After nine games, Morris ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing yards with 793, and is on pace for the most by a Redskins running back since Clinton Portis rushed for 1,487 in 2008.
Morris is a classic unheralded Shanahan running back, taken in the sixth round (173rd overall) out of Florida Atlantic University. His draft pick was the team’s compensation in the trade of quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Minnesota Vikings.
“We knew Alfred had a chance to be good,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan noted recently. “But if we thought he was as good as he’s been playing, then we probably would have drafted him before the sixth round.
“What Alfred has meant to the run game, some of the stuff schematically we have been able to do, having Robert [Griffin III] on the team and a back like Alfred with him, we weren’t counting on all of that necessarily.”
And yet the production has been there on a consistent basis.
Against some of the best rush defenses this season, Morris has shined brightest, posting 113 yards against a top-ranked Buccaneers’ defense that was averaging 49 rushing yards per game.
Against the Giants in Week 7, he tallied a career-high 120 yards on 22 carries, earning NFL rookie of the week honors.
Aside from his on-the-field production, the most impressive aspect of Morris’s game is his humility and unparalleled work ethic. Head coach Mike Shanahan admitted that he had to remind the rookie to not run so hard in practice.
"This is a great opportunity and I just want to go out and do my best with every opportunity I’ve been given," Morris said with a shrug. "Definitely, I think I played a lot better each game than last, from an overall perspective."
Morris won the starting job out of the preseason in part because he was the only healthy running back available, but also because he showed an early knack for picking up blitzers at the NFL level.
“I actually take pride in [my ability to pass protect],” Morris said. "I always said to myself that everyone can run the ball and catch the ball, but what will set you apart from everyone else? So I started taking pride in my blocking.
“I take it as a challenge. I blocked a lot of defensive ends in the kind of set that we had. The only thing standing between me and him and the quarterback and a sack is me, and I took pride and I never let anybody touch my quarterback.”
Morris has also been an asset in the receiving game, catching five passes for 35 yards, including a 20-yard rumble against the Falcons.
Most importantly, he has been the lynchpin in the Redskins’ second-ranked rushing attack, averaging 164.6 yards per game, trailing only the San Francisco 49ers.
Through the first seven games of the season, the Redskins had 1,244 rushing yards, the most in franchise history for the first seven games of the season. The previous high was 1,235, set by the 1984 team.
Morris is joined by dual-threat quarterback Griffin III as the first teammates in NFL history to rush for more than 500 yards in their rookie seasons. They accomplished this feat in the first nine games.
Part of Morris’s early success has come from the defense’s attention on Griffin III. But if anyone sleeps on the Redskins’ running game, Morris is able to open things up for Griffin III and the passing attack.
“[The Redskins running backs] give them some weapons out of some different formations they use,” said Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera. “They’ve got some quality running backs. Alfred Morris is as good as they get.”
While Morris may be an unlikely rookie sensation, he isn’t surprised by his early success. No matter how many accolades he receiver, Morris still approaches his job like the undrafted draft pick he was projected to be.
His humble collegiate roots have not only prepared him mentally, but also physically for the tough road to NFL success.
“I think my journey has prepared me a lot,” he said. “A lot of the [college] offenses run spread nowadays, and coming out of the I-formation has helped me with picking up blitzes, getting used to going between the tackles, and just downhill type running which they do in the NFL.”
Morris’s hard-nosed attack has turned heads so far, but perhaps none more important than his quarterback, who gave Morris high praise and as one of the hardest workers he has ever seen on the football field.
“I grew to like [Morris] immediately,” Griffin III said of Morris. “He’s a guy that works extremely hard. You want more guys like him on your team, not less of them. It’s been great. He’s definitely been a surprise story – not only for the media, but for the players as well.
“It’s been great to watch him go out there and work. He’s truly something special.”