The Washington Football Team had major issues last season. One of them in particular, the quarterback position, led to another, the running game. With a mishmash of mediocre quarterbacks taking the reins through the season, it was difficult for either J.D. McKissic or Antonio Gibson to really get going. There were occasions of course, like the three touchdowns on Thanksgiving Day against Dallas. But, really, it was the Dallas defense for crying out loud. With a steady hand in Ryan Fitzpatrick taking over the signal calling in 2021, better things will be in store for the run game. And in turn Antonio Gibson.
With Gibson being a rookie in 2020, it was difficult for him to get a steady workload. Especially given the quarterback troubles already mentioned. These troubles meant a larger slice of the pie for McKissic. A player who was better able to protect the quarterback, along with being a pass-catching back when called upon. With a full off-season of work and the belief Ron Rivera has in Gibson, he should take over the majority of the committee in 2021.
Coming out of Memphis as more of an athlete than a running back or wide receiver, Rivera compared Gibson to his former running back in Carolina, Christian McCaffrey. While this is obviously just coach speak, it does show the abilities Gibson possesses. Both in the receiving game and the run game. It also shows the type of work Rivera will look for him to get in the offense.
In 14 games as a rookie, Gibson gained 795 yards on 170 rushes and had a staggering 11 touchdowns on those carries. Although playing in 14 games, he only started in 10. The 11 touchdowns on 170 carries are not likely to remain, although we have seen similar numbers from a player like Alvin Kamara. He also showed his receiving chops with 36 receptions on 44 targets. Good numbers for any player let alone a rookie.
Do not expect Gibson to get 20 rushes and eight targets per game. Instead, like McCaffrey, look for him to get between 12 and 15 carries per game and six targets. This will be plenty enough for him to finish as an RB1 for fantasy. As long as he performs the way Rivera and many fantasy analysts expect him to in 2021. With Fitzpatrick behind center, the Football Team has a mobile player who will keep plays alive and create even more opportunity for Gibson and, to a lesser extent, McKissic. This opportunity will present itself in dump-offs and large gains as the defense breaks down on the play.
The real surprise for Gibson last season was his zero receiving touchdowns. Even if his rushing touchdowns decrease, the receiving touchdowns should go up. This not only will balance out, but it could also, indeed improve upon last season’s numbers. As we know, a reception is far more valuable than a rush at any position. Even if he trades three rushing touchdowns for three receiving touchdowns, this guarantees more points with PPR scoring being considered. Add to this the improvement of the Washington offense behind Fitzpatrick and the addition of Curtis Samuel. This team and Gibson are set to explode in his second season.
Although the numbers show Gibson was the more talented back in Washington last season, the snap counts tell another story. Gibson was on the field for just 37% of offensive snaps, while McKissic saw 59% of the plays. Neither of these numbers is great for a starting back in the NFL, where we hope to see over 70%. That goal could be achieved by Gibson in 2021, as the larger, more physical of the two backs.
For this reason alone, Gibson is worth a pick in the second or third round of your fantasy draft. As an RB1, he would make me nervous. However, pairing him with a Dalvin Cook or Derrick Henry as your first-round pick then grabbing Gibson in the second should calm my nerves. I love the upside of Gibson to smash his current ADP. He is a star in the making. Do not let him fly away without making a wish on him.