On eve of the NFL’s deadline to cut rosters down to 53, the Washington Football Team made a surprising move. The team released veteran running back Adrian Peterson, a player that many expected to be the team’s lead back in the wake of Derrius Guice’s release earlier in the offseason. Instead, the 35-year-old future Hall-of-Famer will be on the open market, and his departure will have an impact on fantasy football rankings and sleepers in the Washington backfield, most notably handcuffs Antonio Gibson and Bryce Love.
We break it all down for fantasy owners to help make key roster decisions as their drafts and Week 1 draw nearer.
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Antonio Gibson’s fantasy outlook
In the wake of Peterson’s release, Washington could opt to use a committee approach in the backfield. Even if they do operate in such a fashion, it seems that Gibson will get the most touches and could eventually take over as Washington’s primary running back.
Gibson was a third-round pick by Washington out of Memphis. During his college days, he played mostly at the receiver position, but Washington took him with designs of playing him at running back. The move was sensible, as Gibson did handle 33 carries during his final collegiate season and looked explosive, and he’s a good fit for the team’s new offense.
Washington’s offensive coordinator Scott Turner likes to get the ball to his running backs out of the backfield. Last season, we saw his influence in the Panthers’ offense when Christian McCaffrey got 142 targets, good for eighth most in the NFL and easily the top mark among RBs. Because of Gibson’s receiving ability, he should be a threat to catch plenty of passes in this system, and that will give him a high PPR floor.
However, Gibson’s ceiling will be determined by how much of a workload he can handle between the tackles. His light workload in college will raise some cause for concern, as it doesn’t demonstrate how durable he might be as a ball-carrier. Washington could opt to ease him into his role while getting him more touches through the air to get him into open space.
Even if Gibson isn’t ready for a high volume of carries, he should end up being the lead back in Washington’s backfield. By all accounts, he has shined at camp, and Peterson’s release indicates that the coaching staff is likely ready to trust Gibson in a big role. He isn’t yet an RB2 because of the volume questions, but he should be an excellent flex play, especially in PPR formats.
2020 STANDARD FANTASY RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Superflex | Top 200
J.D. McKissic: PPR sleeper
Since Turner’s offense prefers versatile players and pass-catching running backs, there is room for another player to emerge as a PPR sleeper. That well could be McKissic.
McKissic was inked to a two-year deal by Washington during the offseason. The converted college receiver was coming off the best season of his career with the Lions, having racked up a career-high 204 rushing yards along with 34 catches, 233 yards, and a TD in limited playing time for the Lions (24 percent of the snaps). In a bigger role, he could end up being more productive.
With Gibson slated to take on more touches and some of those potentially coming on early downs, McKissic could lock up the third-down back role. That would give him a lot of receiving upside, especially if Washington’s offense funnels receptions to the RB position as it’s expected to.
McKissic can be selected late in PPR fantasy drafts as a sleeper. Or, he can be scooped up off the waiver wire if you’ve already had your draft. There’s just so much upside with him given Washington’s offensive scheme and their lack of proven receiver talent outside of Terry McLaurin.
2020 PPR RANKINGS:
Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Superflex | Top 200
Bryce Love fantasy outlook
We’ve covered the backs with the most receiving value on Washington’s roster. Now, the question becomes, who will handle more carries between the tackles? That will likely be either Bryce Love and/or Peyton Barber.
Love is the more exciting name of the two. The former runner-up for the Heisman Trophy missed all of his rookie year while recovering from an ACL tear suffered in college, but he has a ton of upside as evidenced by his 2,118-yard, 19-TD season at Stanford.
Love may not be a big contributor right away. He’s still working into game shape after having been out of action since Dec. 2018. But down the line, he could end up emerging as part of a one-two punch with Gibson. He could be worth stashing and will surely be a player to watch on waivers as the RB situation gets settled in Washington.
Meanwhile, Barber isn’t an exciting option for fantasy owners. He averaged a woeful 3.1 yards per carry for the Bucs last year and is one of the least explosive backs in the league. That said, he is well-built at 5-11, 225 pounds and could be used as an early-downs back while Love continues to round into form. He did turn six of his 22 red-zone carries last season into TDs, so he could play a similar role in Washington and become a TD-dependent flex play.
DRAFT STRATEGY AND RANKINGS TIERS:
Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End | D/ST
Will Adrian Peterson play again?
Given Peterson’s age, some may question whether he’ll play again. It seems that he wants to keep playing, as he wants to overtake Barry Sanders for fourth on the all-time NFL rushing yards list.
So, where might Peterson play? He has a few options. First and foremost, he could wait it out and see if any running back goes down and a team needs a veteran replacement. He was comfortable doing that a couple of years ago when Washington picked him up, so he could do the same now.
If Peterson doesn’t want to risk waiting, he could target a team like the Texans, Bears, Steelers, or Rams that could use some veteran depth at the position. Wherever he lands, his fantasy value will be dependent on the players that are ahead of him on the depth chart.
If you have Peterson at this point, keep him around in case he lands in a spot where he can be a great handcuff. But if you’re drafting this weekend, it may be best to completely avoid him unless he lands with a new team. He wouldn’t be a bad speculative pickup in the very late rounds of fantasy drafts, but there’s always risk in taking a player that doesn’t yet have a team.
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