Last season, as the Washington Football Team began life with a new name and a new coach in Ron Rivera, there were questions about the backfield. The team went into the season with former first-round pick Derrius Guice and former pick Bryce Love on the depth chart, rookie Antonio Gibson and veterans Peyton Barber, Adrian Peterson, and J.D. McKissic. With a big group, it was unclear who would carry the load.
By the time the season began, Gibson, McKissic, and Barber appeared to be the group. During the course of a surprising 7-9 season that saw Washington win the division and make the playoffs, the team produced a pair of Top 20 backs in Gibson and McKissic. As Washington looks to repeat in 2021, what can those two do for an encore?
The Second Year Man
Gibson was a third-round selection, No. 66 overall, for Washington in the 2020 draft. The team picked him to be its main running back, but many were skeptical. Gibson, who came out of Memphis, split time at receiver and running back in college. In fact, he entered the NFL with only 33 carries for 369 yards and four touchdowns. Some wondered if he could carry the load in the NFL, and as a result, he slid into the late second or third round in rookie drafts.
It turned out the concern was unfounded, as Gibson thrived as Washington’s main ball carrier. He recorded 170 carries as a rookie, rushing for 795 yards and 11 TDs. He also caught 36 passes for 247 yards. That was good enough to help him finish as RB13 for the season, making Gibson a boon to fantasy players who got him as a later pick in rookie drafts or a late-round selection in re-draft. And Gibson did it in 14 games—10 starts—as a rookie.
The Pass Catcher
The other pleasant surprise for Washington was McKissic, who came over as a free agent from the Lions. Washington was McKissic’s third stop. He began his career in Seattle, playing for the Seahawks for three seasons. During that time, he caught 36 passes for 282 yards and two TDs. From there, he spent 2019 in Detroit with the Lions. He saw 42 targets, catching 33 passes for 233 yards and a TD. That helped him land a contract with Washington, where again he proved a pass-catching weapon out of the backfield.
Last season, McKissic was a huge part of Washington’s attack, especially with veteran Alex Smith at quarterback. While he saw only 85 carries for 365 yards and a touchdown, he saw 110 targets. McKissic caught 80 of those passes for 589 yards and two TDs. That was good enough to lead him to an RB17 finish, making him an MVP for fantasy players who needed production at the running back position.
Looking at 2021
Washington made several changes this off-season. Smith is retired, and veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick signed with the team. Fitzpatrick is more of a downfield passer than Smith and more of a gunslinger type. In addition, the team added free agent receiver Curtis Samuel from the Panthers and drafted Dyami Brown, bolstering a receiving group that includes Terry McLaurin and tight end Logan Thomas, both of whom were top options at the position in 2020.
So, where does that leave Gibson and McKissic? Barber and veteran Lamar Miller are on the roster, and the team added undrafted free agent Jaret Patterson out of Buffalo. But I suspect Gibson will still be the guy and still return value. His ADP has jumped significantly after his 2020 finish, as he’s now RB12. He’s no longer a great value, but I expect him to increase his carries and rushing yardage in 2021 and likely increase target share. That should leave him in a position to be a fringe RB1, aligning with his draft spot.
The other question is McKissic. His ADP hasn’t spiked significantly, as he sits as RB39 in PPR currently. Last season, in cracking the Top 20, McKissic saw 110 targets. The Washington pass offense figures to be improved in 2021, but more targets will leak out to Samuel and receivers like Brown, not to mention a potential uptick for Gibson. That being said, McKissic still has value. I think he’s a strong bet to finish in the RB3 range (25-36), which would make him still a value over his current ADP. I don’t expect the incredible finish from 2020 to be repeated, but McKissic can still be a flex-worthy option in deeper leagues and during bye weeks.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL Fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a member of the Campus 2 Canton network.