Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic must help in pass game as WR group brings real questions

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JP Finlay
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Gibson, McKissic must help in pass game as WR group brings real questions originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Washington Football Team elected to keep five wide receivers on its final 53-man roster instead of the more conventional six wideouts. Astonishingly, three of the five receivers Washington kept are undrafted free agents: Steven Sims, Dontrelle Inman and Isaiah Wright.

Every year, undrafted players make rosters all over the league. Still, to have 60 percent of one position group be undrafted guys, particularly at a high value skill position like wide receiver, really stands out.

Of the Washington group, Terry McLaurin is the star.

He nearly broke the football team’s rookie receiving yards record last season and looks poised for a 1,000-yard season this fall. The franchise hasn’t had a 1,000-yard WR since 2015, and hasn’t drafted a 1,000-yard WR since Michael Westbrook.

Coincidence or not, McLaurin is Washington’s highest drafted wideout, a third-rounder in 2019. Rookie Antonio Gandy-Golden was taken in the fourth round in April. 

Ron Rivera must be aware of the group's humble roots but the Washington head coach actually believes receiving help can come from a different position group.

"We also like the guys who we have kept at running back because there’s some position flex with those guys," Rivera said Saturday.  

"Antonio Gibson’s background, J.D. McKissic’s background — if we had a situation where we knew J.D. could play the slot, if something else came up we’d know that Antonio could go out and play as the X as well because we cross-trained both of those guys at some point in camp. They did just what we needed if we get into an emergency. It’s one of those things where we feel comfortable."

Rivera’s not wrong.

McKissic caught 34 passes last year for the Lions and played exclusively wide receiver in college at Arkansas State.

Drafted in the third round in April, Gibson caught 38 passes last season at the University of Memphis. A running back in high school and to begin his tenure at Memphis, Gibson still has sure hands and is capable on the outside.

It's also important to point out that offensive coordinator Scott Turner's system will look different than what Washington has done in the past. Expect to see many more sets with two running backs and just two receivers on the field. In that scenario, McKissic and Gibson will play alongside McLaurin and Sims. There will be lots of speed and quickness in that group and the potential to confuse defenses.

As exciting as that sounds, the numbers don't lie.

There's not an NFL personnel executive that will tell you it's a great thing to have 60 percent of your wideouts be undrafted. It's entirely possible, if not probable, that Washington will sign another receiver as the team gets to look at what players got cut from around the league. 

Asked about the prospect of adding a receiver on waivers, Rivera said the team will "check out" what's happening.

Gibson and McKissic will be a big part of the passing game. That's for sure, and that was the plan when they acquired both players this offseason. That doesn't mean the team looks set at wideout though, either.