In his first season in Washington, J.D. McKissic’s availability became a godsend for Washington’s overall punch in the backfield. While Antonio Gibson represented the workhorse talent throughout the season, his turf toe injury suffered against Pittsburgh introduced a three-man backfield that also included Peyton Barber serving as the goal-line punch for Scott Turner’s offense.
2021 looks to be much different. With Gibson now healthy, McKissic will move back to his role as a change-of-pace ball-carrier with most of his snaps coming on third down in the pass game—where he thrives.
Entering his sixth season in the NFL, McKissic has made his money through the air, totaling more receiving yards than rushing yards in each of his first six campaigns as a pro. Last fall, McKissic, working in tandem with the carousel of quarterbacks in Washington, amassed career-highs in targets, receptions, and receiving yards as the target hog within Washington’s faulty aerial attack. In fact, his 589 yards receiving ranked second among all running backs to only the New Orleans Saints’ Alvin Kamara—a notion of just how special the former UDFA can be in space. And while he’s never carved out a lead dog role in the backfield due to his limitations as a rusher, McKissic has always made the most of his opportunities. With Gibson expected to feature a Christian McCaffrey-like workload in Turner’s high-flying offensive enterprise, the arrival of 2021 UDFA Jaret Patterson will be nipping at McKissic’s heels with any drop in production.
Patterson’s preseason slate of appearances proved he belonged, as his prowess in all three offensive phases of an RB’s game (run, pass, special teams) locked up his roster spot. While three explosive backfield talents present head coach Ron Rivera with a dilemma of where exactly Patterson slots in a backfield with Gibson and McKissic, it’s a fantastic problem to have, and the departure of Barber offers a variety of skill sets for Turner to deploy within an offense captained by gun-slinging veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Concurrently for McKissic, Fitzpatrick’s arrival could boost his output exponentially in 2021. While there won’t be as many check-down receptions as he enjoyed with Alex Smith, the opportunity to line up opposite a slow-footed linebacker or a weak cover safety is a mismatch in heaven Fitzpatrick should take advantage of throughout the campaign.
In what proved to be Pittsburgh’s first loss last fall, McKissic’s ability to step up when his name was called proved to be paramount with Gibson shelved. A versatile target with YAC ability as good as any in football, the usage of McKissic by Turner keeps defenses guessing, as his ability on screens, sweeps, or structured route concepts allows the offense to diversify itself each and every week with the countering packages teams will throw at Turner.
Moving into Week 1 where Washington will find itself at the beginning of its gauntlet of a schedule against the Los Angeles Chargers, McKissic’s role looks to be solidified. Even with Gibson’s aforementioned heavy snap count and Patterson now in town, McKissic is still just 28 years old on the last leg of his two-year, $3.2M deal signed last year. While defenses around football have become awfully aware of the playmaking ability of Gibson—many expect the former Memphis standout to represent one of football’s biggest breakout stars—the faces and explosion behind him will become the key to Washington’s vehicle to success on the heels of just its third division title since the turn of the century.