Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan has a great history of turning late-round draft picks into 1,000-yard running backs in the NFL. However, can he do the same for 2013 rookies Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison?
The answer is yes. Both fit his famous zone scheme and are versatile enough to push for playing time as rookies.
Shanahan just loves to select a running back in the late rounds of the NFL draft. So it shouldn't have surprised anyone when he used the Redskins' fifth-round pick this year on Thompson. He followed that by using a seventh-round selection on Jamison.
This is despite the presence of Alfred Morris, Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr. All three were taken in the late rounds of the last two drafts and all have shown considerable promise.
Shanahan traded up to select Helu Jr. in the fourth round in 2011 and still took Royster in the sixth round of the same draft.
Despite solid rookie outings, both were upstaged last season by 2012 sixth-rounder Morris. He won the starting job and finished second in the league in rushing.
That's how crowded the rotation already is Washington. The level of competition makes it hard to imagine Thompson and Jamison will see the field.
Normally that would be the case, but Shanahan's knack for turning late-round backs into stars makes it likely at least one of the pair will see the field and probably star.
As coach of the Denver Broncos, Shanahan coaxed 1,000-yard seasons from multiple late-round picks. He took Terrell Davis in the sixth round in 1995.
Davis was followed by Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Reuben Droughns. Being drafted in the late rounds by Shanahan has become a seal of approval for 1,000-yard potential in the pros.
That's why Redskins fans should be excited about Jamison and Thompson. They can both make an impact in Shanahan's famed zone-blocking scheme.
The system is based on mobile blocking executed in unison. The common Shanahan zone run includes one side of the offensive line shifting out together.
The other side moves up field to block linebackers and safeties. This splits a defensive front in two and creates an obvious cutback lane.
It's why Shanahan commonly favors one-cut runners. He needs running backs who make quick decisions to cut into open lanes.
Both Thompson and Jamison fit this mold. They are diminutive rushers, both standing little more than 5'7".
Thompson possesses greater speed. In fact he'll likely be the fastest back on the Redskins' roster. That speed makes it easy to project Thompson as a change of pace complement to the more bruising Morris.
Yet he's also a great fit for the read-option, pistol schemes the Redskins run with quarterback Robert Griffin III. Every read-option attack has a pint-sized speedster in the backfield.
That was the only thing the Redskins' offense was missing in 2012. Putting Thompson alongside Griffin in the short-shotgun look will be a nightmare for defenses.
If Griffin pitches the ball to Thompson, his speed around the edges will be a major threat. He can attack the inside and outside of defenses distracted by Griffin, with great acceleration, behind savvy zone-blocking on the move.
That formula should translate to some big gains for Thompson. He could be devastating running behind and off the blocking for the Redskins' trademark zone-stretch play.
That's where Thompson fits, but what about Jamison? The ex-Rutgers star is more of a workhorse than Thompson.
He's very decisive in the backfield and runs low once he makes his cut. However, Jamison also offers big play potential.
He rarely limits himself to one cut on a play and often outwits would-be tacklers in space. Jamison has the instincts of a natural zone runner and could emerge as the most likely back to share some carries with Morris.
Jamison and Thompson also offer receiving and pass-protecting skills that Morris lacks. That versatility makes them seem like natural fits for a third-down role.
However, they will do more than just battle to step on the field in passing situations. Each will fight Royster and Helu Jr. for the right to take carries from Morris.
That fight will be fascinating. Helu Jr. is coming back from recent foot surgery and Royster only carried the ball 23 times in his second season. At least one running back faces losing his job.
Thompson and Jamison share attributes that fit the style of a classic Shanahan running back. They are entering the right system to belie their draft status and surprise the NFL.
That style and scheme fit, along with Shanahan's history with late-round backs, means either can become 1,000-yard runners for the Redskins.