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Cardinals GM: Andre Ellington must prove he can stay healthy

Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington (38) is hit by New Orleans Saints defensive back Delvin Breaux (40) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Somewhat lost in the ascension of David Johnson and the rebirth of Chris Johnson were the struggles Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington went through in 2015.

The third-year pro entered the season as the No. 1 running back but suffered a knee injury in the team’s Week 1 win over New Orleans. He returned in Week 5 against the Detroit Lions, but by then had seen his role diminish to being a change-of-pace at best, and a non-factor at worst.

Save for a 63-yard touchdown run against the Lions and a 48-yard, game-sealing jaunt a month later in Seattle, the former sixth-round pick really didn’t do much of note as the team made a run to the NFC Championship Game.

Since the season ended, David Johnson has been compared to star running back Adrian Peterson, and at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis Wednesday head coach Bruce Arians said it’s too early to say Johnson is one of the league’s great running backs, but “he’s got a chance to be one of the all-time best.”

As for the veteran Chris Johnson, he said earlier this week he would like to be back with the Cardinals, and Wednesday in Indianapolis GM Steve Keim said they planned on talking to Johnson’s representatives later in the week.

So, what does all that mean for Ellington, who entered both 2014 and 2015 as the starter but was unable to hold up under the workload?

“Andre’s a dynamic player, there’s no doubt about that,” Keim said. “At the same time, it’s no secret, he’s got to stay healthy. I’ve told Andre that personally. We love his skill set, but it’s no secret the guy has had durability problems. As an organization, you have expectations and if a guy doesn’t fulfill those expectations, you may have to move on.

“Hopefully, Andre’s not in a situation where we have to move on. I’d love to keep Andre long term, yet at the same time, he’s got to stay healthy. We’ve talked over and over about him being a 20-to-25 touch guy a game. I don’t know if he can do that; he’s got to prove that he can do that. Certainly, David Johnson is a guy who came in and shown that he can do that.”

Ellington finished 2015 with 289 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 45 attempts, with another 148 yards on 15 catches. He totaled three yards on four carries in two playoff games.

It was a sizeable step back from where Ellington was following his 2013 rookie season, when he ran for 652 yards and three touchdowns on 118 carries and caught 39 passes for 371 yards and one score. The following offseason, Arians declared the intention was for the player to touch the ball 25 to 30 times every game, a goal that was ambitious at the time and seems a bit foolish now, especially after he suffered a sports hernia in early December of that season.

Through three seasons Ellington has been at his best when used as a complementary back, which may be the role he is best suited for going forward.

At any rate, the Cardinals are no longer in a position to where they must rely on Ellington to lead their running back room, which certainly makes his standing with the team a bit tenuous.

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