Backfield Breakdown: The Washington Football Team

The Footballguys staff looks at how the Washington backfield will shake out

This article is about an 11-minute read.

Editor's Note: This article was posted before Derrius Guice was arrested and subsequently cut by Washington.

In a Backfield Breakdown, we will look at a team's running backs from all angles. Is there a bell-cow back on the roster? How about sleepers? What roles do we foresee from these backs?

Let's find out about Washington right now.

In the 2018 NFL Draft, Washington selected Derrius Guice and hoped they had somewhat solidified their ground game. That hasn't happened.

Because of a series of injuries, Guice has been unable to stay on the field for a significant stretch of time. In his stead, the 2019 season saw Adrian Peterson lead the team with 898 rushing yards. Pass-catching back, Chris Thompson, who is now in Jacksonville, missed five games but brought down 42 receptions.

These totals were not overly exciting.

The 2020 offseason ushered in much-needed change. A new head coach in Ron Rivera has arrived. Veterans Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic were added as was Antonio Gibson via the draft.

But the 2020 backfield is far from clear, and the Football Team's rushing attack is filled with questions. Can Peterson be an effect 35-year-old running back? Can Guice stay on the field? Do we see Bryce Love in action? Can Gibson, who played a lot of positions in college, learn the NFL game in a shortened preseason? What roles do McKissic and Barber have? And since there's no way Washington keeps six running backs, who doesn't make the team?

How does this backfield shake out in 2020?

Jason Wood

This unit is about one thing -- can Derrius Guice's abysmal injury luck change for the better? If so, Guice is without question the team's best running back and has the skill set to be a three-down workhorse. And the new coaching staff won't be afraid to give him that workload even with his injury history because, bluntly, he's nearing the end of his rookie deal either way. Better to use him while he's available to be used.

Guice isn't a failed prospect. He looked like a dynamic, potential top-12 fantasy workhorse before each of his last two injuries. That said, after this many knee issues, it's hard to fathom he can ever be 100% of what he was when the team drafted him.

If Guice can make it through training camp unscathed, he'll be the starter and is one of the cheapest 15+ touches-per-game backs available in drafts. The Washington Team looks awful on paper, and that needs to factor into expectations. A workhorse role on a bad offense isn't a must-have fantasy commodity, but Guice can be a helpful cog in the wheel and push for Top 20 honors.

Now, if Guice is hurt again or has enough of his explosiveness to force the coaches into a different direction, the backfield will be a Frankenstein's monster of a committee. A bunch of limited or older talents battling for scraps in a moribund system.

Chad Parsons

I am fascinated by every aspect of Washington running back depth chart. There is a story for each one of them which contains some ambiguity.

Derrius Guice has been given passes for two years with his injuries and a mere handful of games played. He looked the part with his smattering of touches, but the competition for snaps is higher than any point of his tenure to-date. If one of the backs turns into a fantasy RB1 this season, Guice is the play.

Adrian Peterson can be a fail-safe option if Guice is out, but the upside is lacking without being much of a receiving contributor and his athleticism waning from his career peak.

Bryce Love returns from a missed rookie season and late college career injury as a true wildcard. Possessing high-level speed, Love was still drafted early on Day 3 despite projecting as a rookie redshirt and recovering from his ACL injury during the NFL Draft process.

Antonio Gibson is my personal favorite of the quartet. Gibson was the proverbial offensive weapon at Memphis, producing a host of big plays and touches despite sporadic touches overall. Gibson has enviable physical traits at 225+ pounds with wide receiver chops plus running a sub-4.40 time in the 40-yard dash. Washington has questions at running back, but three other legit options for 2020 yet still drafted Gibson early in Round 3.

I see Gibson more likely to see significant snaps than Love due to his versatility to see backfield, slot, and receiver snaps and is a valuable returner for special teams. Love is sub-sized and is likely slow-played into the mix. Guice, if healthy, is in a pivotal season to stay healthy and be the featured option Washington expected two years ago.

