The Redskins signed running back JD McKissic with a pretty specific role in mind, but the wide receiver turned runner might have bigger designs than just being a third-down back.
"I love to run between the tackles," McKissic said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters. "I want to create a hazard for the defense."
That's great, but it's not why Washington brought in the fifth-year back out of Arkansas State. In college, McKissic played wide receiver and played it well. In four seasons for the Red Wolves he caught 289 passes for nearly 3,000 yards with 11 touchdowns. As a sophomore, he had more than 100 catches and 1,000 yards.
He was a very legitimate receiving threat in the Sun Belt Conference, but in the NFL, that just wasn't in the cards, particularly at 5-foot-10 and 195 lbs. So he switched to running back and has stuck in the league since 2016, when he signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent.
Now in Washington, McKissic is focused on being a running back but won't let his roots go.
"I will always feel like I'm a receiver just because I've done it my whole life," he said. "I never want to lose my receiver ability. I feel like it's kept me in the league to do something different. That's what sets me apart from a lot of other guys."
In new Redskins offensive coordinator Scott Turner's scheme, receiving ability has a lot of value for a running back. Throwing to backs has always been a staple of the Turner offense, even when Scott's father Norv Turner ran it throughout the 1990s and 2000s. It's a way to create mismatches against the defense and get more defensive backs on the field, which can in turn open up more room to run the football.
McKissic spoke with Turner about the offensive plans and liked what he heard.
"The running back position is very important to him," McKissic said of Turner. "He mentioned Christian McCaffrey had 100 catches [in 2019]. He told me I'll get a couple but I won't get that many."
Last season in Carolina, McCaffrey cooked.
He didn't just catch 100 passes, McCaffrey caught 116 passes. He accounted for nearly 2,400 yards of total offense through the air and on the ground, and that was with Norv and Scott Turner running the offense.
Now, to be clear, McKissic isn't McCaffrey. Last year with the Lions, McKissic caught 34 passes for 234 yards and accounted for about 440 yards of offense.
There will be a similar McCaffrey role available in the new Redskins offense though.
Of the Redskins running backs under contract, and there are a lot, McKissic has a similar body type to McCaffrey and is best known as a pass-catcher. There will be competition for that job, and the position group has a lot of options. As far as third-down back though Adrian Peterson is unlikely to be in the running, which leaves McKissic, Derrius Guice and Bryce Love. The Redskins also signed Peyton Barber this offseason but the former Bucs running back has never been much of a pass-catcher in his four-year career. Guice and Love are coming back from significant knee injuries, so McKissic could have a leg up on the competition, and he's certainly the only back that used to play receiver.
When new Redskins coach Ron Rivera took over the top job in Washington, he promised competition at every position on the field. By adding two free agent running backs to a group that already included Peterson, Guice and Love, Rivera's got plenty of heat in the backfield.
"That's what's it all about, competition man," McKissic said. "We understand the business, we know the game."
While he said he's "honored" to be in the same group as Peterson, the best way for McKissic to make an impact is through the air.
"I got to keep my route running up. I can't let them forget that I was a wide receiver."
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