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Antonio Gibson
NFL

Commanders Sent Clear Wake-Up Call To Antonio Gibson

  • Ryan Fowler
  • May 24, 2022
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Running back Antonio Gibson has been a constant in the Washington Commanders’ offense over the last two years. But the selection of Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft was a clear message to Gibson entering his third season in the league.

Gibson is a former third-round back in his own right and there’s no doubting the performance ceiling of the three-down talent when he’s firing on all cylinders. Quite frankly, he’s one of the most versatile talents in football. However, with seven fumbles in just 30 games, ball security threatens Gibson’s future in Washington. His inability to take care of the football could ultimately limit his large workload moving into his third season in Scott Turner’s offense—you don’t draft Robinson not to use him, right?

Gibson has found himself occupying Rivera’s doghouse at critical times when the burgundy and gold needed him most. A big-bodied talent who amassed 1,037 rushing yards last fall, while he’s enjoyed his fair share of success, microscoping Gibson’s skill set as a bonafide top running back is a tough ask—he’s everything that scouts desire in a modern-day ball-carrier, yet he doesn’t do anything outstandingly well. Going from a primary wideout to “Weapon X” to running back during his days at Memphis, Gibson’s primary success out of school came in the passing game, where his role as a ball-carrier played second-fiddle to his presence as a pass-catcher. 

At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, when you think about today’s most dominant weapons out of the backfield, the smaller frames of the Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, or Austin Ekeler often headline the group. But for Gibson, a more physical athlete with a bigger punch, his frame presents an entirely different beast when attempting to game plan against him for 60 minutes. He can wear you down inside the tackles, run through wimpy tacklers, and when you bring an extra man in the box, he’ll slip out of the backfield and take a screen pass to the house. 

While he’s shown each of those abilities at times so far in his career, securing the football within the highest leverage situations of a football game has become a tough task. Outside of missing kicks, the easiest way to find yourself holding a clipboard at the NFL level is by putting the ball on the ground. It doesn’t matter that defenders continue to evolve their accuracy when it comes to punching the rock out, when it happens routinely in the shadow of your own goal line, inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, or amid a crucial scoring drive, it’s a major cause for concern. No matter how fast you can cut the corner or what you can do with the ball in space, at any level, an inability to secure the football in tight confines often leads to a decrease in snaps, something Gibson experienced far too often in his second season.

Gibson’s six fumbles in 2021 were the most among any running back in football. Dating back to 2018, among all NFL ball-carriers, Gibson sits among the top 12 in fumbles despite still being in college in 2018 and 2019. What’s even more concerning is that Gibson is the only player to have seven or more fumbles lost in fewer than 30 career games played among active running backs—the names ahead of him in Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, Chris Carson, and Cook, have each totaled at least 45 career games played, nearly a full season more than Gibson’s output (30).

This brings me back to Robinson, a stout ball-carrier who will more than challenge Gibson for carries this fall alongside J.D. McKissic. Another name in the Tuscaloosa-to-Washington pipeline, Robinson is much more than a goal-line punch. While many believe he could fill the shoes vacated by Peyton Barber a couple seasons back as a bowling ball in the red zone, it would be a disservice to the First-Team All-SEC back to limit him to minimal carries as nothing more than a breather for a series or two. A talent that earned his way up the depth chart for Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, competition never fails to breed success, and more weapons on offense for a unit in D.C. that has consistently ranked toward the bottom of the league in points per game should be welcomed with open arms. 

While Robinson fails to match up with Gibson as an athlete in space, the top running back on my draft board this spring checks a ton of boxes for Rivera’s group and has welcomed a battle for carries this summer. While it remains to be seen just how much Robinson is used in year one, insurance is needed in the backfield and Gibson will constantly be looking over his shoulder throughout the summer and into the regular season, especially if his fumbling issues remain. 

With the addition of Robinson—and McKissic spurning the Buffalo Bills to come back to Washington as one of the top change-of-pace talents in football—Rivera has given Gibson a wake-up call. Robinson, in particular, isn’t the type of athlete to hit snooze on.

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Ryan Fowler