Cardinals GM Steve Keim is aiming for running back Andre Ellington (pictured) to share some of the backfield load with Stepfan Taylor in 2014.
He’s already gained 10 pounds in the two months since Arizona's season ended, coach Bruce Arians said Friday at the NFL combine. But if general manager Steve Keim has his way, Ellington won't be using that added weight to protect his body from carrying the ball 30 times a game next season -- even if Arians wants to build the offense around Ellington this season.
Keim doesn’t plan on Ellington being Arizona’s featured back in 2014. Then again, Keim doesn’t plan on anybody filling that role.
“I don't know that there are many featured backs in the NFL,” Keim said. "Adrian Peterson, those types of guys. Most teams use a platoon of backs and that would probably be no different than us.
“To say you're going to play him 25 to 35 snaps, pounding the ball between the tackles, you're probably leaving yourself open to injuries. So any time, we can take a young man like him, add some weight without losing his speed and movement skills, I think you're doing yourself a favor.”
Keim compared Ellington to Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson based on their physical similarities. And like those backs, Ellington’s strengths, Keim said, are his speed, acceleration and movement.
But the difference is that Charles and Johnson are featured backs.
Charles had 259 carries in 2013 for 1,287 yards. The next most carries were by Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. And Johnson had 279 carries for 1,077 yards -- 222 more than the next Titan.
After last season, Arians said Ellington could be a feature back if he’s used similarly to his role in 2013, which saw him evolve into a receiver. Arians said in December that Ellington’s receiving ability creates mismatches for defenses similar to tight ends like New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham or San Francisco’s Vernon Davis.
“I've never been around a running back who stepped on the field and tried to do things he's never done before and played wide receiver as good as he does,” Arians said at the combine. “He plays it as well as most of our starting wide receivers. He has a unique talent we want to look at and continue to build our offense around this year.”
To save Ellington’s body from the daily beat down that comes with being a featured back -- just ask Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, who routinely sat out practices during the week to rest -- the Cardinals will be relying on Stepfan Taylor to pick up crucial third downs and important yards.
In 2013, six of Taylor's 36 carries went for first downs and he had a 40 percent third-down conversion percentage.
With Rashard Mendenhall an unrestricted free agent this year and his name rarely getting mentioned in Indianapolis, Taylor’s thunder to Ellington’s lightning could be the platoon Keim wants.
“He and Andre are really polar opposites, when you talk about perimeter runner than you have an inside pounder like Stepfan, who when the game was on in Seattle and we needed a first down to ice the game, we gave it to Stepfan and he had a 10- or 11-yard run to finish the game,” Keim said. “He's a guy we have big expectations for us. He's very smart. He's articulate. Great young man, works his tail off.