Arizona Cardinals’ Andre Ellington tops ESPN list of breakout candidates

Jul 22, 2014, 4:57 PM | Updated: 7:33 pm

Andre Ellington burst onto the scene in 2013 to become a big-time weapon for the Arizona Cardinals.

A sixth-round pick out of Clemson, he saw his role grow over the course of the campaign, finishing with 652 rushing yards, 371 receiving yards and four total touchdowns.

His 5.5 yards per carry was best among qualified players, and his success led Cardinals coach Bruce Arians to declare that not only would the offense be built around the running back, but that Ellington could expect to receive 25 to 30 touches per game this season.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is clear: Ellington is primed for a big season. And for that reason, Aaron Schatz, in an ESPN Insider piece listing the Top 25 NFL breakout prospects in the league, placed the Cardinal first.

The Cardinals primarily used two running backs last season. One of them, veteran Rashard Mendenhall, averaged a dismal 3.2 yards per carry with a minus-10.2 percent DVOA. But running behind the same line, seventh-round rookie Ellington averaged 5.5 yards per carry with 17.5 percent DVOA. Now Mendenhall is gone, and Ellington is the starter and a clear workhorse for the Cardinals. We were worried about Ellington coming into the NFL, since he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds at 199 pounds, leading to a speed score of just 88.1. However, he may have just been having a bad day; that time improved to 4.51 at his pro day, for a better speed score of 96.1. And he’s certainly shown great speed getting to the edge so far in his NFL career; perhaps his speed just shows better running laterally instead of running straight ahead on a track with no blockers or defenders. Much like the similarly sized Jamaal Charles, Ellington is a great receiver as well as runner. He can catch passes out of the backfield, but can also be split out wide or used on bubble screens. Last season, he caught 39 passes for 371 yards, nearly 10 yards per catch with 22.3 percent DVOA. Ellington’s not going to average 5.5 yards per carry every season, but he’s definitely a potential star in the making.

“DVOA” is a rating system created by FootballOutsiders that is meant to, according to the site, “break down every single play of the NFL season to see how much success offensive players achieved in each specific situation compared to the league average in that situation, adjusted for the strength of the opponent.”

Comparing Ellington to Charles, who is one of the best running backs in the NFL, is likely enough to get Cardinals fans plenty excited for what may be to come in 2014.

Lucky for them (and all of us), players report to training camp Friday, with the first practice coming Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

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