Following Washington running back Derrius Guice turning himself in on domestic violence charges of strangulation, three counts of assault and battery, and one count of destruction of property, the Washington Football Team acted swiftly to release him from the team.
It was the quick and correct decision given the severity of the charges against him and the nature in which he came into custody.
Guice, the team’s 59th overall pick in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, never really got his career off the ground, despite being one of the more talented players in the draft class. Guice suffered an ACL injury in the preseason of his rookie year that forced him to miss the whole season. The following year he once again injured his knee, this time in Week 1, which caused him to miss another 10 weeks. He returned to play in four games, but once again ended the year on the injured list with another knee injury, this time an MCL sprain.
2020 was supposed to be a big year for Guice, but his own actions have taken that opportunity away from him. That leaves the starting running back job in Washington a lot more open than they were planning.
Though the starting gig isn’t headlined by who the team intended, there is a clear frontrunner for it: long-time NFL veteran, and future Hall of Famer, Adrian Peterson.
After 10 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, where Peterson was one of the best offensive players in the league for the better part of a decade, Peterson bounced around as an older free agent from New Orleans to Arizona then finally landing in Washington in 2018. Though the plan was never for Peterson to be the long-term starter, that is exactly what he has been due to Guice’s injuries. Over the past two seasons, Peterson has started in 31 of a possible 32 games for the franchise, rushing for more than 1,900 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns in the process.
As of this past March, Peterson is 35 years old. If it weren’t for Frank Gore, he’d be the oldest running back in the league. Due to how long he’s been around, the starting job means Peterson is one step closer to a career goal he set out for himself back in his rookie days: to be the NFL’s all-time leader in rushing.
“That’s one of the goals I set to myself when I entered the NFL was to pass the GOAT (Emmitt Smith)” Peterson said. “I look forward to playing a couple more years, 3-4 more years, who knows, depending on how my body is feeling.”
At 14,216 career rushing yards (fifth-most all-time), Peterson is just 4,139 rushing yards short of Smith’s 18,355 record. However, he’s only 2,510 yards short of Walter Payton’s 16,726 for second place.
With not only the all-time rushing title but now the starting job in Washington in his sights, what can we expect from Peterson here in 2020, and how much does he have left in the tank?
Peterson led Washington in running back snaps last year with 402. That was 42% of the team’s total offensive snaps. Chris Thompson was a somewhat close second with 310, which was a little over 32%. But though the snaps were in the same realm of usage, the stats were not, and clearly had roles to them.
Peterson finished the season with 898 rushing yards on 211 carries, which was a respectable 4.3 yards-per-carry average. Meanwhile, Thompson recorded just 137 rushing yards on 37 attempts. Where Thompson was more valuable for Washington was in the passing game, as he saw 58 targets to Peterson’s 23. Peterson had just 142 receiving yards on the season to Thompson’s 378.
Now, here’s the big difference this season: not only is Guice no longer on the team to take carries and targets from Peterson, neither is Thompson. Thompson signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, but there is a new character who joins the mix, the versatile Antonio Gibson from Memphis.
Washington drafted Gibson in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. They drafted him for his versatility, as Gibson finished the season with more receptions (38) than carries (33). He was productive at both, which is certainly something Washington liked when targeting him in the draft. But where we weren’t sure where Gibson was going to play as a running back in Washington—though he’ll be a receiver, too—now with Guice gone things get more streamlined.
Peterson should be the early-down back where Gibson, in theory, could assume most of the pass-catching duties. The biggest difference will be in pass protection. No matter how good of a pass-catcher you are out of the backfield, if you can’t pass-protect, the team can’t trust you on passing downs. Unfortunately for Gibson, our own Kyle Crabbs said in Gibson’s scouting report pre-draft that pass protection is not something Gibson has a lot of experience doing.
“We're starting from scratch here,” Crabbs said. “If [Gibson] wasn't in the backfield, he was in the slot and releasing into routes. He's got a great build for pass protection, given his body density and functional strength — but application to pass pro will be effectively like learning a new language for him given no exposure to it.”
This could then lend to Peterson being on the field even more. Peterson may have only seen 23 targets in 2019, but he did have a 73% catch percentage, which is plenty reliable coming out of the backfield.
So in terms of answering the question “how much does Peterson have left in the tank,” we’re about to get a great look at the answer because Washington is about to give the 35-year-old all he can handle in 2020.