What's Going to Happen in the Washington Backfield? - Footballguys

The Footballguys staff offers thoughts on the Washington running back situation

Washington has one of many backfields where the roles are not clearly defined. Since running back is one of the most important positions in fantasy football, it's wise to get as clear a picture as possible on every backfield.

The assumption in Washington is that the rookie Derrius Guice is going to swoop in and take control. Is that your expectation? What is Christ Thompson's role? Does Samaje Perine do anything if a healthy Guice is around?

Bloom: The backfield is going to be Derrius Guice on early downs and Chris Thompson in passing situations. Thompson will continue to be a best-ball darling and weekly high-ceiling PPR RB2 with durability issues. Guice's ceiling is capped by Thompson, but still higher than most think. Washington's offensive line was in shambles last year, and they have had probably among the five worst collections of backs in the league for bread and butter running in the last two years. The team still creates a lot of red zone opportunities, and who knows how much meat is on the bone in the running game that Kelley/Perine/Jones couldn't chew in 2016 and 2017. Guice deserves to be the second highest drafted rookie running back and his ceiling is in Jordan Howard territory.

Tefertiller: Guice is growing on me. While he battled injuries some at LSU, I see his talent not far from Barkley. As the preseason nears, I will be moving him up my rankings.

Chris Thompson has been oft-injured and will likely transition to a third-down back, while Guice could easily have 300 touches.

Wimer: I drafted Derrius Guice in two of the IDP dynasty leagues that I play in for the following reasons:

1. Opportunity - there is no other viable early/every-down back on this roster except Guice - Samaje Perine showed he couldn't hack it at this level last year (3.4 yards per carry; a liability in pass blocking situations) and is likely at the end of the running back's bench for 2018. Chris Thompson is better suited to the change of pace/third down back role. Guice has a clear path to heavy early-down duties (14-16 touches per game) and if he can pick up the playbook and handle passing situations there is the potential for more.

2. The wide receiver stable is unsettled with free-agent import Paul Richardson Jr penciled in as No. 1 wide receiver, with oft-injured Josh Doctson starting across from him - and there is a brand-new starting quarterback in town, Alex Smith. With the passing game in transition, the team will want to lean on the running game while the rapport between Smith and his receivers forms/is built early in the season. This situation is built for Guice to show what he can do from the start of the season - and represents another level of opportunity for him to establish himself as the starting running back.

3. Though Guice fell in the draft due to off-field concerns, he has all the primary physical attributes, skills and tools that you look for in a starting running back. Even though the circumstances on draft day cost him a lot of money, I think it was not reflective of his ability to make a first-year impact at the NFL level.

Hester: The idea of Thompson transitioning to a change-of-pace/third-down role isn't illogical. But even considering his slightly reduced role, he's undervalued. Guice has the talent to contribute on all three downs at some point in his career, but that won't be this season - at least not right away.

First, rookies can struggle with pass-blocking. Second, giving any player 300-plus touches can wear him down, a scenario that is more likely with a rookie. Third, why would Washington simply forget about Thompson? He's a dynamic receiver who the offenses - routes, blocking schemes, and all.

Especially with Alex Smith in town, there will be plenty of low-aDOT (average depth of target) passes available for Thompson. From Weeks 1-11 last season (he got injured in Week 11), Thompson was the RB11 in PPR points per game. Even accounting for touchdown regression and a slightly reduced role Thompson is still a value at his mid-to-low RB3 price. That's possible even if you believe Guice could pay off his own low-RB2 draft price.

Parsons: Derrius Guice is a Round 1 NFL Draft talent. His fall was one of the most surprising of recent years as plenty of backs, albeit in a strong class, passed him in the pecking order. While I like Samaje Perine in a big picture dynasty sense with his plummeting cost after Guice's arrival, Perine will largely be irrelevant outside of a Guice injury.

