Three players on Washington’s offense typically get most of the recognition when things go well for the unit: Taylor Heinicke, Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson. Make it four, considering Logan Thomas’ breakout season last year and the expectations for him to do much of the same in 2021.
When the WFT’s most glamorous guys get all the roses after solid offensive performances, one player tends to evade the spotlight: J.D. McKissic.
McKissic was a savior in Washington’s Week 4 win in Atlanta. His 30-yard touchdown reception, capped with a miraculous four-yard leap for the pylon, catapulted the Burgundy & Gold to a much needed, if ugly, road win.
Terry McLaurin touted McKissic’s ability to evade defenders on what would ultimately be the game-winning score.
“Oh man, it was Taylor and J.D. and the O-line on that one…The running backs do a really good job catching the ball out of the backfield,” McLaurin said. “We’re okay taking check-downs sometimes because we know they can make plays. And that was a play that Taylor extended. J.D. did a great job of being open and available — he caught the ball and did what J.D. did.”
McKissic himself thought the play was a long shot to result in a touchdown, judging by who was covering him for Atlanta.
“Taylor scrambled to the left, I just stayed alive. Taylor made eye contact with me and I knew he was about to sling it. When I caught it, I’m like, ‘Ugh, Deion Jones. Out of all the players on that defense, why does it got to be him?’” McKissic said. “I slipped a good little bit, but I was fortunate enough to get my feet up on that when they tried to tackle me…Seize the moment. When you get a chance to make a play, make a play.”
That’s what no. 41 does: he makes plays. Sometimes, they turn the tide of the game — like his 56-yard catch and run down the sideline against the Giants in Week 2 to set up the game-winning touchdown catch for Ricky Seals-Jones. Justifiably, Seals-Jones’ grab stole headlines after that game, but it wouldn’t have been possible without this play:
McKissic’s stellar campaign shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. His pass-catching out of the backfield is the reason he was one of Alex Smith’s favorite targets last season (McKissic finished with 589 receiving yards, 365 rushing yards and three total TDs in 2020) and will likely continue in that role with Heinicke this year. Thus far in 2021, his 9.0 yards after catch per reception ranks 17th in the NFL. He beats out some phenomenal names on that list, like Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry and George Kittle.
But his contributions go well beyond plays that appear on the box score.
Another thing McKissic has shown an ability to do incredibly well is pick up the blitz. Some running backs in the NFL either shirk the responsibility to block oncoming pass rushers or simply are unable to do so, despite their best intentions.
McKissic’s blitz protection has saved Heinicke’s skin a few times this season. Take a look at this play, in which McKissic blocks Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver, who likely would’ve taken Heinicke down from the blindside had he had gotten to him:
“Yeah, 26, [Isaiah] Oliver. The nickel came and…they sent the guy. I got one read, I got two reads. I just got to be on my game, protect the quarterback. That’s one of the most important jobs on the field: punt returning, kicking and protecting the quarterback,” McKissic said of the block.
McKissic doesn’t have the speed of a Chris Johnson, the size of a Derrick Henry or the power of a Marshawn Lynch. He doesn’t need to have those things. He almost never gets called for penalties, making him one of the most solid, if under-appreciated, backs in the NFL. His nose for the ball makes him an asset for Washington, and one that has come up clutch in the first four games.