After releasing Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice this offseason, the Washington Football Team running back room has transformed almost as dramatically as the organization itself. Although the initial depth chart lists J.D. McKissic as the starter, could the enigmatic Antonio Gibson, whose RAS speaks to his incredible athleticism, provide the key to a Week 1 win over the Philadelphia Eagles?
There has been excitement inside the Washington organization since Gibson was drafted with the 66th overall selection of the 2020 NFL Draft. Vice-President of Player Personnel, Kyle Smith, spoke glowingly about the former Memphis wide receiver in the immediate aftermath of the draft.
“He’s a swiss army knife. You can use the guy in a lot of different ways, so it opens up a lot of options for our offense.”
Gibson’s ability to impact the offense in multiple ways was evident at Memphis
In his final year with the Tigers, Gibson racked up 735 receiving yards with eight touchdowns, while also contributing 369 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 33 carries for a remarkable 11.2 yards per carry. He also added 645 kick return yards to showcase his explosive ability to influence multiple facets of the game.
Despite spending most of his career as a wide receiver, Gibson turned heads with a 130 rushing yard performance in the AAC Championship game against Cincinnati before impressing at the 2020 Senior Bowl, leading the South Team with 68 rushing yards from 11 carries as a running back.
As Gibson progressed through the NFL Draft process, there were mixed opinions about his projection for the NFL. Would he be a wide receiver that could contribute with rushing plays, or would he transition to play running back permanently?
Even as Washington’s decision to cut ties with Peterson and Guice pointed to satisfaction with their running back situation, there were resounding echoes of concern from elsewhere about the ability of a player with just 33 college carries to shoulder the load through an entire NFL season.
Gibson’s RAS leaves no doubt regarding his athletic ability
Even the man he is replacing, former teammate Peterson, was blown away by the sheer athletic ability displayed by Gibson during his college career and at the 2020 NFL Combine.
“Man, he’s an outstanding athlete! He’s going to be able to contribute not only at the running back position but as a receiver. He’s very talented.”
Just how athletic is Gibson?
Using Relative Athletic Score (RAS), we can show precisely how athletic Gibson is. RAS is a metric created by Kent Lee Platte that uses a zero to 10 scale to analyze and compare testing performances by players against their positional contemporaries.
At the combine, Gibson received a RAS of 9.29 working out as a wide receiver
The timing beam confirmed the speed that was evident from his college tape. In the 40 yard dash, Gibson recorded a time of 4.39 seconds, which ranked 127th out of 2440 wide receivers to have run the drill since 1987.
Gibson combined his great speed with good size and okay explosion grades. At 6’0″, he doesn’t quite have the prototypical height, but a 9.77 grade for his 228 pounds showed that he has the frame to be a physical wide receiver in the NFL, and 16 bench press reps indicate he has adequate strength.
Although RAS can’t provide the answer to whether Gibson can transition successfully to being a full time running back in the NFL, we can compare his testing performance from the combine against the running back position.
Gibson has a higher RAS as a running back than a wide receiver, with a 9.60 overall RAS
The speed that was great for a receiver would be elite at the running back position. As a running back, his 40 yard dash time would have ranked 38th out of 1435 running backs that have participated in the drill since 1987.
Gibson’s height is closer to the prototypical size desired by the NFL at the running back position than at the wide receiver position, and his vertical and broad jumps would earn a good grade as a rusher versus the okay grade he received as a wide receiver.
RAS can also be used to compare Gibson to the rest of the Washington running back room.
Gibson won’t be the only wide receiver turned running back that takes to the field in the Washington opener against the Eagles. McKissic, slated to be the starter, was a receiver at Arkansas State before becoming a running back in the NFL.
However, McKissic isn’t remotely near the athlete that Gibson is
He had a RAS of 4.31 as a receiver and 5.08 if his testing performance is applied to the running back position. Although McKissic is capable of generating explosive plays, he has inadequate size due to a 0.61 weight grade. With a 4.57 40 yard dash, he is noticeably slower than Gibson.
The same can be said for Peyton Barber. Although Barber has a size advantage over McKissic, his low explosion and speed grades give him an almost identical RAS to McKissic at 4.34.
The other running back in the room, Bryce Love, doesn’t have a RAS available due to injury at the time of the NFL Combine. His career has been beset by injury, and despite being exceptionally productive in college, he is currently the fourth-string back.
Gibson has a significant athletic advantage over the rest of the room. Besides, none of the other running backs have been incredibly prolific on the field, with McKissic averaging 4.6 yards per carry and Barber averaging 3.6 yards per carry on their way to a combined 2,398 yards in 88 appearances.
Why will Gibson’s athletic ability be so crucial against the Eagles?
In 2019, the Eagles gave up the third least rushing yards in the NFL. They were also a top 10 defensive unit in terms of total yards given up. They were particularly impressive against Washington, giving up just 28 rushing yards in their 32-17 Week 1 win. Although Washington made a tighter game of the reverse fixture in Week 15, racking up 101 rushing yards, 26 of those were by quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
The Eagles successes are attributed, in part, to one of the most athletic defensive units in the NFL. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has a penchant for athletic players on defense, and the Eagles are loaded with athletic specimens.
The Eagles average RAS for their starting 11, as per the official depth chart, is 7.28.
Fletcher Cox (RAS 9.17), Javon Hargrave (RAS 8.33), Brandon Graham (RAS 8.04), Duke Riley (RAS 8.55), Avonte Maddox (RAS 8.86), Darius Slay (RAS 8.76), and Jalen Mills (RAS 7.6), all have a RAS above the team average.
There is, however, a weak athletic link
Middle linebacker T.J. Edwards has a 2.86 RAS comprised of inadequate size, explosion, and speed. If Washington can abuse the mismatch between Gibson and Edwards, they can find success through the middle of the field. Gibson’s speed and ability as a pass-catching back will become incredibly important to the outcome of the game.
Although McKissic is the RB1 in the initial depth chart, Washington head coach Ron Rivera has indicated that Gibson will have his role to play on Sunday.
“We have a plan for Antonio Gibson. We haven’t shown the whole plan, and that’s part of the secret.”
If that plan involves unleashing Gibson’s athletic ability, then Washington could spring the surprise of Week 1.