Updated: Jan 22, 2021
The WFT team desperately needs a spark on offense. After Sunday’s loss to Arizona, it was evident to Washington fans that the offense still has a long way to go. After two games the WFT has only scored 1 touchdown in the first half of both contests. To say this offense needs a boost is an understatement.
Washington has made an effort to upgrade their overall speed, on offense, after drafting Terry McLaurin in 2019. This offseason, they signed former college receiver J.D. McKissic who transitioned to running back, after breaking the Sunbelt record for career receptions (289) during his time at Arkansas State. They also drafted do-it-all, rookie Antonio Gibson with their 66th overall pick. Similar to McKissic, Gibson also had success catching the ball on the collegiate level, recording 44 rec for 834 yards and 8 touchdowns in 19 games.
The WFT has been missing splash plays in the passing game, which might seem obvious, but putting those players in a position to succeed requires playing to your playmakers’ strengths. Terry McLauirn has provided some big time plays since his arrival in Washington, but he alone isn’t enough.
Because of his strong background as a receiver and lack of carries during his time at Memphis, some evaluators have disputed the best way to utilize Gibson. He has the ability to be a productive running back who can be an asset in the passing game. But, is OC Scott Turner Getting the Best Out of Gibson? Although it’s only been 2 games, it’s clear Washington lacks depth and experience at receiver.
During the pre-draft process, Benjamin Solak of The Draft Network had the following to say regarding Gibson’s vision and overall talent level.
“Antonio Gibson is a fascinating NFL Draft projection with a wide range of outcomes in the NFL. A RB/WR hybrid player in a crowded Memphis backfield, Gibson took the majority of his snaps at WR across his two seasons at Memphis after rising up through the JUCO ranks. He proved to be an explosive threat from the slot and won on downfield routes against off coverage. Tremendous open-field athlete with elite returner vision who anticipates and discovers cuts with natural flow. A walking explosive play, Gibson has home run hitting ability and an extremely high ceiling if his promising vision and feel continue to grow”.
As Solak mentioned, Gibson was used in a variety of ways while at Memphis. Although recruited as a wide receiver, during a two-year span, Gibson morphed into much more. Between 2018-2019 the Memphis coaching staff asked him to play a variety of positions: RB, WR, TE, H-Back and Kick Returner. Gibson opened some eyes at the NFL Combine, running a 4.39 sec forty-yard dash time and posting a 35” vertical.
Gibson is a throwback type football player. Although they had very different skill sets, former “return specialist” Eric Metcalf is a player that comes to mind when projecting the best way to use a weapon like Gibson. Similar to Gibson, Metcalf was an offensive weapon that could be deployed in multiple ways. Metcalf finished his 13 year career with 2,392 rushing yards, 541 receptions for 5,572 yards, 3,453 punt return yards, and 5,813 yards returning kickoffs. Metcalf finished his career with 17,230 all-purpose yards, ranking him among the NFL’s top 10 in that category at the time of his retirement.
Although Gibson is listed as the backup kick returner, it’s unlikely he sees action as a returner, unless an injury occurs. Getting the ball in his hands is imperative, even that entails only one return a game.
Through 2 games, Gibson has 22 rushes for 91 yards with a 4.1 ypc average, but only 3 rec for 3 yards. With Washington’s lack of offensive weapons, it makes little sense to not involve AG in the passing game, considering his background as a big play receiver. While at Memphis, defensive backs and linebackers struggled to bring AG down in the open field due to his wide base and ability to keep his legs churning after contact. Gibson does have a bit of an upright running style, which will lead to growing pains as a running back. On the other hand, that won’t be a drawback as a pass catcher.
Putting Gibson in Position to Succeed
Second year receiver, Steven Sims Jr., has been Washington’s starting slot receiver and primary KR/PR. However, adding Gibson into the fold seems like a no-brainer, especially with Sims Jr dealing with a toe injury. Utilizing Gibson’s speed and elusiveness with wheel routes, screens, dig routes, comebacks, slants and curl routes is a good way to get Dwayne Haskins in a rhythm, which has been an issue for the passing game. In no way is Gibson a finished product when it comes to his route tree efficiency, but his 15.6 yards per touch average in ‘19 is hard to ignore.
As previously mentioned, Gibson was also used as an H-Back/TE in Memphis’ offense. Don’t expect to see Gibson inline blocking with Logan Thomas, but there are ways OC Scott Turner can be creative. While in Carolina, Turner would periodically line up tight end Ian Thomas in the backfield in dual back sets, with Thomas taking the place of the second running back. Turner would also do the same with receiver Curtis Samuel. Similar to Gibson, Samuel was also viewed as a hybrid, coming out of OSU.
Washington’s offense has struggled at times to get into a rhythm and Gibson is just the remedy. Many believe that throwing too much at the rookie back could stunt his learning curve. Gibson showed on the JUCO level and during his time at Memphis, that he thrives under pressure and is at his best when utilized in a myriad of ways. Gibson has the ceiling to be a dynamic back in the NFL for years to come, but if deployed as a receiver, he could be what the passing game needs NOW.
'Special thanks @FPC_WSH contributor Nathan Coleman for his contributions to the article. Give him a follow @JHawkChalk_
*Credit photos to Washingtonfootball.com and Elijah Walter Griffin Sr/Washington Football Team and Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports More from the Burgundy and Gold Report…