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Position Breakdown: Washington's Running Backs Taking The Next Step

RB_Position_Breakdowns
From left: Peyton Barber, Lamar Miller, Jaret Patterson, Antonio Gibson and running backs coach Randy Jordan prepare to go through individual drills during minicamp. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.

We are weeks away from training camp, and there are plenty of new faces gracing the Washington Football Team's roster. So Washingtonfootball.com is breaking down each position as the team prepares for Year 2 of Ron Rivera’s regime.

First up are the running backs. After going through some of the most reconstruction last season, the position is one of, if not the most secure with all the key pieces making a return. Antonio Gibson is entering the second year of his development. J.D. McKissic emerged as a top pass-catching option out of the backfield, while Peyton Barber became Washington's go-to runner for short yardage.

There are some newer additions to the group, too, most noticeably undrafted rookie Jaret Patterson. Patterson was a dominant force at Buffalo, and even though he will be fighting for a roster spot with more experienced players, he has already shown flashes in minicamp.

Rounding out the position are Lamar Miller and Jonathan Williams, both of which were midseason additions.

ROSTER SUBTRACTIONS:

  • None

KEY ADDITION(S):

  • Jaret Patterson

Key Storylines

-- Unlocking more of Gibson's skills: Gibson faced a monumental task in 2020. He had to switch from receiver to running back, a position in which he only had limited experience, with a completely virtual offseason. He didn't even get real reps at the position until training camp. Now Gibson has a more "normal" offseason, and it's like "night and day," according to running backs coach Randy Jordan.

The ground dimension of his game has already been established to the tune of 795 yards and 11 touchdowns; now Jordan wants him to work on being a pass-catcher -- a trait Washington did not utilize too much in 2020. Here's where we can give a reminder that Gibson had 735 receiving yards and eight touchdowns at Memphis in 2019, so he has the ability. Jordan also wants to see him used in more third down scenarios to keep the chains moving.

"He still has a lot of tools," Jordan said. "He's doing a really good job for us so far, and I'm looking forward to him continuing to stack practices."

-- Building on consistency: Gibson was drafted in the third round and McKissic as well as Barber were signed in free agency. Adrian Peterson was cut before the season, meaning the position consisted of entirely new players. The consistency of everyone coming back allows for continuous growth. The priority is not creating chemistry or teaching the position. Instead, Washington can expand the offense and build on what the players accomplished last year.

"Instead of sitting there watching Christian McCaffrey, we can actually watch Antonio Gibson run the plays that we want to install," Jordan said. "You get an opportunity to learn the system, but you also get an opportunity to watch your own self on tape and correct the things that you need to correct."

-- The next steps for McKissic: Only one running back was better than McKissic as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, and that was the Saints' Alvin Kamara. Washington couldn't ask much more of McKissic, considering he was third on the team with 589 receiving yards and and second with 365 rushing yards. He was exceptional at working short routes and screens, and the next step is to bump up his yards after the catch. He only had two plays resulting in 20 yards or more; Jordan wants to see that improve.

"Thing I've talked to him about is turning those little screen passes, those little five-yard, six-yard routes...instead of 10 [yard gains], let's turn those into 50, 60-yard splash plays," Jordan said.

What To Watch

Who will be the third running back?: What's less than zero? Negative numbers? Well, there's a -5% chance of Gibson or McKissic being off this roster in 2021. Washington normally kept three running backs on the gameday roster, so which player will complete the trio? Barber is the obvious choice. Jordan looks for production, protection and special teams contribution for all his spots, and Barber did all that last year. His rushing average might not show it, but Barber was the battering ram the offense needed many times to stay on the field.

But Patterson, Miller and Williams will be competing to fill out the last one or two spots at the position. Patterson -- the only college free agent Washington signed -- had a spark in minicamp and emerged as a pass-catcher. Miller is an established veteran with nearly 5,700 career rushing yards, and Williams has been a solid rotation option at times. Outside of Gibson and McKissic, there will be some tough decisions for Jordan and the other coaches.

One way or the other, Washington's running backs are poised another step this season.

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