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Washington 2021 Position Reset: Running Back

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With Super Bowl LV capping off the 2020 season, it is time to look ahead to the 2021 campaign.

Over the next two weeks, Washingtonfootball.com will break down every position group and lay out who the team could potentially add via free agency and the draft.

First up are the running backs:

The Washington Football Team's top offensive plays from the 2020 season.

On The Roster

Washington had a completely different group of running backs this season, as third-round rookie Antonio Gibson and free agent signees J.D. McKissic and Peyton Barber combined for nearly all of the production. And while the team was in the bottom five of the NFL in terms of rushing offense (86.0 yards per game), there are many reasons to be optimistic about this group for next season and beyond.

For one, Gibson evolved into one of the league's most efficient rushers despite limited collegiate experience at the position and zero preseason games. He averaged 13.3 rushing attempts and 4.9 yards per carry from Week 7 on, and his 11 rushing touchdowns were second-most for a rookie running back in franchise history.

Gibson entered the NFL with the skillset of an every-down running back; he just needed to become more comfortable in the backfield. And throughout his rookie campaign, he showed encouraging improvement. He finished with 1,042 yards from scrimmage (795 rushing and 247 receiving) -- which was second on the team behind wide receiver Terry McLaurin.

"Right now I compare his running style to Arian Foster," head coach Ron Rivera said in early December. "I like who the young man can be for us. I like the way he runs the ball. He's got good body lean when he runs. He's got the speed to burst and he's got good vision. He's learning to be the kind of runner that we hope he can be for us. His skillset of catching the ball [out of] the backfield we really haven't gotten to, either."

Complementing Gibson was McKissic, who finished 2020 as the second-most productive receiving running back in the league behind perennial Pro Bowl Alvin Kamara.

It did not matter that McKissic came over from Detroit with just 158 career touches in four seasons. Washington put the ball in his hands 165 times this year, and he rewarded offensive coordinator Scott Turner with 954 total yards and a team-high 57 first downs.

"You see it as a receiver, you see it as a runner -- he's a quality back," Rivera said of McKissic, who ranks second in receptions and fifth in receiving yards for a single season among Washington running backs all-time. "I think the thing that he's showing is he can be a first-, second- and third-down guy. Do you want him touching the ball 30 times a game? Probably not if you don't want him to take that type of pounding. But you want the ball in his hands as much as possible. I do think he is a quality football player."

Like McKissic, Barber carved out a role for himself in Washington's backfield. He was the short-yardage back, which contributed to his 2.7 yards per carry. If the offense needed two yards or fewer, Barber most likely picked up the first down. He could also be referred to as the "closer," as 76 of his 94 carries came in the team's seven wins.

"I don't look at a lot of the stuff that you see being said about the yards per carry or stuff like that," Turner said. "Those yards are hard to come by in those situations. He's done a great job of moving the chains."

Randy Jordan's position group could look very similar next season, as Gibson has three years left on his rookie deal while McKissic and Barber are both under contract through 2021. Washington also has 2019 fourth-round pick Bryce Love, who has not played in a game his first two seasons while still fully recovering from a torn ACL.

Elsewhere, Washington signed Javon Leake and Jonathan Williams to reserve/future contracts last month. Veteran rusher Lamar Miller, who joined the team in mid-December, is set to become a free agent.

Free Agency

With Gibson and McKissic providing a solid one-two punch, it would not make much sense for Washington to go after high-end impending free agents like Aaron Jones, Leonard Fournette, Chris Carson, James Conner, Kenyan Drake, Le'Veon Bell or Mark Ingram.

Check out a list of all of the impending free agent running backs, HERE.

Draft

Alabama's Najee Harris and Clemson's Travis Etienne are generally regarded as the best running back prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft. Some Day 3 options include Oklahoma State's Chuba Hubbard, Mississippi State's Kylin Hill and Ohio State's Trey Sermon.

Check out a list of all of the running back prospects, HERE.

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