Washington Redskins’ running back Rob Kelley, aka Fat Rob, has had an interesting path to his current starting job with the Redskins. As far as the metrics crowd is concerned, there might not be a worse running back starting in the NFL, although his on-field production thus far has proven otherwise. He did not participate in the NFL rookie scouting combine and as we’ll see later, his numbers from his pro day left a lot to be desired, yet here we are looking at the NFL’s 24th highest rusher after only 7 starts in this, his rookie season. So which version of Fat Rob is the real deal? The one who did little as a back in college and even less at his pro day, or the starting NFL running back the Redskins bring out each Sunday and looks the part of a legit NFL starter? Let’s look into him a little deeper and find out.
Kelley is a 24-year-old rookie out of Tulane who was not highly recruited out of high school. Tulane and Minnesota were both interested in the Louisiana product, and he subsequently signed with the Green Wave. He played 4 seasons for Tulane over 5 years sitting out a year due to a combination of both off the field issues and academic ineligibility. While at Tulane he was never used as their feature tailback and was used in a variety of roles, including fullback and as their pass-catching threat out of the backfield. Over the course of his college career, he never topped 100 yards rushing, never, not once, and only eclipsed the 100 total yards mark on 2 occasions. In 2012, as a sophomore, he was featured in more of a pass-catching role, hauling in 46 receptions for 340 yards and 4 touchdowns.
The 6-foot, 228 pound back was not invited to the NFL scouting combine. At his pro day, he put up some pretty pedestrian numbers, some even arguably bad. Looking at the numbers other running backs put up at the combine and using those as a measuring stick, only 1 measurable – the 3 cone drill – would have seen Kelley in the top 10 of performers in a skill, where he finished the drill in 7.19 seconds. Everything else, his 4.68 40-yard dash, his 29.5” vertical, his 9’2” broad jump and 16 reps on the bench press would have kept him well outside of the top 15 at his position in each, as a matter of fact, he would have finished in the bottom 3 in each. A workout warrior he is not, nor did he have the college resume or prep pedigree you typically associate with running backs at the NFL level. So how did we get here?
Heading into the season, the ‘Skins were featuring Matt Jones at running back after he took over for the departed Alfred Morris with Chris Thompson coming in as the change of pace back on 3rd downs. The team added Keith Marshall out of Georgia in the 7th round as well. Kelley was added as an undrafted rookie free agent (UDFA) after the draft as was fellow running back Kelsey Young out of Boise State. Jones was on shaky ground heading into the season thanks to late season ball security issues to close out 2015, so, many people were thinking that Marshall was the handcuff to own. Marshall is an interesting case to compare with Kelley. Marshall is a workout warrior combine freak, posting the fastest 40 time by a wide margin and was also top 4 in the bench press. He was behind some great players in college and never got a full workload because of it, but flashed a lot of promise when given a chance. All that being said, the season began, Marshall got injured, Jones fumbled his way out of a job and the last man standing was Kelley, who took over the full-time RB1 duties beginning in week 8. Matt Jones has been a healthy scratch since October 23rd.
Looking back at news clips from June, the one thing the Washington coaches raved about was Kelley’s versatility. He could play special teams, he could catch and fill in on 3rd downs, he could carry the load as a lead back and as a team with no lead blocking fullback, Kelley could also be used in that capacity as well. It was that diversity in his skill set that helped land him a role on the team from day 1 as a UDFA. His performance combined with his teammate’s injuries and fumbling issues essentially let a starting NFL gig fall into his lap. He is now the ‘Skins leading rusher with just under 700 yards from scrimmage and 7 touchdowns. There is a pretty meh cast at running back behind him and no real threats to his workload as of today. But where does a player like this come from?
Enter new Redskins GM, Scot McCloughan. McCloughan is pretty much universally known as one of, if not the best, talent evaluator in the NFL. I’ll let you in on one of my fantasy football draft day secrets: I keep a list of players that McCloughan has drafted and had high draft grades on and I bump all those guys up quite a bit. It’s worked out fairly well for me. ESPN did a phenomenal write up on him that you can read here. If Kelley is good enough for McCloughan, then he’s good enough for me. But here’s the conflict going forward: McCloughan also drafted Marshall, so maybe this Kelley experiment is only a 1-year trial run to see what they have in him and they’ll employ a true committee approach at the position next season with Kelley and Marshall being featured in a thunder & lightning workload split. Maybe the Redskins have an absurdly high grade on one of the highly touted rookie running backs coming out in the 2017 draft, and they spend an early pick on a stud and Marshall and Kelley both disappear. Then also, maybe they love Kelley, and despite his lackluster measurables they plan on him being the guy again next year given his team-friendly 3-year 1.6 million dollar deal. That’s an easy number to swallow for a lead back in today’s NFL when you can use the extra cash elsewhere.
Where does all of this leave us? Kelley is a serviceable back (both in real life and for fantasy) with arguably some of the worst measurables in the NFL today and he’s a little bit old for a rookie. He has little competition for the job and the support of his coaching staff, with a very team-friendly contract. For fantasy purposes, he’s a very solid RB2 based on his production this season and as of today, can be looked at as a RB2 target for 2017. Obviously, there are many variables in this equation going forward. Do the Redskins bring back Kirk Cousins? If so, is it under a 1-year franchise deal or a big money multi-year contract? If he leaves, do they bring in a higher priced free agent, go bargain shopping or target a rookie passer? How do all of those scenarios affect the team’s salary cap and game plan for 2017 and the future? All of these variables can have an effect on Kelley’s future with the team and his usage, and that’s just covering the theoreticals at their QB position. As previously mentioned, they might bring in one of the better RB prospects in this draft class. Both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon might leave the team at the end of this season, and if the team fails to bring inadequate replacements, the passing game might be in total disarray next year leaving Kelley facing a stacked 8-man box each week limiting his upside. As of today, I like him as a great RB2 option for next season, but depending on how the off-season shakes out for the Redskins, the worst case scenario he’s not going to be draftable come next August. It’s really a wide range of options for him and for you as a fantasy owner. If he’s someone you’re targeting next season, hopefully you can schedule your draft as late as possible in 2017 and have all of the outside variables that can impact Fat Rob sorted out by draft day.