Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris is the best darkhorse candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year. The workhorse runner has helped transformed the Redskins offense into one of the league's best.
In fact, the Redskins do own the top-ranked rushing attack in the NFL. They average 164.8 yards per game and much of that is due to the 1,322 yards posted by Morris.
His vital contribution has been one of the pleasant surprises of the 2012 NFL season. That's because Morris has travelled a long and unlikely path to a starting job in the NFL.
It's that very road that makes Morris a deserving sleeper candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year. After all, not many sixth-round picks become instant starters and surpass 1300 rushing yards with two games still to go.
It becomes more unlikely when you consider Morris was plucked from little-known Florida Atlantic. That team went 1-11 in Morris's final season at the collegiate level.
Being picked in the late rounds wasn't necessarily a hindrance for Morris, considering who selected him. Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan has a lengthy track record of finding capable running backs in the later rounds.
His famed zone-blocking scheme has produced many 1,000-yard runners from relative obscurity. Morris joins a list comprised of 1995 sixth-rounder Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Reuben Droughns.
Still, despite Shanahan's history with late-round runners, Morris faced a challenge winning the starting job. That's because he was initially tabbed as a fullback by Redskins coaches.
As well as overcoming being placed out of position, Morris also had to emerge from a crowded backfield rotation. He faced strong competition from second-year pair Roy Helu jr. and Evan Royster.
Helu produced three 100-yard games in 2011 and led the Redskins in rushing. Royster finished that campaign with two-straight 100-yard efforts.
With two talented youngsters in the fold, the Redskins seemed set at running back. Worst still for Morris, veteran Tim Hightower was returning from injury.
Morris quickly became something of an afterthought in discussions concerning who would start at running back in Washington. That changed after the team's third preseason game.
Morris took his chance against the Indianapolis Colts. He gained 107 yards on 14 carries and scored a touchdown.
From that point, Morris seemed like the natural choice to carry the load for the Redskins ground game. He had displayed good vision and a knack for overpowering the first would-be tackler.
By the time the season began, Morris had passed every runner on the depth chart. He was the Week 1 starter against the New Orleans Saints and didn't disappoint.
Morris powered his way for 96 yards and two scores from 28 carries, presenting an early sign of the dominance to come. Week 5 was enough to convince the league and Redskins fans, that they had a star at running back.
Morris savaged the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense to record his first 100-yard game as a pro. He repeated the trick the next week against the Atlanta Falcons.
In all Morris has produced six 100-yard games as a rookie. He has set the Redskins rookie record for rushing yards, breaking a mark that stood for nearly 20 years.
Morris has finally given Shanahan the dependable and prolific workhorse his offense needs. The Shanahan system is led by the zone-running game.
The play-action passing game the Redskins excel at, is reliant on their ability to move the ball on the ground. Morris gives them that capability.
His combination with fleet-footed, athletic rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, makes every defense play run first. It is a testament to Morris's production that the Redskins didn't miss Griffin when he was out injured against the Cleveland Browns in Week 15.
Morris's value to the team was underscored as the Browns stacked up in heavy-run stopping fronts. They sold out to stop Morris, even without Griffin on the field.
That meant backup quarterback Kirk Cousins could throw the majority of his passes off play action. That led to 329 passing yards and two touchdown throws from Cousins.
Morris still managed to add two more rushing touchdowns, taking his rookie tally to nine. His production has also altered the perception of the Redskins offensive line.
Nobody was rushing to praise the bunch last season. Morris has earned them more than their share of plaudits during this campaign.
That's the level of impact Morris has had for the 8-6 Redskins. Shanahan's offensive scheme wouldn't work without him. His prized rookie quarterback wouldn't be as effective.
Even though his name wasn't called until the 137th pick, Morris has outshone every other rookie runner. His first-year performance makes him a legitimate candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year.954010