The Washington Commanders could have a running back conundrum on their hands. Just a few months after Antonio Gibson ran for 1,037 yards and seven touchdowns in his second season, the Commanders spent a third-round pick on Alabama running back Brian Robinson.
So far, Robinson has exceeded expectations in the Commanders’ backfield. Some reports have even noted that the rookie has outperformed Gibson, the incumbent starting RB.
How can Brian Robinson impact the Washington Commanders’ offense?
Robinson, 23, rushed for 1,343 yards and five touchdowns with Alabama last season. He is the type of ground-and-pound runner that defensive-minded coaches — like Commanders boss Ron Rivera — prefer to lead their running game. Robinson started over Gibson on Saturday, and his status in the lineup continues to surge.
Even as the Commanders likely prepare for a two-headed attack, Robinson should be the north-to-south complement to Gibson, who is more of a modern, multi-purpose runner. If Robinson becomes the Commanders’ early-down back, the offense can move the ball in the air on third down with Gibson, a former wideout.
While Gibson played six more snaps than Robinson against the Kansas City Chiefs, the rookie had three more touches in the second preseason game. That outlook could carry over to the regular season, where Robinson could be the primary ball carrier, and Gibson can be the versatile passing-down threat.
Commanders QB Carson Wentz has typically played with strong rotations. In Philadelphia and Indianapolis, the running backs all had clearly defined roles. Jay Ajayi, Jordan Howard, and LeGarrette Blount were the ground-and-pounders with the Eagles, while Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, and Miles Sanders were the versatile pieces. Jonathan Taylor was ground-and-pounder in Indianapolis, while Nyheim Himes was the third-down back.
Wentz should benefit from an RB rotation, as he can play with the strengths of each back and give the opposing defense different looks. — Mike Kaye, PFN Lead NFL Reporter
How Robinson could impact fantasy football
When Game 2 of the preseason kicked off, and Gibson was the returner, I knew we were in trouble. And when Robinson took the first handoff, it sealed the deal. What at first appeared to be a pesky situation where Robinson would steal a few scores has turned into a full-blown five-alarm issue mere days from the prime fantasy draft weekend.
Not only did Robinson out snap Gibson with the starters (11 to 8), but the reps Gibson saw primarily came on third down in a game where J.D. McKissic was out on third down. Add him back into the mix, and it could have been even worse. Also, Robinson was effective against the Chiefs’ defense, including three rushing first downs and 27 yards after contact on eight rushing attempts.
It’s the second-straight week Gibson — the RB18 and RB19 in PPR/game since 2021 — played with the second-string offense. While I always advise never to overreact to the preseason, this is one of those times you can.
Even if Robinson was just interfering with the short-area reps and goal-to-go carries, that was a problem for Gibson. His value last year was based on a 55-carry stretch where he scored seven of his 11 touchdowns. His dip was to be expected but to fall to -1.9 xTDs (expected rushing touchdowns) shows how much of an outlier Gibson’s 2021 campaign really was.
This backfield will likely be a three-person committee all season, making this a brutal situation for fantasy managers. At best, Gibson is a first and second-down RB, with McKissic taking the bulk of the passing, and Robinson spelling Gibson on early downs and 3rd-and-short plus likely reps around the goal line.
What that also means is Robinson is likely the one of the three worth drafting at the moment. He’s likely to lead the team in both carries and touchdowns. I’ve been in Gibson’s camp since he was drafted, and for a brief moment in free agency when McKissic signed with Buffalo, Gibson was going to be the rusher we all wanted.
Now, Gibson’s ADP of 48 (RB22) should be tumbling down while Robinson’s rises (ADP 168). This move has already begun to take place in my rankings, where Gibson and Robinson are both in the low-end RB3 territory, with Robinson likely to pass Gibson by the time Week 1 rolls around. As for our consensus 2022 fantasy football rankings, Gibson is all the way down at RB39 while Robinson inches closer as the RB45. — Tommy Garrett, PFN Senior Fantasy Analyst
How does Robinson impact the Commanders’ betting odds?
Robinson has certainly looked the part of a two-down grinder in the preseason. Sure, Gibson “fumbled” away his opportunities, but Robinson did well to capitalize. With that said, there’s not much reacting bettors need to do here.
Even the elite running backs don’t move the needle in terms of betting odds. When Christian McCaffrey or Derrick Henry miss games, the line maybe moves a half-point, if at all. How the Commanders choose to divide up touches in their backfield matters on the margins, but it’s not going to have a major impact on whether they win a game, or cover a spread.
Perhaps bettors would feel more comfortable with Robinson milking a lead late as opposed to Gibson due to Gibson’s recent battle with fumblitis. However, from a betting line standpoint, we’re not going to change our opinions on Washington based on who’s touching the football out of the backfield. — Jason Katz, PFN Fantasy and Betting Analyst
How Robinson could impact Washington’s 2023 NFL Draft plans
It’s safe to say the Commanders won’t need to spend another NFL draft pick on a running back for the foreseeable future. Washington’s rotation is not only led by Robinson and Gibson, but they also have receiving back McKissic and rotational presence Jaret Patterson under contract for two more seasons.
With an eye on the future, Robinson provides Washington with some stability in the backfield. And although it’s unclear how the RB position will settle between him and Gibson, there’s a realistic chance that Robinson eventually becomes the workhorse, as his role continues to grow.
Robinson may only be a rookie, but he brings a much more natural skill set at RB than Gibson does. While Gibson was more of a hybrid weapon coming out of college, Robinson brings over 545 career carries, 2,704 yards, and 29 touchdowns from his career at Alabama. He’s a weapon on the ground first, and he was especially dangerous in that role in 2021, putting up 271 carries for 1,343 yards and 14 scores with the Crimson Tide.
Washington made a calculated gamble when they selected Gibson at the top of the third round in the 2020 NFL Draft. Gibson only had 33 career rushing attempts at the CFB level, but brought 4.39 speed at 6’0” and almost 230 pounds. The Commanders banked on developing him around his natural athleticism and play strength. But while Gibson’s talent remains apparent, so too does his lack of instincts when envisioning lanes and sifting through congestion.
With Robinson — who was my RB3 in the 2022 NFL Draft behind Kenneth Walker III and Breece Hall — Washington gets an efficient, no-nonsense runner between the tackles, who wins with a mix of quick, nimble footwork, and unforgiving physicality coming downhill. Robinson is a back who can read lanes, make quick adjustments with his feet, and then commit with force, using his speed and size to cover ground north-to-south in a hurry. He finishes forward through tight lanes and can break tackles with his contact balance and leg churn.
Especially behind Washington’s offensive line, Robinson is the kind of back that can be productive and reliable, for a long time. Not only that, but he frees up Gibson to be used in different ways. — Ian Cummings, PFN NFL Draft Analyst