Jeff Pasquino

Washington's running backs coach Randy Jordan had an interesting interview.

The team has several strong backs with feature back mentality, but it screams to me that a new guard back like Derrius Guice will split time with an old guard veteran like Adrian Peterson. Chris Thompson is gone now, so the PPR back is wide open - but the inside track has to be given to Antonio Gibson for that role. A very dark horse is Bryce Love, who was on IR all last year and lost his first NFL campaign. Odds are against him barring an injury or two, but Guice has not shown durability and Peterson is not only chasing records but also running from Father Time.

Jeff Haseley

Like what Jeff shared, it appears as if this team is driven by Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson. The percentage of involvement for both is what is making this situation a challenge. Peterson is the fly in the ointment for Guice reaching the status of being a true every-week fantasy running back. I'm not sure if we can count on him being a consistent threat each week just yet. Guice will need at least one big game and maybe two to hold off Peterson. Can it happen? Yes, it can, but as of right now, we can't rely on it, which is another reason why Guice is a good RB4 type of back who is best reserved for the bench until proven otherwise.

Jordan McNamara

Who will be left standing in this group is anyone's guess. Guice has been injured his entire pro career while Bryce Love was essentially a medical redshirt last year. If both are healthy, combining them with Adrian Peterson and Antonio Gibson would be a diverse and compelling backfield. I'm worried about the game script for Washington, so while I like Guice, I'm concerned the upside might be lower-level RB2 than a big difference-maker. In a normal year, Gibson would be a very attractive rookie buzz candidate because of his pass-catching ability as a hybrid-type player out of Memphis. Ultimately, if all four are active, I'm not sure there is a clear answer in a given week.

Bob Henry

Looking at Washington's backfield, I recognize that not only am I the long pole in the Derrius Guice circus tent but also for Washington's team rushing totals. So, let me start there because when I am looking at this backfield I'm first looking at the whole pie including pace, total plays, run/pass ratio and then go into the individuals in the backfield.

In general, there are a couple of areas of improvement that I anticipate starting with the defense. The front line is now among the best in the division and possibly across the NFC and NFL. Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio form a competent duo as head coach and defensive coordinator. I'm bullish that the addition of Chase Young will propel this unit into the top five or ten in the league in sacks. The return of Kendall Fuller gives the secondary a much-needed talent boost and even an aging Thomas Davis gives the linebacking unit credibility and continuity having played under Rivera for years in Carolina. If the defense improves even marginally, it will translate to better time of possession and an uptick in offensive plays.

Offensively, Washington took a hit losing LT Trent Williams, but he didn't play last year so it's not a step back. In fact, the quarterback position should be better with Haskins in his second year and the incredible comeback journey of Alex Smith could even provide significantly more depth or even competition to fuel Haskins' growth.

Bottom line, I believe Washington will be healthier this year offensively, even if it's incrementally so. They ran an embarrassingly low 885 offensive snaps last year. Compare that to Miami's 878 in 2018 who jumped to 1,022 plays in 2019. If Washington jumps to 970 snaps this year, it's still well below league average, but with a better defense and modeling a run/pass ratio around Ron Rivera and Scott Turner, an improvement to 425 rushing attempts put Washington right around the league average, but a considerably bigger piece of pie for the backfield. All of this is easy to refute if you disagree with the premise or logic.

Like others, I believe this coaching staff will give Guice every opportunity to stake his claim as the featured back. Injury or health concerns aside, he has three-down skills and he appears to have momentum on his side going into the season. My projections account for his durability challenges, so when I get into the later rounds when starting running backs are in short supply and he's on the board, I am more than happy to take him and the associated risk in 6th or 7th round (near his ADP), especially if I didn't load up on running backs earlier.

The majority of carries should go to Guice and/or Adrian Peterson, who is almost free as an end-of-draft option. At that point, he's worth a pick as someone with starter-level talent or as a cheap handcuff for Guice. After those two, I think Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic will have a difficult time making the roster, but in the year of COVID, they will find work here or elsewhere at some point.

