J.D. McKissic has only had limited interactions with Scott Turner, but he can already discern one thing from his talks with the Redskins' offensive coordinator: running backs, particularly versatile ones, are important to him.
It isn't hard to see why Turner feels that way; he worked with Christian McCaffrey, who had 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in 2019, when he was with the Carolina Panthers as their quarterbacks coach and briefly their offensive coordinator.
There aren't many players like McCaffrey, but there are plenty of running backs today who can be productive pieces all over the field as rushers and pass-catchers. With his history playing as a running back and receiver, that's exactly what McKissic believes he can offer to his new team.
"[I] really trust my hands to catch passes from all over the field [with] curls, comebacks, corner [routes]," McKissic told local reporters on April 1. "I think that's what sets me apart from a lot of guys."
McKissic has been more of a "flex" offensive player dating back to his days in the Sunbelt Conference at Arkansas State. He was primarily a receiver with the Red Wolves -- he finished his career with 289 catches for 2,838 yards and 11 touchdowns -- but he also saw some time in the backfield as a running back during his redshirt sophomore, junior and senior years with 47 rushes for 379 yards.
That began to change once he entered the NFL, but he still considers himself a receiver. He just happens to be playing mostly as a running back.
"That's something I never want to lose, my receiver ability," McKissic said. "I think you have to be in the league for a long time to be able to do something different than all the other guys."
McKissic's transition from receiver to running back didn't happen immediately. He spent a year with the Atlanta Falcons before he was picked up off waivers by the Seattle Seahawks, where he felt like he was "more of a guy who was just a receiver playing running back." That's where he started to learn the intricacies of the position like learning his offensive linemen's blocking schemes and focusing on letting holes naturally develop.
"Like actually letting the O-Line double team and come off on a linebacker and be patient," he said. "So, I think patience has become or evolved in my game a lot now."
McKissic added that he has learned how to break tackles and how to be aggressive with his running style. When he signed with the Detroit Lions, that allowed running backs coach Kyle Caskey and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to trust him when he ran between the tackles.
"That was something I really worked on there and I was able to become better at it and focus on being more patient. I think that's helped my game a lot."
Although Turner was only the Panthers' offensive coordinator for the last four games of the 2019 season, it's clear that he valued the same skill set McKissic has in McCaffrey. Forty-one, or about 35%, of McCaffrey's 116 receptions came when Turner was the play-caller. He had at least 72 receiving yards, which is a feat he only accomplished four times in Weeks 1-13, in each of Turner's four games.
Turner told McKissic he wouldn't get 100 catches, but he would get his share.
"Guys catching the ball out of the backfield is becoming a mix and match for defenses," McKissic said. "You've got safeties, you've got linebackers who usually have to cover those guys. Sometimes the corner may stay out there just because he's got to respect the position. The running back position is evolving very fast before our eyes."
The Redskins have made efforts to stockpile running backs like McKissic. In addition to Adrian Peterson, who has caught 37 passes for 350 yards since he signed in 2018, the team has also drafted Derrius Guice and Bryce Love. Vice President of Player Personnel Kyle Smith believes Guice -- an LSU product the team drafted with a second-round pick -- can have a McCaffrey-type of role in time.
The Redskins also signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber shortly after inking a deal with McKissic. That makes for five running backs with similar versatility on the roster.
When asked about competing with those players for a roster spot, McKissic said, "That's what it's all about."
"A lot of big names, a lot of great guys that did amazing things in college and also in the NFL," he said. "I'm excited about the competition. We understand the business and we know the game. It's all about being there for one another and making plays."
McKissic doesn't want to forget that he's a receiver, so he's spent much of the offseason practicing his routes. It might be uncertain where he fits on the depth chart, but it's clear he's going to be doing a lot of that when the season begins in September.
"If I can go out and run all the routes...on the route tree, I think it will put me in a very good position," he said. "And I always catch the ball."