- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2018

Before introducing Alex Smith last week, Redskins senior vice president of player personnel Doug Williams emphasized, yet again, Washington is looking to upgrade at running back.

“And, promise you, we’ll get the running back situation straight,” Williams said.

The initial wave of free agency has passed, making it more likely the Redskins will use the draft to seek improvements.

Coach Jay Gruden told 106. 7 The Fan on Tuesday that there was a “good possibility” the Redskins could draft a running back early — something they typically avoid.

The Redskins last used a second-round pick for a running back in 2002, when they selected Iowa’s Ladell Betts with the 56th pick. They haven’t used a first-round pick on the position since 1967.

Matt Jones, drafted in 2015, was the Redskins’ last ball carrier taken with a third-round pick.

Washington, however, has used at least one draft pick since 2009 to take a back. Last year, they drafted Samaje Perine in the fourth round.

Perine finished the year as Washington’s leading rusher, but the run game struggled. The Redskins finished 28th in rushing yards per game and cycled through seven different backs because of injuries.

“Samaje got some quality reps as a rookie running back and did some good things for his first year,” Gruden said. “We expect major improvements from him. So we have some guys in house that we feel pretty comfortable about, but it would be nice, possibly, to add another, maybe a first, second-down back that can give us a little bit of juice to help us out.”

The Redskins will have plenty of choices, too, because this year’s draft class is running back heavy. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is the clear No. 1, and will be gone by the time the Redskins pick 13th.

Outside of Barkley, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said at the scouting combine that some prospects had separated themselves from the pack.

“I love (LSU’s Derrius) Guice, but there’s enough talent here that I think it depends a little bit on the flavor,” Mayock said. “Ronald Jones is a different flavor than Derrius Guice, who’s a different flavor than the two Georgia kids.”

If the Redskins are looking for a lead back, Guice would be an intriguing option. At LSU, he was first SEC player to rush for at least 250 yards in three straight games. NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein described him as a “violent runner,” with a first-to-second round grade.

Guice, though, dealt with recurring injuries in 2017 and the Redskins have made it clear they need a back who can be durable.

Elsewhere, some of college football’s most notable backs are set to become pros. Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel made for an electric duo, with Michel regarded as the better prospect.

Michel is a receiving-type back, so he might not fit the Redskins’ profile with Chris Thompson already on the roster. Chubb, more of a pure runner, is projected to fall into the second-to-third round range.

Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny and Jones are also Day 2-types.

The Redskins elected to sit out the bidding for a high-profile free agent back. The Jets signed Isaiah Crowell to a three-year, $12 million deal, while Doug Martin landed a one-year contract with the Raiders. The San Francisco 49ers opened the checkbook for Jerick McKinnon, who signed a four-year, $30 million deal.

Washington has been patient this offseason, letting players who visit the team’s facility come and go. They have re-signed a number of their own free agents, including linebacker Zach Brown, while adding others (receiver Paul Richardson, cornerback Orlando Scandrick).

“The running game is a combination of whether or not you’ve got a passing game, play-action game and the offensive line being healthy,” Williams said. “If all those come together, then I think it’ll be all right. But if we’re fortunate enough to get (a back) in the draft, then you do that.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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