- The Washington Times
Thursday, October 7, 2021

ASHBURN — J.D. McKissic had some words for the fantasy football crowd. Asked why he was stealing “all the fantasy points away” from teammate Antonio Gibson in a “Ask Me Anything” session with Bleacher Report this week, the Washington running back said he was glad the question was brought up. 

He did not sugarcoat his answer. 

“Fantasy people gotta stop bro,” McKissic told Bleacher Report. “Me and AG are like brothers. … Please stay out of the comments with this nonsense because I can’t control it lol.”

That “nonsense” is related to the fact that so far this season, McKissic and Gibson each have two touchdowns — one rushing, one receiving — and have split duties in the backfield, much to the chagrin of fantasy football users that hoped Gibson would become a breakout star for Washington in his second year. According to Fantasy Pros, a website dedicated to Fantasy Football, Gibson’s average draft position in a Points Per Reception league was 17th overall — whereas McKissic was taken 138th.

In terms of actual football, Gibson hasn’t disappointed: He has more yards and touches per game than as a rookie. Even with the jump in play, however, the coaching staff still holds McKissic in high regard — heavily involving him in the passing game and on third down. 

Through four games, Gibson has played 145 snaps to McKissic’s 101, good for an almost 60-40 split when factoring in the percentage of offensive snaps. 

“Their roles have been perfect so far,” Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner said. “I mean, not perfect, but they’ve both been productive. And I think that will continue as the season goes on.” 

Turner’s comments indicate that the sharing won’t stop unless one of the two can’t play. McKissic (ankle) and Gibson (shin) are both on the injury report this week, though McKissic was a full participant in Thursday’s practice, while Gibson was limited. Gibson was limited last week with the injury and went on to play.

No one should be shocked that McKissic is still a prominent part of the offense. After all, Turner loves to use pass-catching running backs and McKissic earned more than 100 targets last year. For reference, McKissic’s 110 targets were the most among running backs league-wide — and even ahead of receivers like Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Minnesota’s Adam Thielen.

And with that trust, McKissic has produced when given the chance. Look no further than his game-winning touchdown in Sunday’s win over the Atlanta Falcons, when McKissic caught the ball in the flat and sprinted down the sideline for a 30-yard touchdown. McKissic even dove head-first across the pylon on the score.

“Seize the moment,” McKissic said. “When you get the chance to make a play, make a play.”

Gibson and McKissic have defined roles. Gibson is typically the running back on first and second down, and McKissic comes in to be a receiver threat or pass blocker on third down. Coach Ron Rivera said Washington tries to periodically switch those up to avoid becoming predictable to opposing defenses.

But what makes the duo a promising pair is that Gibson and McKissic largely have the same skill set. While there are physical differences — the 6-foot-2 Gibson is about five inches taller and 30 pounds heavier — both are former receivers converted to running backs. That gives off the threat that either could be in for the run or the pass.

Running backs, in general, have become more involved in the passing game over the last decade. The New Orleans Saints, Washington’s opponent Sunday, have carved defenses up with Alvin Kamara, the shifty running back who has 2,886 receiving yards in five seasons.

“They just give us another advantage in the matchup category,” Washington receiver Terry McLaurin said of Gibson and McKissic. “They’re playing at a really high level right now, and where you have two guys that can do that, I’m sure it really helps both of them and I know it helps our offense.”

Turner said that Gibson and McKissic are “like brothers,” praising the way that McKissic has mentored Gibson. Before joining Washington in 2020, McKissic spent time with the Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks and the Detroit Lions across four seasons. 

The playing time hasn’t appeared to bother them, either. Between the two, Gibson has had a bigger workload on the field — he has had 67 touches to McKissic’s 27. Gibson has ran or almost 200 more rushing yards (253 to 56), but has 35 fewer receiving yards (107 to McKissic 142) on four fewer catches (8 to 12).

“There’s not really limitations with those guys,” Turner said. “Sometimes at that position, you get into some where there are some plays you’re not necessarily comfortable calling (depending on who is in). And with those guys, there’s some plays I’d rather have one than the other, but nothing, like, ‘Oh man, I can’t call this.’

“That makes it really easy.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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