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Redskins have choices for third-down backs thanks to free agency, draft

The play provided Chris Thompson a chance -- and also a valuable lesson. It was late in the season when he caught a screen pass against the Philadelphia Eagles. But rather than pause and then burst forward, Thompson immediately took off. And he was tackled for a short gain.

Later in the week, I remember talking to him about that play. Thompson knew what he needed to do next time: Hesitate for a split second, help set up blockers to have success and then cut accordingly. But by going so fast it took away that opportunity. A chance for a gain of 10 yards or more was lost.

Still, for Thompson going forward it provided a chance to learn. The Washington Redskins would like to see more of what he learned in the spring and summer, hoping he can provide a boost as a third-down back. With Roy Helu now in Oakland, the Redskins could use another back. They also have Silas Redd, but it would be surprising if they don't either draft someone or sign a veteran after the draft.

"Chris came in last year at the end and did some things, and we're hoping that he can come back and stay healthy in the offseason and give us a little jolt back there and Silas Redd will get every chance to do some things also," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.

Thompson's durability is a key. But if healthy, he has the shiftiness to provide matchup issues. He's a willing blocker, though at 5-foot-8, 190 pounds his size always will be an issue when taking on blitzers.

Alfred Morris isn't a legitimate option to be a three-down back. His hands are inconsistent as a pass-catcher, and given how much they'd like to emphasize the run game it's best to have a fresh back in this role.

The free-agent market is rather thin for third-down backs at this point.

Ahmad Bradshaw would be a fine option -- a couple of years ago. But he's coming off a broken fibula and has missed a combined 19 games the past two years because of injuries. In eight years, he's played in just 16 games once. Maybe with a reduced load he'd show more durability because he does a lot of things well as a third-down back. But availability is always the key and he just hasn't been on the field enough in recent years.

Former New Orleans Saints back Pierre Thomas also remains free. The Redskins have expressed interest in him, according to a source. But they likely will see what happens in the draft first before deciding how to proceed with Thomas. At this point, he's a name to watch.

But the draft provides plenty of options.

"It's very deep running back draft in my opinion, and we're excited to add another piece at some point, hopefully," Gruden said. "We have seven picks. Hopefully one of them will be a running back, or a free agent to compete. There are some good free agents that haven't been signed yet."

Among the draft options who could help on third downs: Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, Northern Iowa's David Johnson, Miami's Duke Johnson, South Carolina's Mike Davis and perhaps Alabama's T.J. Yeldon.

Abdullah is smaller and quick; David Johnson is a former receiver with a good burst. Both would be good options. Georgia's Todd Gurley is a terrific all-around back, but the only way they could consider taking him is if he falls to them in the second round. But even coming off an ACL tear that's asking a lot. Some analysts predict he could go as high as the middle of the first round. Duke Johnson is small, but fast.

Regardless, the Redskins have choices, starting in-house. But there's little doubt they want to add more.