By Alex Kurpeski
What a year it’s been for Washington rookie Antonio Gibson. Less than a year ago Gibson was a gadget player for a Memphis offense that featured him mostly at the receiver position. If you had told me then that Gibson would be arguably the best rookie running back in the NFL — I would have laughed my ass off.
Sure, there was a lot to like from Gibson’s college tape. He was extremely fast for a man his size, running a 4.4 time at 6’1, 230 lbs. Clearly miscast as a wideout for the Tigers, I might have told you that Gibson could be a useful rotational back by the end of his rookie contract, with a strong emphasis on the word could. Gibson received rave reviews from scouts during the pre-draft process thanks to his all-around skillset as an athlete. With a speed score in the 99th percentile and a 40-yard dash time in the 98th, Gibson was a truly unique prospect with a rather undefined position.
Yet many were surprised when Washington selected Gibson early in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. With Derrius Guice, Bryce Love, and Adrian Peterson in the fold, the need for another running back seemed low. Few could have predicted that the team would soon be without all three, turning to Gibson as the lead back almost immediately. The results have been overwhelmingly positive, culminating with Gibson’s highlight reel performance on Thanksgiving day.
My colleague David Zach from Dynasty Nerds wrote about Gibson’s potential in his Z-Score article for Fantasy Pros, a terrific piece detailing the 2020 rookie running back class. To quote David: “Gibson has unprecedented athleticism and was one of only three backs to ever achieve an “A+” in Athleticism Score, joining the ranks of Saquon Barkley and David Johnson. He also logged a 123 SpeedScore. The only other two backs to do so in the last five years were Barkley and fellow rookie Jonathan Taylor. That’s some outstanding company to be in”. This was published in April, with David having graded out Gibson as the fourth-best back in this class (to his surprise). And who could have imagined that of the three running backs listed, Gibson — not Taylor or Barkley — would be the best producer this season. If you’re curious about the criteria for this grade, below is the full chart. A big thank you goes out to David for allowing me to interpolate his research into this article.
On this run from Thursday’s game, we see Gibson’s advanced ability to find the gap in his offensive line. Many were concerned that his lack of reps at running back in college would lead to issues finding the hole, when in fact this is an area of Gibson’s game that has been very strong. Washington has done a great job running option plays like this one for Gibson, particularly with Alex Smith under center.
All we're thankful for is Antonio Gibson switching hands with the ball to wave to the defender on this TDpic.twitter.com/30NVxkbMQe
— PFF (@PFF) November 27, 2020
This wasn’t the only time Gibson thrashed the Cowboys defense on an option run either. In fact, his third touchdown of the day may have been his most impressive run of the season. Dallas had no chance of catching Gibson on this one.
136 total yards 3TDs PUT SOME RESPECT ON ANTONIO GIBSON NAME! pic.twitter.com/FJClKjZAAI
— Notorious Z (@DCzWall) November 27, 2020
Gibson has also displayed very strong hands all season long, dropping only three passes despite the QB play in Washington. It’s clear that Gibson has been coached up as a receiver too, as his route running has been absolutely incredible for a rookie running back. Perhaps his best trait is the ability to stay on the field for all three downs, while also being able to split out wide and hold his own against NFL corners.
Antonio Gibson straight up pistol whipping Okudah in the open field after the catch… but McKissick gets 15 targets (29 over last two games)
Gibson wasn’t on the field for the WFT’s final drive pic.twitter.com/fMbtbErR52
— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) November 17, 2020
In short, Gibson is the truth. What I’ve written in this article can’t do him justice. I’m sure Andy Reid and the Chiefs are kicking themselves for not taking him in the first round. Let’s hope his usage in Thursday’s game is an indication of how Washington will deploy him moving forward.