season-long suspension last year. Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte have had the necessary yardage in the last three seasons, but they both scored just six touchdowns in 2012. Injuries forced Arian Foster to fall short in 2013 and DeMarco Murray to do the same the previous season. LeSean McCoy missed four games in 2012 and hit pay dirt just five times.

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So who is this guy if it isn’t any of the usual suspects listed above? The fact that his identity may still be a mystery to some drives home the point that he has been one of the most underappreciated backs in the league during his three-year career. The only runner other than Marshawn Lynch to accumulate 1,200 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns in each of the last three seasons is … Alfred Morris.

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Yes, that’s right, the respected-yet-overlooked Morris has been one of the most consistent running backs in fantasy football since entering the league in 2012. That season was unexpectedly magical for Washington, thanks in large part to the new tandem in the backfield. Robert Griffin received much of the press, but Morris ran for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns. He didn’t quite equal that production in the following two years, but he still managed to rack up 1,353 total yards and seven scores in 2013 and 1,229 total yards with eight trips to the end zone last year. Considering the absolute trainwreck the entire Washington team has been over the last two seasons, it’s a minor miracle that Morris has remained so productive.

During his three years in the NFL, Morris has finished fifth, 15th and 13th among running backs in standard-scoring fantasy leagues. He has never missed a game, and that reliability cannot be overlooked with all the injuries that befall running backs. He’s still just 26 years old and hasn’t taken much of a beating over the last two seasons, touching the ball fewer than 300 times both years. Early-round running backs have the highest bust rates in fantasy football, largely because of the potential for injury. No back is completely immune, but Morris is as close as anyone can get to that status.

He has also made noticeable improvements to his game. After fumbling four times in his rookie year and five times in 2013, Morris put the ball on the ground just twice last season. He has never been much of a threat as a receiver, but he did get more involved in the passing game last year, hauling in a career-high 17 receptions for 155 yards. Morris will never be confused with Forte or Le’Veon Bell, but he should be even more of a factor in Washington’s passing attack this season.

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At 5'10" and 224 pounds, Morris frequently is typecast as a power back. Indeed, he is a bruising runner who is effective in short-yardage, and that’s great for fantasy owners because he won’t be pulled off the field at the goal line. He is not, however, a one-trick pony. Morris is perfectly capable of busting through the second level of the defense for the types of plays that can swing fantasy matchups. He was seventh in the NFL last year with 14 rushes of at least 15 yards, and that was the fewest he had in any season of his career. Morris had 17 such carries in 2013 and 24 in his rookie year of 2012. The 36 missed tackles he forced on his runs last year was good for 11th in the league. Any defender who thinks it’s going to be easy to keep Morris in front of them because of his stature will be sorely mistaken.

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According to Pro Football Focus, the Washington offensive line ranked 24th in the league in run blocking. Sensing that deficiency, the team used the fifth pick in the draft to take Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff. After playing left tackle for the Hawkeyes, Scherff will move over to the right side in Washington, with veteran Trent Williams anchoring the other side of the line. Those bookends will almost certainly guarantee that Morris is running behind a better line this year than he did last year. At the very least, it can’t possibly be worse than it was last year when he went for nearly 1,100 yards and eight scores on the ground.

Roy Helu is now in Oakland, and while Washington does have a few other options in the backfield, most notably rookie Matt Jones, Morris is once again going to dominate the touches. After two consecutive seasons of lackluster offensive performance on the whole, it wouldn’t be surprising to the see the team scale back the playbook for Griffin and put the ball in Morris’s hands 300-plus times. His average draft position of 30.8 overall and 15th among running backs feels fair—after all, his ceiling isn’t that of a first-round pick—but he’s also one of the least risky selections an owner can make among second- and third-tier running backs. Morris has been a consistent top-15 back for three years running. There’s no reason to expect that to change in 2015.

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