The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the team.
With the Washington Football Team just a few weeks removed from the season finale and a critical offseason on the horizon, it's time to turn the page to the 2022 campaign.
Over the next two weeks, washingtonfootball.com will break down every position group and lay out who the team could potentially add via free agency and the draft, starting with the running backs:
On the roster
There have been few changes to the core of Washington's backfield since Ron Rivera became the head coach in 2020. Although the team did release Peyton Barber at the end of training camp, the duo of Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic carried the load with a combined 1,249 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns.
Washington went from 26th (100.7) in 2020 to 12th (121.2) in 2021 in terms of rushing offense, and a big reason for that is because Gibson took another stride in his growth at the position. He cracked the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career, making him the first Washington running back to do so since 2018, and his 21 career touchdowns are the most in franchise history for a player in their first two seasons.
"I think the one thing more so than anything else is he has progressed," Rivera said, "and he's gotten himself into position where you feel very comfortable about who he is as our starting running back."
Gibson started to hit his stride in the second half of the season, when Washington shifted its focus on offense more towards a more run-dominant philosophy. He had three straight games of at least 80 yards, one of which saw him pass the century mark for just the third time in his career.
The only blemish that Gibson had on what was otherwise a solid season were his six fumbles, five of which were recovered by opponents. He did show improvement as the year went on, though, as he only fumbled twice after the bye week. Rivera still has confidence in what Gibson can be, and performances like his 146 yards in the season finale against the New York Giants show why the running back has earned that trust.
"With the ball in his hands, I think he's as good as any back in the league," Rivera said.
As for Gibson's running mate, McKissic's stats were less than those he put up in 2020, but there were several factors that led to those totals. It certainly doesn't lessen his value to the team, either.
Despite missing the last five games with injury, McKissic, who is set to be a free agent in March, still finished second on the team with 397 receiving yards. Two of his catches -- a 56-yarder against the New York Giants and a 30-yarder against the Atlanta Falcons -- directly contributed to wins. And as a runner, he led his fellow Washington running backs with a 4.4-yard average, even though he received a fraction of the carries given to Gibson.
"You throw a ball out to him, and it's a simple little smoke route and he's able to catch it and turn and get you five or six before you even know it," said running backs coach Randy Jordan. "And I think that's what makes him special."
Jaret Patterson, who emerged as Washington's third running back option, established a role for himself and proved his hometown team was right to sign him as an undrafted rookie. There was a noticeable growth spurt in Patterson's development during the season. There were flashes of his potential in the first 12 games, but they were sporadic with a 3.3-yard average.
Patterson's production in the last five games: 160 yards on 35 carries with two touchdowns and an average of 4.6 yards per carry.
"He can find those little creases and I see his development continue to grow," Jordan said. "He's just gotta have to continue to have that great attitude that he has and continue to go into practice with that attitude, with making sure that he's going to get better each and every day."
There are also a slew of players who could be used as a fourth option. Wendell Smallwood and Jonathan Williams both saw action late in the year and had success in limited roles. Elsewhere, Reggie Bonnafon and Alex Armah, who Washington signed as fullback during the season, were signed to reserve/future contracts.
While Washington likely won't be in the market for heavy changes to its running back position, aside from determining whether to keep McKissic on the roster, there are a few interesting players set to hit the open market. The list includes Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, Leonard Fournette, Phillip Lindsay and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Check out a list of all the impending free agent running backs, HERE.
This year's draft class doesn't include a dominant prospect like last year's Najee Harris, but there are a number of players who could fill serviceable roles. Some Day 3 picks include Notre Dame's Kyren Williams, Oklahoma's Kennedy Brooks and N.C. State's Zonovan Knight.
Check out a list of the running back prospects, HERE.