* As the 2022 NFL season inches closer, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux takes a look at the fantasy football outlook of multiple Washington Commanders players. Next up: taking a look at the team's running back room.
What to make of Washington's running back room?
At this time last year, the Washington Commanders running back room had a clear pecking order. Antonio Gibson was the lead back, with J.D. McKissic used mainly as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Jaret Patterson, an undrafted rookie, worked his way into the rotation as a change-of-pace option.
Gibson, McKissic and Patterson all return to the Commanders this season, but the running back room has a fresh face that could shake things up a little bit. That would be Brian Robinson Jr., who Washington drafted in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Robinson, a five-year player at Alabama, had to wait his turn in Tuscaloosa but certainly made the most of his opportunity last season. The rookie brings a power running style that the Commanders didn't have before, but also is shifty and nimble enough to play a role in the passing game.
With the addition of Robinson to the running back room, there's a chance Washington uses something that all fantasy football players despise: running back by committee.
So, how should Washington's running backs be viewed in fantasy? Let's take a look...
Let's start with Gibson, who still figures to begin the season as the Commanders' top rusher. Gibson ran for over 1,000 yards last season, a significant increase from his rookie year, but developed a fumbling problem that persisted for much of the season. Gibson coughed the ball up six times, four of which were recovered by the opposing team -- the most of any running back in the NFL.
Gibson, who was drafted in the second round of most fantasy drafts last year, still managed to finish as RB10 in PPR formats. But Gibson left a lot to be desired in 2021, especially as a pass-catcher -- an area many thought he would take a big leap in Year 2.
Gibson made a conscious effort to lose weight this offseason and arrived at the Commanders' offseason program visibly thinner than he was in 2021. The running back said during OTAs he hopes his weight loss will help bring his "quick twitch" ability back and increase his explosiveness. He also said he was open to a running back by committee approach and is prepared to earn his snaps.
Fantasy experts aren't nearly as high on Gibson this year as they were in 2021, as his current average draft position (ADP) is in the middle of the fourth round. Still, though, there's plenty of value there, especially considering the body transformation Gibson went through this offseason. If Gibson is able to stay healthy and hold onto the football, the Commanders are going to have a hard time keeping him off the field.
Moving on, pass-catching back J.D. McKissic presents another intriguing late-round fantasy option. Over the past two years, only two running backs -- Alvin Kamara and Austin Ekeler -- have totaled more receptions than him over the past two seasons. That's elite company.
McKissic's pass-catching ability gives him plenty of value in PPR formats. His role in the offense likely isn't impacted by the arrival of Robinson, either. Perhaps the only way McKissic could lose his fantasy value would be if Gibson takes a step forward as a pass-catcher. But then again, the same thing was said last year, too, and McKissic still had a big role in Washington's offense until a neck injury ended his season.
McKissic simply doesn't get enough carries to be an every-week play, but he holds plenty of fantasy value -- definitely enough to be rostered. He's currently being viewed as an RB4, but he's put together back-to-back top-30 finishes. So, it's likely McKissic once again outperforms his ADP.
In the Commanders' backfield, the biggest wild card -- in both real life and fantasy football -- is Robinson's usage, though. Right now, he figures to handle short-yardage situations at the minimum. But Robinson impressed during OTAs and minicamp; if he's able to build off that in training camp and the preseason, the rookie could certainly eat into both Gibson and McKissic's workload.
Robinson's responsibilities remain a mystery, which is why fantasy owners should shy away from him for now. Besides in dynasty leagues, Robinson figures to go undrafted in almost every other format. But he's certainly worth keeping an eye on during training camp and the preseason, as he could be one snap away from taking over as Washington's lead back.
As it stands now, the Commanders don't have a running back who's expected to be an RB1 in fantasy this season. Gibson has the potential to be one, but he'd have to receive enough of a workload to be able to produce RB1 numbers. Right now, that doesn't appear to be the case.
Fantasy managers should stay away from Washington's running back room in at least the first three rounds of drafts. The value simply isn't there. But, if Gibson is available in the middle-to-late fourth round, he could end up being one of the best value selections of the entire draft.
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