The Arizona Cardinals have plenty of youth at the running back position but are still missing that workhorse back who can carry the load for the entire season. That’s the scenario at this position as we stand a month from the opening of the free-agency period.
Rashard Mendenhall was the quasi-lead back last season and led the team with eight rushing touchdowns. But that’s typical Mendenhall. He was able to get the job done when the ball gets inside the 10-yard line but his effectiveness is limited outside of the deep red zone.
To give you an idea about this, look at his career touchdown log on Pro-Football-Reference.com and something should stick out. He has been in the league five years and has three touchdown plays of more than 10 yards.
This leads to the first thing Arizona need at this position, assuming Mendenhall stays.
1. Mendenhall is a short-yardage/goal-line back, not a feature back.
Rookie Andre Ellington outperformed him last season and Ellington should be the feature back. Ellington had an 80-yard touchdown run last season against Atlanta. He had more rushing yards on one play than Mendenhall did in any one game during the season. That should be enough reason for number two on the list.
2. Ellington has to be the feature back in 2014.
He’s got the speed and elusiveness to make big plays. He can add to the offense in the passing game and Arizona needs to be able to utilize him more to make him into the lead back he should be. The Cardinals need to see what he can do with 20-25 carries per game.
3. Decide on Ryan Williams.
Williams spent all of last season off the field as he was a healthy scratch for all 16 games. Williams’ career hasn’t gone as expected with injuries making him miss 27 of the first 32 possible games of his career. Factor in this year and you get a player about to enter his fourth year in the league and has played only five career games. Arizona needs to do something with him. When you can only have 53 men on your roster, you can’t afford to have one making a seven-figure salary to sit on the sidelines.
So what does the team need?
It needs a complimentary piece to spell Ellington. It needs to figure out its depth chart at the position. Arizona needs to decide if it will bring back Mendenhall for another season. Will they use him properly? How do guys like Alfonso Smith and Stepfan Taylor factor into the equation?
There are a lot of questions at this position and the answers will start to come in the next month.
Yesterday, we took a look at which backs in the draft could help the Cardinals.