With the combination of rookie running back Robert Kelley and the consistently improving Chris Thompson serving as the team's third-down back, the Washington Redskins had the league's most improved running game in 2016 according to Football Outsiders' DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) ratings.
The Redskins' run game DVOA in 2015 was -32.5 percent – last in the NFL – but jumped to five percent in 2016.
"Washington's improvement on the ground is a group effort," writes Aaron Schatz (ESPN Insider subscription required). "There was better run-blocking, especially from right guard Brandon Scherff, who took a big leap forward and made his first Pro Bowl this year. The team improved from 21st to sixth in adjusted line yards, our FO metric for separating run-blocking from what running backs do in the open field. But the Redskins also got better performance from their running backs, both last year's starter Matt Jones and undrafted rookie Robert Kelley. Based on charting from our partners at Sports Info Solutions, Washington led the league this year with 149 broken tackles, and most of those came from the running backs: 43 from Kelley, 19 from Jones and 30 from third-down back Chris Thompson."
The improvement was the sixth largest since the 1992 season.
Jones, of course, started the season as Washington's starting running back. The 2015 third-round pick finished the season with 99 carries for 460 yards and three touchdowns in seven games before being inactive for the final nine contests.
Kelley, meanwhile, took over as the lead back for the Redskins in Week 8 and didn't look back. The Tulane product finished the year with 704 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
As was mentioned above, one of the biggest aspects to the Redskins' success in the running game was a league-high 149 broken tackles.
Kelley had quite a few of those including three separate ones on his 45-yard run against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6.
And, of course, Thompson recorded career highs in carries (68) and rushing yards (356) along with Mack Brown's 61-yard touchdown against the Chicago Bears in Week 16.
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said in his season concluding press conference that Kelley will open up offseason workouts as the team's No. 1 running back.
"He's going to get stronger, even get in more better shape," Gruden said. "He's going to understand the 16-game season, what it entails, how demanding it is on his body. He's going to get himself ready to go. But he's shown great vision, great toughness in the hole, great ball security. I think that's a good starting point. And I like what Mack Brown did. And we still have Matt Jones here, who is young, and obviously Chris Thompson who had an excellent season as far as the third down back is concerned."