After coming up with 'a steal' during last season's NFL draft, the Arizona Cardinals are ready to hand the football to Andre Ellington on a full-time basis.
CBSSports.com and Fox 910 are reporting that the Cardinals have settled on the second-year player out of Clemson as their "every-down running back" in 2014.
Ellington's rookie stardom for the NFL team came as a surprise to some, but not to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who told ESPN that Ellington was mis-labeled as less-than-durable during his career as a Tiger.
“We rode him like a mule (in 2012) and the year before,” Swinney said. “People thought if he wasn’t an every-down guy, that he was an injury-prone guy. There’s this perception of him that wasn’t accurate, for whatever reason. He didn’t miss many games at all. Missed maybe one as a junior and senior.”
Sharing playing time in the backfield with Rashard Mendenhall, Ellington quickly established himself as the Cardinals' most versatile and productive back, as he excelled both as a runner and receiver, and was at times lined up as a slot receiver or wideout.
He finished his rookie year with 118 carries for 652 yards, and led the NFL with his 5.5 per-carry average. Ellington also caught 39 passes for 371 yards - a 9.5 average.
Until the final two weeks of the season, he was just a step away from becoming the first rookie in NFL history to average 6.0 yards per carry and 11.0 yards per catch.
Ellington also had one kickoff return this season, and could see more action as a return specialist.
The 5-9 Ellington has been asked to bulk up a bit from his 199-pound playing weight in 2013, as he takes over the No. 1 running back spot.
Mendenhall is an unrestricted free agent and is not expected to return to the Cardinals. Other running backs on the Arizona roster include injury-plagued former Virginia Tech star Ricky Williams and Stanford's Stepfan Taylor, who was drafted in the fifth round last spring, just ahead of Ellington.
“Absolutely, he was a steal,” Cardinals running backs coach and former Citadel star Stump Mitchell told Bleacher Report. “We saw a lot of what Andre could do on tape. He already put his body of work on tape. It wasn’t as if we were going to ask him to do something that he had not done before. We were just hoping he would be able to duplicate some of the things he had done in college.”
Swinney told every scout who would listen that Ellington was big enough and durable enough to play in the NFL.
“He’s plenty big enough,” Swinney said. “He’s a very elusive guy. He doesn’t take a lot of shots. He’s very smart in how he runs.
“He has a knack for avoiding big hits but always falling forward and always getting yards. He’s a hard guy to tackle. He’s elusive and shifty and has that great first step. When he was here he didn’t take a lot of blowup-type shots. He would always find some grass falling forward.”
Mitchell said that Ellington has a quality that is not easily taught at any level.
“There are those guys who can make people miss and those guys who can’t,” Mitchell said. “It’s harder to teach them to. For whatever reason, they don’t have that extra sense to feel people coming. It’s as if Andre has eyes in the back of his head.”
As for Ellington, he labels his rookie season "just alright."
“Just alright because (there's) a lot that I didn’t do," Ellington told the Cardinals' website. "Our goal was to make it to the playoffs...But overall, I felt like it was alright.”