There aren’t many good things you can say about the Washington Football Team’s offense in 2020, but luckily, Antonio Gibson is there to provide a change of pace, not just on the field, but also for the unit’s perception from the stands.
Washington limped to their third straight loss on Sunday, losing to the Baltimore Ravens by a score of 31-17. A number of familiar storylines reared their head in Washington’s underperformance. The defense struggled to get off the field at times, and the offense did them no favors, finding the end zone just once before the final minutes.
Amidst all the disappointment, however, there was a beacon of light: Gibson. For the third straight week, Gibson had over 50 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, and for the first time in what will hopefully be a long, fruitful career, he eclipsed the 100-yard mark in terms of total offense.
Gibson’s stats aren’t the only supporting evidence for his play; the tape also backs up his talent. Some were uncertain when Washington spent a high third-round pick on Gibson back in April. However, it already appears as if Gibson is playing up to his projection, and blossoming ahead of schedule, as he provides Washington with a much-needed spark plug.
How Antonio Gibson came to earn his premier role
Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner wasted no time talking up Gibson after the Memphis product was selected No. 66 overall by Washington in the 2020 NFL Draft. But there was an understanding at the time that Gibson would more than likely take time to adjust to the NFL and properly shoulder a greater volume.
At the Division I collegiate level, Gibson only logged 77 total offensive touches, 71 of which came in 2019. He only had 33 carries in his final season, and while he generated yards with outstanding efficiency on his touches, averaging over fifteen yards per touch and finding the end zone 10 times, his sporadic workload was viewed as an asterisk, at the very least.
Additionally, Gibson came into a Washington running back room that, while underwhelming overall, was crowded, stocked with a number of journeyman rushers, including Adrian Peterson, J.D. McKissic, and Peyton Barber.
There was no denying Gibson’s talent; he achieved his collegiate efficiency with an enticing mix of explosive athleticism and physical density, and at the 2020 NFL Combine, he reinforced his physical profile, logging a 4.39 40-yard dash and a 35-inch vertical jump at 6-foot-0, 228 pounds. As a receiver, he recorded a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.29, and as a running back, he recorded a RAS of 9.60.
But Gibson simply wasn’t ready. At least, that’s what everyone thought.
Talent only needs opportunity to thrive
Shortly ahead of the 2020 season, a sort of domino effect began, which would eventually lead to Gibson getting his chance on the NFL stage. One day before the league’s “cut day”, Washington released veteran running back Peterson, with the sole intention of getting younger and more versatile in the running back room.
Gibson got his looks immediately, achieving 11 touches in Washington’s season-opening win against the Philadelphia Eagles. But Gibson wasn’t yet in a primary playmaking role. The team’s defense had shouldered most of the load in that game, giving the offense favorable field position on many of their drives. And despite Gibson’s potential, Barber saw the most action among RBs, logging 17 carries for 29 yards and two scores.
After Barber got the most looks carrying the ball for Washington in Week 1, early expectations for Gibson cooled. But Gibson would force attention his way again in Week 2, earning 55 yards on 13 carries, and finding the end zone for the first time in his career in the final quarter. The next week, against Cleveland, he put up a similar stat line, amassing 49 yards and a score on nine carries.
Gibson’s increased production in Week 2 and Week 3 proved to be a sign of things to come, and Week 4 was his best performance yet.
Antonio Gibson’s breakout performance against the Ravens
Shades of Gibson’s Memphis form revealed themselves in Gibson’s Week 4 standout showing. Gibson managed to find the end zone for a third straight week, averaging 3.5 yards per carry on 13 attempts. But his more poignant impact came as a pass-catcher, where Gibson managed to accrue 82 receiving yards on just four receptions.
His big day started when Gibson caught a pass on a crossing route up the middle of the field and sprinted up the sideline for almost 20 yards. Later, he would take a designed screen for a big gain as well, utilizing his burst and jittery running style to follow his blocks and flow through open space.
Gibson’s best play came midway through the second quarter. He again caught a designed screen, this time around the 50-yard line on the left side of the field. Immediately after catching the ball, he exploded through a lane and into space, where his long speed turned a congested play into a foot race.
Just past the first down marker, Gibson encountered a second-level defender attempting to obstruct his path. Chase Roullier laid an impressive open-field block, and Gibson abruptly cut around the commotion, now vaulting into space near the sideline, where he sprinted down to the 12-yard line. This play would set up an eventual Gibson touchdown, and get Washington on the board.
The Washington Football Team wouldn’t win the game, but in Gibson, they may have a blueprint for how they can win in the future.
Gibson has exciting potential, and he’s still realizing it
Through four games, Gibson now has 186 yards and 3 touchdowns on 44 carries, good for a healthy average of 4.2 YPC, behind a suspect offensive line. He also has 10 receptions for 98 yards, and he’s on pace for over 1,000 total yards from scrimmage.
Gibson’s impact has also been visible in fantasy football. While he hasn’t dominated in any one facet of the game, his versatility allows him to score in multiple ways in any given week. Week 4 was a perfect example; in PPR leagues, Gibson earned 10.5 points as a runner, and 12.2 points as a receiver.
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What’s even more exciting about these numbers is that Gibson hasn’t been employed to his maximum potential as a receiver yet. He’s been primarily used as a running back for Washington, but his physical capabilities extend beyond that role. Once he’s able to utilize that deception and versatility more and more, he could be a true game-breaker.
In fantasy, Gibson is a potential cheat code, but in the real world, he’s just as dangerous, and it looks like Washington is starting to figure that out. Regardless of how healthy the defense is, or how well Dwayne Haskins performs, Gibson can give Washington a chance.