Chris Thompson's lone trait of significance is as a receiver. Like the Theo Riddicks of the world, Thompson has no offensive role if not centered as a space-centric option. Guice will be limited in his PPR upside as result, but can still flirt with 20-30 receptions on the season. That said, Guice's early ADP will be tough to achieve in results. Guice will need to challenge for double-digit touchdowns on an offense with plenty of changing pieces from a year ago and a questionable passing game (especially if Jordan Reed's health continues to be an issue). I like Guice in the RB3/4 zone of a draft plan, but see Perine late (or in best ball) as an injury hedge or other backfields far more attractive from a cost-reward perspective.

Simpkins: Guice's path to being a fantasy stud out of the gate is much more complicated than Royce Freeman's or Kerryon Johnson's. It would take a Chris Thompson injury, better game scripts, and better injury luck along the offensive line. Those things are certainly possible, but I have a hard time seeing all three coming together. At current ADP, I would rather take shots at other backfields that I feel have more clarity and greater upside.

Wood: The problem with Guice in redrafts, even if you’re convinced he gets the lion’s share of touches, is the Washington offense. Top fantasy backs come from productive offenses, and Washington is going to struggle this year. They could be one of the NFC’s worst teams. The offensive line is good, on paper, but the key pieces are oft-injured and aging. I keep hearing people praise Alex Smith — good luck with that. Andy Reid cast him aside, just as he did Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia. Even if Smith is effective, he isn’t Kirk Cousins. So we’ve got an iffy offensive line, an aging quarterback who had to be forced into throwing the ball downfield but will fall back into bad habits, and worst of all, a terrible offensive coaching staff. Add to that a terrible defense, and I’m hard-pressed to see any Washington running back having positive game scripts most weeks.

Alexander: Washington was a top-10 scoring offense in 2015 and 2016 before offensive-line injuries ruined any chance they had last year. Jay Gruden has done more with less in his career as a coach or coordinator than the talent he has on this current roster.

It all comes down to health -- the offensive line, Jordan Reed, Josh Doctson, and Paul Richardson Jr have been oft-injured. But if they can play most of the season (particularly the linemen), Alex Smith is more than capable of overseeing a return to the top-10 for Washington.

Guice seems appropriately valued in the RB20 range, and there is room for more if he absorbs most of the 4.3 touchdowns per game Kirk Cousins has rushed for over the last three seasons. Thompson figures to resume his role from last year as the team's primary pass-catcher out of the backfield. For fantasy, that amounts to a weekly high-ceiling, low-floor option -- ideal for best ball leagues as Bloom pointed out.

Hicks: Seattle and Washington have similar issues heading into the 2018 season with their running games. Both are expecting a high round rookie running back to come in and start and have an assortment of backs on the roster who have been successful very briefly in their careers.

Washington does, however, seem to have a higher upside with their running game and as such Derrius Guice should be analyzed very carefully heading into this season. His numerous personality issues in the drafting process aside, he has the ability of a first-round running back. The rumored personality issues do need to be addressed, with alleged immaturity and a high maintenance attitude of main concern. Can this be resolved in training camp or will it need the cold light of actual NFL play before we can judge whether the draft scrutiny was too brutal or an absolute reflection of character?

Washington can get away with letting Guice stew until he is ready, as Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley have demonstrated short-term ability to move the ball. They are clearly not long-term answers though and in the right circumstances could even be cut before the season starts. Perine had yards per carrying of 3.42, fourth worst among all rookies with at least 150 carries over the last 15 years. Chris Thompson will almost certainly be the third-down back until he breaks down again and as such presents as a reliable RB2 for the early part of the season.

If we are throwing long shots into the mix, of particular interest are both the Marshalls. Byron saw a little action last year with Washington, but the player who could really mix it up is the 2016 seventh rounder Keith Marshall who has struggled to stay fit. He in all likelihood would have beaten out Rob Kelley for a spot on the roster in 2016 and has 4.31 speed at his disposal.

Knotts: Not sure all the hate about Derrius Guice, but he might be my favorite rookie this season. Let's face it, Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine are below-average running backs who struggled tremendously last year. Guice is a first-round talent who was great when facing SEC competition last season. He is my favorite player for rookie of the year as he has no competition surrounding him outside of Chris Thompson who is not an every-down running back.