Prior to training camp, Tim Hightower was pegged by many as the starter in Washington’s backfield after his seat was kept warm for the first few weeks of the season while he recovered from an ACL tear. That depth chart projection was made despite Mike Shanahan’s hobby of treating running backs with the same indecisiveness that a child brings to the ice cream aisle.
It was based on the assumption that Hightower would recover from his knee injury in a relatively timely manner, since you know, everyone can recover from ACL tears just as fast as Adrian Peterson. The plan appeared to be going swimmingly when Hightower was healthy enough to make his preseason debut two weeks ago, and he had 28 rushing yards on five carries. But then his knee swelled up, and in the world of figurative backyard running back mercy killings, the end was near.
Today is roster cut down day when every team needs to trim down to 53 men by 9 p.m. ET, and Shanahan pulled the trigger. Hightower will reportedly be cut, according to Redskins beat reporter Grant Paulsen.
The move is met with mild surprise. Not because of the desire to release a player who plays the most punishing position in the game and is struggling to get healthy while his team has two more very capable RBs on its depth chart. Hightower is expendable and hurt, and therefore he’s unemployed.
No, it’s a little surprising because of the new injured reserve rules. Yes, Hightowever is struggling with his knee, and it flared up again after just five carries in a preseason game against third teamers. But the mere fact that he was healthy enough to test it shows that he likely suffered a minor setback, and not a major derailment. Isn’t this the exact situation that the new IR rules are made for? Hightower could have been placed on the IR now, and then he could be the one player that the Redskins bring back to the active roster later in the season.
But it’s likely that Shanny was searching for an excuse to at least temporarily provide some clarity on his RB depth chart before he becomes restless again in a few weeks, and Hightower’s lingering knee issue was convenient.
With said injury making Hightower useless even prior to today’s release, the only Redskins RB who was/is worth a serious look in drafts is Roy Helu, although due to the aforementioned Shanniness of Shanahan, Evan Royster will get his share of touches too. That will reduce the value of both backs, and in turn it’ll reduce the number of hairs on your head if either of them are anything more than your fourth RB.
What’s frustrating is that both Helu and Royster showed brief glimpses of fantasy brilliance last year. Helu may have been that asshole random running back who emerged from the late-season rubble to win fantasy leagues last year only to fade off into obscurity again. Between weeks 12 and 14 he had 334 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 4.5 yards per carry. Then his season ended early due to an injury, allowing Royster to accumulate 245 rushing yards over just the last two games.
Beyond Shanahan’s hobby of RB shuffling, Helu’s training camp injury also complicates things slightly. He had a sore Achilles early in camp that caused him to miss two weeks of practice and two preseason games. Then he returned this week and had 90 yards on 15 carries against Buccaneers defenders who are now delivering your mail.
But will the ‘Skins still baby him a bit over the first few weeks of the season now that Hightower has been cut and their RB depth chart isn’t quite as deep? And if/when that happens, will Royster excel with his increased workload, forcing Shanny to put him on the lead horse in his running back carousel?
Too many questions, not enough answers, and very little reason for you to have any faith and patience in either Helu or Royster. They will both be fine backups and depth options, but nothing more.