Rams see a role for previously underused Lance Dunbar

LOS ANGELES -- Sean McVay's words resonated with Lance Dunbar.

The free-agent running back was in Southern California for a visit last week and sat down with McVay, the Los Angeles Rams' rookie head coach, who walked Dunbar through his potential role in the offense. McVay wound up describing the way Dunbar always saw himself while buried in the Dallas Cowboys' depth chart. He illustrated Dunbar's traits the way Dunbar himself would recount them to someone else.

"He had me going," Dunbar said. "He had me ready to play."

Dunbar ultimately signed with the Rams on a one-year contract that could pay him up to $3 million. He will be the Rams' change-of-pace running back, a complement for the power game of Todd Gurley, and he will also be an option in the passing game. The name "Chris Thompson" came up during Dunbar's meeting with McVay, which makes sense.

Over the past two years, while McVay called plays as the Washington Redskins' offensive coordinator, Thompson found a way to be productive despite finding himself behind backs such as Alfred Morris, Robert Kelley and Matt Jones in rushing attempts. From 2015 to 2016, Thompson rushed for 572 yards on 103 attempts and caught for 589 yards on 84 catches.

Thompson, like Dunbar, boasts blazing speed, so the Redskins frequently ran him to the outside. Like on the play below, out of the pistol formation against the Detroit Lions, when Thompson ultimately got around the edge for a 16-yard gain:

Sometimes, the Redskins would also spread the field out wide and have him run up the middle on shotgun sets, like on this delayed handoff against the Cowboys, which resulted in a 6-yard gain:

But just as big a weapon were quick passes that got Thompson the ball in open space. Below is the beginning of a play that has Thompson run out to the flat. Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins picked up a blitz and got rid of it quickly to Thompson, who picked up 11 yards before getting pushed out of bounds:

And here, once again against the Cowboys, Thompson didn't have anybody to block, so he eventually ran to the outside and picked up 9 yards through the air:

"We were in the same division, so I've seen those guys [the Redskins] play, and I've seen Chris play," Dunbar said. "We are very similar. I catch the ball in the backfield. I can run routes. I can run the ball. To see him do those things gave me a little bit more confidence and more belief in [McVay], that he will allow me to do those things."

Dunbar made the Cowboys' roster as an undrafted free agent in 2012. He had a breakout game against the Oakland Raiders late in 2013, rushing for 82 yards on 12 carries, but also sustained a knee injury that forced him to miss the final four games. He was on his way toward carving out a role in 2015, with 21 receptions for 215 yards through the first three games, but he tore his ACL, MCL and patellar tendon on a kickoff return.

"It was really hard," Dunbar said. "Just throughout my career, every time I got an opportunity -- and I made the best of it -- something bad goes wrong."

Dunbar was ready to go by the start of the 2016 season, returning a lot sooner than expected, but he never felt right. He admitted to rushing his way back and said he didn't really feel right until about midway through the season. By then, Ezekiel Elliott was well on his way toward a dominant rookie season and the Cowboys' offense was rolling without him. Dunbar never had a chance, and now he's starting fresh.

He believes his style can complement Gurley.

"My style is different than his," Dunbar said. "I'm more of a slasher, making guys miss, catching the ball out of the backfield. We have two different styles. If you mix my style with his style, it brings a lot to the table. It's hard for people to keep switching up, switching up, because it's very different. In-game, when I come in, you're going to have to adjust. And it's kind of hard to adjust in-game."

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter John Keim contributed to this report.