How did Alfred Morris, the second-most exciting rookie for the Washington Redskins, go from being a sixth-round draft choice to the National Football League's second-leading rusher after seven games?
The same way Houston's Arian Foster, an undrafted free agent, led the league in rushing in 2010. Or the Steelers' Willie Parker, another undrafted free agent, was leading the NFL in rushing until he broke his leg in Week 15.
"I think everybody looks for different types of backs in their system, and you have to be committed to the running game to get good at it," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "We really believe in it and, when a guy like Alfred comes along and you can see his skill set, you feel very fortunate to have gotten him, especially where we did. But, more importantly, you know you've got something special."
Morris was the 13th running back selected in the April draft, but he leads the NFC with 658 yards rushing on 138 carries, one yard behind Foster (659), the NFL leader. Like Foster and Parker before him, he was misevaluated by NFL scouts at Florida Atlantic, though it might be easy to see why.
Morris came to Florida Atlantic as a fullback and was listed at 203 pounds with 4.8 speed by one scouting service before his senior season. He also fumbled 16 times in his college career, another reason NFL teams weren't in a hurry to draft him. It did not help when he ran a 4.67 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
"I don't think you know until the preseason games," Shanahan said. "I felt after the preseason games that we knew we had something special."
Shanahan used to do the same thing in Denver -- find running backs who fit his zone-blocking running attack. He plugged in four backs who each had over 1,000 yards rushing as rookies with the Broncos -- Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Clinton Portis.
Now Morris is doing the same. And he is doing it in a similar style of scheme that historically has presented problems for the Steelers because it stretches their defense and forces the linemen to run sideways, creating gaps in their defense.
It also leaves their linemen vulnerable to cut blocks, allowing the runner to cut back against the flow. Morris has been very good at doing just that.
Couple his performance with Robert Griffin III, who leads all NFL quarterbacks with 468 yards rushing, and the Redskins rookie duo has combined to rush for 1,126 yards in seven games -- more than 30 of the other 31 other teams in the league, including the Steelers.
"If you got linemen who are disciplined, who can get out and run and get the defense running sideways and doing what they want you to do, they're successful," said Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton. "If I was a coach, that's what I would run. They aren't really trying to block; they're just trying to get in your way and let the guy find the gap."Steelers