Fantasy Football 2020: The Washington Backfield Will Be A Mess

by Alex Kurpeski

 

I don’t think there’s ever been a more anxiety inducing depth chart than the one currently listed on Washington’s team website. As it stands right now, the team is looking at a backfield that could be 5-6 players deep in terms of startable talent. Heading into this offseason we already knew this position group would be a headache for fantasy managers, as the team elected to bring back their leading rusher from 2019, former NFL MVP Adrian Peterson. The 35 year-old Peterson has been an annoying source of touch syphoning for any managers invested in Derrius Guice these past couple of seasons (although the fact that Guice has spent more time on IR than he has on the field is a more disconcerting factor). 

 

With the selection of former Stanford standout Bryce Love in the fourth round of last year’s NFL Draft, it already appeared as though Washington was preparing to deploy a three-man committee at the position prior to any of the moves they made during free agency. Within days of the NFL’s legal tampering period reopening the Redskins made two more additions to their already crowded depth chart, signing former Buccaneers starter Peyton Barber to a two-year pact while also inking pass-catching specialist/return man J.D McKissic to a contract. While Barber is yet another big bodied back to compete with Guice and Peterson for the primary ball carrier duties, McKissic was signed to replace veteran Chris Thompson, the team’s longtime third down back. Thompson’s role had appeared to be Love’s for the taking, although with the addition of McKissic that became much less clear. 

 

In true Redskins fashion, the redundancy did not end here. With their third-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, Washington selected hybrid running back/receiver Antonio Gibson, a tier one athlete who’s size + speed combination allowed him to fly up the draft boards. With the selection of Gibson, Washington effectively made an already messy backfield even harder to project for us fantasy analysts. If this chapter of our backfield series sounds something like a therapy session then I’d like to apologize in advance, as this backfield has haunted my nightmares for a few months now. 

 

Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson

 

Starting at the top of the depth chart, it’s clear that the team’s new head coach Ron Rivera values the veteran leadership of Peterson, otherwise there would be no reason for him to have been retained. I don’t believe that trust necessarily correlates to a majority share in the team’s touch distribution, but I do not believe that Peterson would have re-signed with the team unless they promised him some role in the offense. Peterson finished as the RB28 in standard leagues last season, with an average of 8.1 fantasy points per-game. As a solid but unspectacular grinder at this stage in his career, it’s hard to imagine Peterson will duplicate these numbers again in 2020 with the added competition. 

 

Behind Peterson, it’s tough to say what the deal with Guice is. The former LSU standout has only played in 5/32 possible games thus far in his young career due to a variety of serious lower body injuries. As outstanding as he was in his college days, Guice’s recent injury history coupled with the notorious incompetence of Washington’s training staff makes it tough to trust him as a viable starter in real life and fantasy. While Guice managed a respectable 11.5 fantasy points per game (PPR) in his five appearances last season, the decision to bring in guys like Barber and Gibson (especially Gibson) makes me question the organization’s commitment to him as their RB of the future. Even if Guice stays healthy this season, his ceiling could be severely limited if he gets passed over for receiving work, as receiving upside can sometimes be the difference between a top-10 back and a top-40 back. Both Guice and Peterson could be pushed for work by Barber, who ran for 1,987 yards and scored 15 touchdowns in his tenure with Tampa Bay. While he’s the definition of ‘just another guy’ (shoutout to Bradley Stalder, who coined this phrase in regards to Barber), Barber’s experience could allow him to steal some valuable carries. While he’s unlikely to see much run as a receiver, Barber could definitely be a pest in the red zone for any Guice or Peterson owners. 

 

dm_200425_antonio_gibson

 

Speaking of receiving work, let’s try to make sense of the pass-catching backs in this group. As things stand right now, the mini-competition for passing down work should be between Gibson, Love, and McKissic, as the latter two are both undersized backs with pass protection prowess, while the former is a converted receiver as I mentioned earlier in this piece. I would give McKissic the advantage at this stage, as he is the best fit according to the Experience/Health/Talent venn diagram that I made up on the spot as I was writing this sentence in order to contextualize this claim. Both Love (after redshirting with an injury last season) and Gibson (a freshly drafted rookie with limited experience playing running back) may see a bit of a learning curve, one that will be accentuated by the delays caused due to Covid-19. I think as the season goes along, I could see either Love or Gibson usurping this role, as the draft capital invested in them suggests that the organization values both tremendously. To bypass the opportunity to give either player time on the field in favor of a replacement-level player like McKissic would be a foolish move by Washington’s coaching staff. Between Gibson and Love, I’m much more optimistic about Gibson’s chances to provide fantasy relevant point totals, as he has all of the attributes you look for in a three-down back. Coach Rivera tends to agree with this assessment, as he did in fact mention Gibson’s name in the same breath as his former player Christian McCaffrey, the RB1 in every format last season. While this is a far fetched comparison, Rivera’s co-sign should say something about the team’s plans for Gibson. 

 

There’s virtually no chance that all six of these backs make Washington’s final roster. If I was to pick the ‘odd man out’ it would definitely be one of Barber, McKissic, or Love (mostly because he’s practice squad eligible). For the purpose of these projections, I’m going to choose Barber as the odd man out, as he’s simply a redundant camp body in my opinion. So with this group narrowed down a bit, let’s take a look at my projections: 

 

Derrius Guice

 

  • 789 rushing yards
  • 170 ATT
  • 5 rushing TDs
  • 20 receptions
  • 187 receiving yards
  • 1 receiving TD
  • 153.6 fantasy points (RB25-35)

 

Adrian Peterson

 

  • 534 rushing yards
  • 147 ATT
  • 3 rushing TDs
  • 5 receptions
  • 21 receiving yards
  • 0 receiving TD
  • 78.5 fantasy points (RB55-62)

 

Antonio Gibson

 

  • 277 rushing yards
  • 41 ATT
  • 1 rushing TD
  • 14 receptions
  • 177 receiving yards
  • 1 receiving TD
  • 71.4 fantasy points (RB58-66)

 

J.D McKissic

 

  • 106 rushing yards
  • 38 ATT
  • 0 rushing TD
  • 33 receptions
  • 265 receiving yards
  • 0 receiving TD
  • 70.1 fantasy points (RB60-70)

 

Bryce Love

 

  • 64 rushing yards
  • 11 ATT
  • 0 rushing TD
  • 10 receptions
  • 94 receiving yards
  • 1 receiving TD
  • 31.8 fantasy points (RB85-95)

 

As you can see, I anticipate this backfield being an absolute nightmare for fantasy managers and analysts alike. There are simply too many mouths to feed and far too many overlapping skill sets to get a viable RB1 or RB2 out of this committee. Unless Guice or Gibson can separate from the back and display true RB1 potential, this could be a really annoying fantasy situation to be at the mercy of. The only saving grace is that the team should be employing an extremely run-heavy attack, given the limitations of Dwayne Haskins and his receivers. 

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