The Washington Football Team is releasing future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson, according to NFL.com's Tom Pelissero. Peterson is the second early-down back to leave the team this preseason after the release of Derrius Guice. Washington headed into 2020 with one of the most crowded backfields to navigate for fantasy football, but the team's plan for how it will utilize its backfield is becoming more clear with every name taken off the list.
Impact on Washington’s backfield
With the release of Peterson, Washington now has four running backs on the roster with a good chance all four of them make the team. Bryce Love is the only player who was on the team last year, although he has yet to take an offensive snap for Washington. Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic joined the team in free agency, and Washington added RB/WR hybrid Antonio Gibson in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
The biggest fantasy impact involves the rookie Gibson, who has been one of fantasy football's biggest wild cards. Even Ron Rivera has admitted that the team is keeping its plans for Gibson a secret.
The former Memphis Tiger was 97th on PFF's Big Board. One of the downsides we noted was that he lacks experience as a running back. With so few dynamic weapons in Washington, it was easy to imagine enough touches for Gibson to be fantasy relevant this year as a RB2 or flex player. With Peterson out of the picture, there should be even more opportunities for Gibson to get touches — he should be in the back-end RB2 conversation. Like most running backs in that range, it’s a bit of a risky pick, but the upside is there for RB1 touches. Our projections currently have Gibson ranked as RB20 in PPR leagues.
This won’t have much impact on McKissic, who is just a receiving back and was never competing for snaps with Peterson. There's been talk of McKissic and Gibson being used on the same plays and McKissic potentially seeing time as a slot receiver. McKissic could be worth a late-round flier in PPR leagues. With how little depth Washington has at wide receiver, there's a chance for McKissic and Gibson to both see plenty of targets.
The larger impact this has on the team is offering up the vast majority of rushing attempts, and it could be Love and Barber splitting the time there. Love as recently as a week ago wasn’t considered a roster lock, but today's news certainly helps his case. He's received snaps with the first team when Peterson had a rest day and has the biggest upside. But it could be Barber leading the team in carries to start the season.
Last year with the Buccaneers, Barber had a first down or touchdown on a paltry 15.6% of his carries (second-worst in the league) and only registered 0.11 missed tackles forced per carry, which tied for third-worst. For drafters who went Zero-RB early and need a back who can at least get some carries early in the season, Barber might be an OK option. Outside of that situation, Barber has very limited upside. Love is a former fourth-round draft pick who hasn’t played yet — Round 10 would be an appropriate time to draft him, although I wouldn’t start him Week 1.
Future for Adrian Peterson
Peterson is coming off of two seasons with rushing grades of 75.4 and 69.7, which are his two best seasons over the last six years. There's a chance he finds a home before the season starts, but he might have to wait until a team suffers an injury.
The Patriots could certainly use his talents. They have James White to take the passing snaps, and some combination of Sony Michel, Damien Harris and Lamar Miller are slated to take most of the carries, though each has missed time at some point during training camp. Over the last two seasons, both Michel and Miller have graded better as runners than Peterson, but if Peterson is healthier than any of the rushing backs the Patriots have, he could be a good option there.
Jacksonville is also a possibility after the team released Leonard Fournette. New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was the head coach at Washington with Peterson. He already reunited with receiving-back Chris Thompson. The Jaguars released Fournette because they like who they have, but they could see Peterson taking a leadership role for their younger players.
There's also the possibility of Peterson re-signing with Washington later at a lower salary. That seems unlikely, as Washington doesn't have any salary cap problems, but it’s within the realm of possibilities.
Regardless of where Peterson lands, he likely won’t be a great fantasy option. He has never been a good receiving back, which greatly limits his upside for fantasy purposes. Anywhere he goes, he'll be joining a team that likely has at least one other RB who is just as good if not better on the ground than Peterson at this stage of his career, so his carries will probably be limited as well. Wherever he lands, Peterson is likely to hurt the fantasy value of the running backs already on a roster.