Is The Chargers Backfield Too Crowded With Grice?
Being an NFL running back is a thankless job, as the league has clearly become a pass-driven operation that forces franchises to wage their playoff fortunes heavily on the arms of their quarterbacks.
The San Diego Chargers are a rarity in today’s NFL because their offense’s efficiency is predicated on them running the football. Yes, their play did suffer in the postseason largely due to the ineffectiveness of lead back Ryan Mathews, who sustained a high ankle sprain late in the regular season.
However, looking toward the future, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco drafted Arizona State running back Marion Grice in the sixth round, as he couldn’t ignore his versatility and production. You have to remember that both Mathews and Danny Woodhead are free agents at the conclusion of the 2014 season. It’s hard to imagine one or both staying in San Diego beyond this year.
Nevertheless, because Grice is a rookie, it’s also hard to imagine him getting many carries this season. San Diego finished 13th in the NFL in rushing in 2013, with Mathews gaining 1,255 yards on the ground. Woodhead, Mathews’ backup, ran the ball 106 times for 429 yards and two touchdowns. Woodhead also had 76 catches for 605 yards and four TDs.
The hype surrounding Grice is real, and many in the Chargers organization believe he could have a significant role in the offense this upcoming season. It all centers upon his red-zone production (14 receiving touchdowns and 25 rushing touchdowns in two seasons) with the Sun Devils, which was San Diego’s Achilles heel last season. The Chargers failed miserably trying to score inside their opponents’ 20-yard line, as they ranked 23rd in red-zone scoring efficiency last season.
Arguably, Grice was the most versatile running back in the Pac-12 last year. Grice, who scored 26 of his touchdowns in his last 14 games with the Sun Devils, has great hands and rarely drops a pass in heavy traffic, which is essential for a receiver coming out of the backfield. His speed will create defensive mismatches downfield, so you can expect Chargers head coach Mike McCoy to line up Grice in multiple positions on the line of scrimmage. He can be a split wideout, a slot receiver or even be in the backfield to run the football near the goal line.
Grice could crack the starting lineup on special teams, as he does have the ability to return kicks. If Grice can excel at returning kicks, it will help the Chargers avoid using Eddie Royal, Keenan Allen and Jason Verrett in that role. Keeping them injury-free and on the field is important toward gaining a playoff berth.
The AFC West is one of the best divisions in the NFL, as each inter-divisional matchup will be an exciting game to watch this year. Each team is close in talent, so the Chargers must continually improve their roster to present problems to their rivals or risk falling behind in the pursuit of a divisional title.