The last two backfield spots should go to Antonio Gibson and Bryce Love. Gibson, by far, has the most appeal and upside for the cost. His versatile skill set could lead to him playing in the slot as well as on passing downs or even spelling Guice/Peterson on early downs with his burst and home run ability. The team is thin at receiver, though, which gives him an extra opportunity outside of the backfield to earn snaps and return value.

If Washington overachieves at all this year, it will likely be on the backs of their defense and better play from Haskins. Guice has top-10 potential, but a lot of things would have to fall just right.

Phil Alexander

Great stuff here from Bob. I agree Washington's offense will take a step forward and produce at least one viable fantasy running back, and possibly even two. In Scott Turner's short time as offensive coordinator in Carolina, he did an admirable job scheming around poor quarterback play and tailoring the offense to the strengths of his best players.

With no disrespect to Terry McLaurin, Guice is the best player on the Washington Football Team's offense. We only caught a fleeting glimpse of his talent last year in between serious knee injuries, but the speed, power, elusiveness, and pissed-off running style he became famous for at LSU were on display in 2019.

Before getting hurt (again), Guice was in the process of relegating Peterson to a breather-back who comes in for five-to-seven carries per game. I fully expect Guice to pick up where he left off last year now that he's had plenty of time to heal. There aren't many high-upside running backs available in the middle rounds, and Guice is one of a precious few capable of elevating an offense rather than just being another cog in the wheel.

Gibson is also intriguing. He's one of those "Ferrari engine in a bulldozer" running backs (© Sigmund Bloom) in the mold of a David Johnson or Joe Mixon. The fact Washington was willing to spend an early third-round pick on a running back given the logjam on their depth chart speaks volumes. Turner is capable of using positionless tweeners creatively, as evidenced by Curtis Samuel's increased involvement as a rusher late last year. As a capable pass-catcher on a team lacking any receiving threat behind Terry McLaurin, Gibson is a player to target in the early double-digit rounds in PPR leagues.

Andy Hicks

There is only one good thing about this mess of a situation: if a guy hits it big from this group he will win leagues. All will be good value, but all have an early cut floor. The most likely situation is you will have a guy that clogs up a roster spot and will be hard to play in any given week.

From worst to best options.

  • J.D. McKissic and Peyton Barber will be fortunate to make the final roster. Even if they see the field we have seen enough to know they aren’t going to help you win your league.
  • Adrian Peterson can be cut if the team likes the younger players. He has bailed this team out for the last couple of years, but a new coaching group combined with his age and lack of upside makes it hard to get excited. On the other hand, he has the highest floor if he makes the team.
  • Bryce Love was projected as a third-down replacement for Chris Thompson last year, but missing a year makes it hard to recommend him. If he is fit and can find a role then he could be one of those guys you pluck from the waiver wire to get you a few points in an emergency,
  • Antonio Gibson has upside. The only problem is he is raw and will likely need development. This is a poor offseason to get development. He has the second-highest upside in the group if he catches some breaks. At his draft price, he has no risk at all.
  • Derrius Guice has the highest price, but if his luck turns around then he is feature back material. An early seventh-round projection is a fair price for his potential, but there are some guys that never catch a break in their NFL career. Guice has to be on the field consistently this year and we are more hopeful than expectant that it will happen.

Jeff Pasquino

Adding to my earlier thoughts, I think that the biggest thing to keep in mind is that Washington is really not that good of a football team. Odds are that they will struggle this season and wind up well out of contention with a last-place NFC East finish, so this season would be a lost one if they don't take the view that 2020 is a rebuilding campaign. That means finding the players who will help them going forwards in 2021 and beyond have to be the focus, so that likely means that Adrian Peterson is going to be phased out at some point. The future Hall of Fame tailback has more to give for sure, but he cannot factor in for Washingtion's offensive plans after this year. That strongly suggests that Guice, Love, and Gibson will be given long looks in various situations to see what the team has to build around (or needs to add) for 2021 and beyond.

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