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Expect Washington's Running Backs To Receive A Lot Of Targets In Scott Turner's Offense

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To understand how Scott Turner could utilize his running backs in Washington, let's examine his final four games with the Carolina Panthers in 2019.

In Turner's first opportunity as offensive coordinator, Christian McCaffrey averaged an astounding 11.8 targets, 10.3 receptions and 90.3 yards, which were far more than his averages of 8.0, 6.3 and 53.7, respectively, over the first 12 contests.

Of course, McCaffrey's skillset has a lot to do with those statistics. He's already one of the best pass-catching backs in NFL history -- he broke his own NFL record for most receptions by a running back in 2019 -- and as a first-time play-caller, Turner was likely trying to get the ball into McCaffrey's hands as much as possible.

However, Turner and his father, Norv Turner, have heavily involved rushers in the passing game ever since he joined his father in Cleveland in 2013. That'll likely continue with him leading the offense in the nation's capital.

Scott Turner was a part of his father's offensive staff for six of the past seven years, starting in Cleveland (2013), moving to Minnesota (2014-16) and finally ending in Carolina (2018-19). And in those seasons, their running backs have averaged nearly 126 targets. (To compare, the Redskins' running backs totaled 104 targets in 2019, 58 of which went to Chris Thompson, who departed in free agency.)

Those numbers were even bigger the past two seasons, as McCaffrey amassed 124 targets in 2018 before totaling 142 last season.

Table inside Article
Year/Team Total Targets No. 1 target (#) NFL Rank Among RBs
2019/Panthers 162 Christian McCaffrey (142) 1st
2018/Panthers 131 Christian McCaffrey (124) 1st
2016/Vikings 100 Jerick McKinnon (53) 19th
2015/Vikings 90 Adrian Peterson (36) T-38th
2014/Vikings 142 Matt Asiata (63) 7th
2013/Browns 129 Chris Ogbonnaya (75) 8th

This trend also holds true in the years before Scott Turner joined his father's staff. LaDainian Tomlinson, who played under Norv Turner for six seasons in San Diego, currently ranks third in NFL history for receptions by a running back (624), while Frank Gore set a career-high with 86 targets in San Francisco in 2006 and LaMont Jordan corralled 103 targets -- his next-highest was 34 -- and made 70 catches in Oakland the year before.

Scott Turner has made sure to mention that him and his father are different in terms of offensive strategy -- "we're our own people" -- but he'll still be running his version of the Air Coryell offense, which his father has been using for decades.

"If you look at the offense and the system that we have been a part of -- talking about my dad and going back to him – the different places that we've been our offense has looked a little different," Scott Turner told reporters during his introductory conference call. "It is still the same system, but we have versatility within our system where we're going to really fit and play to our players strengths."

While the Redskins do not have a consistently reliable pass-catching back -- J.D. McKissic's 47 targets in 2017 are the most of any of the team's rushers -- they have several players capable of making plays out of the backfield.

McKissic, who signed with Washington in free agency, is a former college wide receiver who has made 34 receptions in two of the past three seasons. He's been used as a third-down pass-catching threat since entering the NFL in 2016, and that will likely continue in the absence of Thompson.

Derrius Guice has also shown a knack for catching passes, albeit in limited opportunities. He caught seven of his nine targets last season, which included a 45-yard touchdown against the New York Jets that doubled as his first-career score.

Plus, at the NFL Scouting Combine, Vice President of Player Personnel Kyle Smith said that Guice has the skillset to play a similar role to McCaffrey.

"I do believe Derrius Guice has an opportunity – when healthy – he can do all of those things," Smith said. "He's got good hands. He's good in the pass protection game. Obviously, you guys know him as a runner."

Adrian Peterson is not a future Hall of Famer because of his hands, but the veteran bruiser did catch 30 passes with the Turners in 2015 and has combined for 37 receptions in his two seasons with the Redskins.

Then there's third-round rookie Antonio Gibson, who is listed as a running back but put up quality receiving numbers (38 receptions, 735 yards and eight touchdowns) at Memphis in 2019. Smith referred to Gibson as a "Swiss army knife," while Rivera did not dispute a reporter when they compared Gibson to McCaffrey.

"That's fair," Rivera said. "He's a little bit bigger than Christian, but he's got a skillset like Christian. He's shown some position flexibility playing in the slot, then he shows position flexibility playing in the backfield. Ran some wildcat with him behind the center taking direct snaps. This is a very versatile, young football player that we really think is going to be a guy that can get on the field for us early and contribute."

At this point, it's difficult to predict which Washington running back will lead the team in targets. Guice seems like the frontrunner if he can stay on the field, but there are seven running backs on the roster with varying skillsets. Furthermore, Turner has not gotten to be on the field with any of these players due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But if one thing is for sure, it is that there will be plenty of targets to go around.

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