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It is doubtful that any other position on the roster, will see as little turnover as the running back position. In all likelihood, Washington will open the 2021 season, exactly as they finished the 2020 season.

Washington finished 2020 with a backfield of Antonio Gibson, Peyton Barber, and J.D. McKissic. The three of them finished the season with 1368 yards rushing (795 + 258 + 365) collectively – not exactly breath-taking. Is that cause for optimism or fret in 2021?

What We Know

Antonio Gibson

Last year saw the emergence of rookie Gibson, as Washington’s primary back. A guy who played wide receiver in college. That’s easy to glance over, but really shouldn’t be.

He also came into 2020 with Adrian Peterson and Bryce Love ahead of him on the depth chart, and didn’t get many reps in training. It makes what Gibson accomplished last year pretty exceptional. There’s also every reason to believe that with OTA’s, training camp and ten NFL starts under his belt, he can be better this year than last.

The rookie finished with 795 yards on 170 carries, for a healthy 4.7 yards per carry average. He also led the team in broken tackles with 20. Add to that, his 247 yards on 36 receptions, and you have a very healthy 1000-plus yard year of production from a rookie.

That played wide receiver in college.

The only blemish on his record in 2020 was his toe. His turf toe specifically. The turf toe that sidelined him in Weeks 14 and 15 last season. The toe that is still apparently being treated.

The good news on Gibson’s toe, is that there is still three months until meaningful football. The bad news is, that it’s already been four months since the toe saw meaningful football action. Hopefully the toe can get it together in time, to take a run at 1000 rushing yards for Gibson.

J.D. McKissic

McKissic came to Washington via the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks. He enjoyed his best season as a professional in Detroit in 2019, but eclipsed all of those marks last year. He is also a converted wide receiver, and offensive co-ordinator Scott Turner took full advantage of that fact.

Only Terry McLaurin caught more balls (87) in 2020 than McKissic did. His 80 receptions were exactly twice the amount that Gibson and Barber combined for. Add those 589 receiving yards to an additional 365 yards rushing on 85 carries, and you get a tidy total of 954 total yards of offense. He also had two receiving touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.

There’s no reason to not expect the same or more from McKissic in 2021.

Peyton Barber

Washington’s third option out of the backfield is the muscle. Barber is the short-yardage back, and provides a different look to defenses. He also provides some back-up relief for Gibson, both late in games and in case of injury. He had 94 carries for 258 yards last year, but more importantly, also contributed four touchdowns.

What We Might Know

The fact that Washington released Bryce Love, and only made a couple of minor off-season moves, might mean that Ron Rivera is perfectly content with the running back triumvirate that he has.

Washington also re-signed Lamar Miller at the start of free agency. The WFT had grabbed Miller from the Chicago Bears’ practice squad late in 2020, when Gibson hurt his toe.

What We Don’t Know

Washington also brought an intriguing rookie prospect to camp, in Jaret Patterson. The University of Buffalo product was not drafted, even though he set an NCAA record with EIGHT rushing touchdowns in one game. He also had 409 yards rushing in that game. Despite playing in just six games due to a knee injury, he set a school season record, with 19 touchdowns.

We don’t know yet if he will bounce back from his injury, or be able to be productive at the NFL level.

We do know that if he shows a lot of promise, he’s a great candidate for the practice squad.

Washington also has Jonathan Williams, who signed a futures / reserves contract in January. He finished the 2020 season on Washington’s practice squad after bouncing back and forth between Detroit and Washington last year.

Overall Grade: A

While there may be a slight drop-off in offensive talent if Gibson goes down for an extended period, very few NFL teams have the luxury of being able to handle similar losses.

What Washington do have, is a diverse set of backs that is comfortable and growing into this offense.

As long as his toe lets him, Gibson will have his first 1000-yards rushing season.

See Also:

WFT Position Breakdowns: Tight Ends

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