In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king; but in the pass happy NFL the three-down is an ace.
But even better than a Three-Down ace is an “ace in the hole”–a Three-down back that is “hidden.” A three-down that is not universally known by everyone playing.
The best example of this might have been Kareem Hunt. Many of us here at SCFE knew that he was a potential three-down, but it would take a Spencer Ware injury to unearth him. Well…I’m assuming you heard the news by now.
I am also assuming that you dear reader are somewhat knowledgeable. You know who is a three-down back, but you also know which back is the “likely” handcuff. If I have to tell you that Ezekiel Elliott is the three-down back and that Darren McFadden is his handcuff, this is not the article for you.
We will be digging a little deeper, but let’s start in the rocky mountain high air.
Aces in the Hole: An Uncovering of the Hidden Three-Down Back
De’Angelo Henderson, Denver Broncos
So I can tell you first hand that C.J. Anderson is getting no respect. And that’s because the word is out on De’Angelo Henderson.
We do have to take his touchdown and 54 yards on seven carries with a grain of salt in the opener as he then had a rough night in Week 3 of the preseason by fumbling twice and doing little besides a 19-yard run. However, the upside remains sky high for this back.
For starters, he’s pretty fast. He ran a 4.48 in the 40 at the NFL Combine. He’s got soft hands, evidenced by his junior season in college when he caught 40 passes for over 400 yards. He also had a nine-yard touchdown catch this preseason called back due to a penalty. But he’s not just a third down back as he’s capable of carrying a load too. Tipping the scales at a little over two bills, he registered three 1,000 yard seasons while at Coastal Carolina. The Broncos are not quite ready to give up on Devontae Booker, and Jamaal Charles is still looming. But there’s gold to be found in Mile High.
And we stay in the West, moving to an intriguing NFC West option:
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
Let’s get this out of the way–Chris Carson is the #4 back on the depth chart. But Eddie Lacy has trouble staying away from the buffet table; Thomas Rawls has trouble staying away from the medic’s table, and CJ Prosise could be a PPR monster but is not a table setter. But Carson deserves a seat at the table. He averaged 6.8 yards per carry at Oklahoma State last year. That just happens to be the same college career average of fellow alumnus Barry Sanders, who was a pretty good NFL running back. With 156 yards on 25 touches this preseason, Carson has already passed Alex Collins and should continue to rise as he provides three down back potential.
Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers
Ty Montgomery keeps getting better and he might be the Packers primary back all year long. Plus the Packers use the running game sparingly due to their strong passing attack. They passed nearly 65% of the time last year, ranking them second overall in 2016. So those concerned about the “wear and tear” on Montgomery are making a mountain out of a molehill. However, let’s assume Montgomery does get hurt and Jamaal Williams, currently second on the depth chart, does become the primary running back?
I would not be surprised if things shift toward the running game as Williams is a strong runner who still might be the Packers choice to get goal line carries. Williams rumbled for nearly 1,400 yards his senior year last year, scored 12 touchdowns, and averaged an impressive 5.9 yards per carry. However, the concern on Williams has been that he does not have the receiving skills to be a third down back. Yet he did catch all three of his targets for 46 yards during the Packer’s third preseason game.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
There are two substantial obstacles in Alvin Kamara’s way. One is a sure fire Hall of Famer, and that might be the easier obstacle! Adrian Peterson definitely stands in the way of Kamara, especially for goal line carries. And we know that AP is actually a human cyborg and despite being 32 years, could have another productive season. Even if AP splits early down work, he will come out on passing plays.
But the odds of Kamara taking over Mark Ingram on passing downs is extremely slim. Ingram has 96 receptions over the last two seasons and had double-digit combined touchdowns last year. Last year was the first time in four seasons that Ingram played 16 games, but even if Ingram is out for a game or two, don’t expect Kamara to suddenly be entrenched as a starter. However, Kamara is definitely a three down back, averaging a strong 5.8 yards per carry in the SEC but also seeing 40 receptions in 11 games last year.
Kamara can obviously catch, but I also love how quickly he hits the hole and explodes into the open field. See for yourself:
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