Offensive Schemes and Supporting Cast
Portis has a rare combination of speed and quickness, which enables him to consistently turn the corner on sweeps and turn a short gain into touchdown from any spot on the field. He has tremendous vision and excels at making the cutback run. If Portis has one downside it is his size and durability. At 5-11, 205 pounds, Portis is not one of the bigger backs in the league and early in 2003, Portis suffered an injured sternum that hampered his play for Week 3 and kept him out in Week 4. He was then bothered from a bruised left heel in midseason, and missed the final two regular season games with a sprained knee and high ankle sprain. Here's the big catch - while Portis' weight may be listed at 205, some insiders suggest the team may be over listing his weight.
Portis has all the attributes, outside of his size, required to succeed in the Redskins power running game. The "counter-trey", a staple in Gibbs' offensive schemes allows the running back freedom to run to daylight, either by stringing the play to the outside or finding a cutback lane.
That leads us into another huge factor to consider here: The style of offense that Gibbs has been known for. Since he had huge success as the Redskins' head coach in the 80s and early 90s, it should be pretty safe to assume he will adapt this team to fit that style. And what we are most concerned with, obviously, is how that approach will affect the running game; so let's look at how his past teams performed on the ground.
The following table breaks down the average rushing statistics for the Redskins during Gibbs' previous tenure (1981-92), as a team, per year. Also note that numbers from 1982 were left out - the year the NFL players went on strike.Table: Redskins Rushing Attack Under Gibbs Average per Year - 1981-92
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Rush yds Atts ypa Rush TDs
Redskins Total 2065 526 3.9 18
Average/Leading Rusher* 1001 250 4.0 8.6
*Further note that the Average/Leading Rusher stats do not encompass all RBs on the team, only the leading rusher from each season.
When you break these stats down, the Gibbs-lead Redskins amassed an average of 129 yards rushing on 33 attempts and 1.1 TDs per game - again taking out 1982 - over 11 seasons. Those are dominant stats, especially given the time span, and point to the fact that Gibbs is supremely dedicated to a powerful ground game. So that it surely good news for Portis, how can it be bad?
Well, look closer at the table and you see that the Redskins No. 1 producer at RB each season accounted for less than half of the rushing production - on average. There were the exceptions of course, but the closest any one RB came to having a majority of the ground production was George Rogers; and he went for 1,203 of the 1,732 total rushing yards (plus 18 of-23 TDs) for Washington in 1986.
As mentioned earlier the Redskins offensive schemes do not use a fullback. The H-back position serves mostly as the lead blocker and an occasional check-down receiver. There is no clear-cut starter at the position going into training camp. Newcomers Rasby, Baxter, Kozlowski and Cooley will be joined by incumbents Robert Royal and Kevin Ware in a competition for the starting nod.
After nagging injuries and faulty blocking schemes hampered the Redskins' backfield in 2003, the team is hoping that their offensive line will be revitalized by new line coach Joe Bugel.
Along with a new back in Portis, the Redskins will have a new signal-caller in QB Mark Brunell. With the Jacksonville Jaguars, a Brunell led offense ranked no less than 11th in total offense through a five-year span (1996-2000).
Brunell will have WRs Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner as his primary receiving targets. Although Coles has been a starter in the NFL for three seasons, his numbers are on the rise and could be a comparison to what Brunell had in Jacksonville with Smith. In the past three seasons, Coles has averaged 79 receptions, 1,132 yards and 6 TDs per year. With Brunell at the helm, Smith averaged 91 receptions, 1,285 yards, 6.9 TDs as a starter over a seven-year span (1996-2002).
WRs James Thrash, Taylor Jacobs and Darnerian McCants will be competing for the important No. 3 wide receiver in the Redskins' schemes.Fantasy Impact
After looking at his career numbers it is clear why the Redskins and Coach Gibbs were interested in Portis. Table: Career Stats - Clinton Portis (With Denver)
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Year GP GS Rush Yds Atts avg Rec Yds Tot TDs 100-yard games Fum
2002 16 12 1508 273 5.5 364 17 8 5
2003 13 13 1591 290 5.5 314 14 10 3
Totals 29 25 3099 563 5.5 678 31 18 9
But those numbers were under head coach Mike Shanahan and not Joe Gibbs. To look at the potential production in the 2004 season we must look at coach Gibbs.
First of all, Gibbs is not afraid to use several backs to get the results he is looking for. That is easily evidenced by the table above, and he will use a running back-by-committee approach - if need be. Now, is Portis better than the running backs that Gibbs had over 10 years ago? Probably. But if he does not perform well, look for Gibbs to use a combination of runners.
Secondly, and because Portis has shown to have some durability issues, he may not be able to handle the high number of carries; at least on a consistent basis. This should also point you in the direction of the very possible use of several backs, as Gibbs obviously does not want to see his new star hurt. This may prove to be a double-edged sword for Portis owners: he will be fresh enough to last an entire season, but will possibly post less production than owners have become accustom to. No doubt Portis will get the lion's share of the run production, but he will probably not be an every down back in this offensive scheme.
Portis has all of the intangibles to go down as one of the greatest backs in league history, however his durability questions and a new offense will scare most fantasy owners off from taking him with the No. 1 overall pick in their draft. While he may post great numbers by the standards of your everyday RB, the stats may fall well short of what he is capable of.
So, where do you draft Portis as an owner? That is an excellent question. He will undoubtedly go as high as No. 1 overall and may even slip to the latter part of the first round in some smaller leagues. The best policy when looking to draft Portis in your upcoming draft will be to err on the side of caution. When you hop on your computer and start your live chat room draft, or go to your favorite sports bar to select your next championship team, keep the follows aspects in mind:
A new team; this means there is no chemistry, and much to learn about your new teammates. Trust needs to be built.
His durability is suspect, especially if he is getting stood up regularly by 330-plus pound defensive tackles from possibly poor blocking up front.
The offense line in Washington is not quite what he had to work with in Denver.
On the positive side, Portis has made a living over the past two seasons proving his critics wrong - something he personally strives for on every play.
Portis and his new team will undeniably make some fantasy owners in 2004 cheer and jeer at the same time, as he can put up the numbers for your team in the tight game or you can be on the receiving end of the massive statistical outburst he can contribute. Love him or hate him, Portis is on his way to becoming a full-fledged NFL elite tailback, but year three of his career will be a hard one to forecast. It truly will tell to be a make-or-break year in terms of vaulting him into the position of being the No. 1 most coveted fantasy RB available.