When you have a hole on the roster, there seems to be a trend ongoing in the NFL of doubling up on that weakness in the draft.
We saw the Cardinals do this with one of the weakest positions on the roster in offensive guard, getting the uber-talented Jonathan Cooper and the equally intriguing small school prospect Earl Watford from James Madison University.
Then it happened again later in the draft, and it was a much more… puzzling development.
The Cardinals had what I liked to call a “prove it” backfield coming into the draft. Rashard Mendenhall looked to be the man, but only has a one-year deal. The new regime has no attachment to the perennially injured Ryan Williams and both William Powell and Alfonso Smith are interesting prospects, but they never really got the chance to be the answer, and with a new coaching staff change typically takes place.
I had been vocal about spending early picks on a running back, as I was comfortable with where they sat in terms of in-house talent, even taking into account Williams’ injury-plagued past.
If they did take a running back I wanted to see it on day three, and they did that with one of my favorite prospects in the draft, and a guy I had a third round grade on in Stepfan Taylor.
To say I was shocked at the Cardinals second pick in the sixth round would be a total understatement, but when you take into account total value, and the reality that the Cardinals are doing business the right way finally, taking a prospect that was universally graded as a second round type of guy in Andre Ellington makes all the sense in the world.
What does Ellington bring to the table?
While not a burner, he is fast enough, posting a 4.51 despite a troublesome hamstring at his pro day, and he shows an ability to make defenders miss with some wiggle to his runs.
He shows an excellent blend of quickness to the hole and balance through it in this run here against Auburn.
What you see from Ellington is a back that will work through the garbage with power and balance, even if he isn’t a bigger back.
Ellington isn’t necessarily a creative runner, meaning he isn’t going to be able to create something out of nothing or see small creases and expose them, but he follows his blockers and takes what the defense gives him.
That often can lead to 1-2 yard gains, but he isn’t the type to get frustrated, and when the play is blocked correctly, you will see Ellington take advantage.
Against Virginia Tech in the 2011 ACC Championship game we see Ellington follow the down blocks and he has the responsibility of making one man miss in the hole. Well he’s successful there, but then we see what makes Ellington a unique talent, in that he’s able to break arm tackles and then use a one cut move and get to daylight.
When I talk about Ellington lacking creativity in his runs it means he’ll often miss cutback lanes, and doesn’t bounce runs out effectively when there is an opportunity.
Ellington at times follows his blockers too much, as he’ll run up their backs in the hole, and gain minimal yardage.
One of the biggest plusses for Ellington in the Arians offense is that he’s a true three down back.
When you watch him run the ball it’s obvious that he understands following the schemes and assignments and he often does a very good job of catching the ball out of the backfield, even if that isn’t a huge necessity in Arians offense.
What makes him even more intriguing, though, is his willingness as a pass blocker.
While he isn’t nearly as clean and effective right now as Taylor, he tries hard.
That may sound a little Pop Warnerish, but the reality is getting a back that’s happy to stick their nose into an oncoming rusher’s chest is something that isn’t always a priority to some running backs, and Ellington does it.
Ellington is a different kind of runner than Taylor. He isn’t nearly as instinctive or powerful, but he understands how to follow his blocks, has exceptional balance and does a great job of taking what is there with each and every run.
While he may not be as rugged a back as Taylor, he offers the Cardinals a more pure runner and he is definitely a weapon that can be used on special teams and on kick returns.