It isn't often that a young player on the Arizona Cardinals grabs the attention of the national media. But the Cardinals have such a player right now in running back Andre Ellington.
Ellington tops the list of 25 breakout players in the NFL for 2014, as written by Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz for ESPN.
Ellington meets the criteria of being a later round pick in the past three years that has started fewer than five games and is still on their rookie contract.
Why is he the top of the list?
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.
This isn't really anything new for Cardinals fans, other than the fact that he is getting more and more attention. Even conservative projections have him getting 1500 yards from scrimmages in 2014.
And what is great, at least in terms of the salary cap, is that he isn't anywhere near breaking the bank. However, with the new deal that Jamaal Charles got and Ellington being frequently compared to him, that will be something to deal with in the future.
As Cardinals fans, you already think that Ellington will have a good year. Will it be a breakout year? How much of a breakout year?
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