How long after the hype can you qualify as a post-hype sleeper? Antonio Gibson is poised to show us in 2023. Can upgrades at QB and offensive coordinator help take Gibson from fantasy tease to fantasy star? Let’s take a Look Inside the 2023 Washington Commanders.
Antonio Gibson 2023 Fantasy Football Outlook
How We Got Here
Antonio Gibson was everyone’s favorite fantasy sleeper coming out of the 2020 draft. A 3rd round pick out of Memphis, Gibson provided exciting versatility as a top-end athlete with experience playing running back and wide receiver. Primarily a wideout in high school, Memphis tried to convert him to running back but never committed to the bit due to the presence of Tony Pollard, Darrell Henderson, and Kenneth Gainwell. The Commanders saw enough to commit to draft him as a running back, and his rookie year seemed to reinforce that decision.
Gibson’s debut included 11 touchdowns, 1000 yards from scrimmage, and 36 receptions in 14 games. His encore season hinted at the upside everyone saw coming out of the draft with 1000 yards rushing, seven more touchdowns, and 42 catches. Unfortunately, it also came with a drop in efficiency. His 4.7 yards per carry from 2020 dropped to a pedestrian 4.0. Even more, unfortunately, it came with six fumbles. Those fumbles became a point of contention with the coaching staff.
When the Commanders re-signed passing down back J.D. McKissic and drafted Alabama tailback, Brian Robinson, fantasy managers justifiably wondered where Gibson would fit in. Head coach Ron Rivera’s preseason public comments poured gas on that fire. After Gibson fumbled in a preseason game, Rivera said, “Antonio’s got to run harder, when he starts to shuffle and go sideways, that’s when he struggles.” Not exactly something you want to hear as a fantasy manager.
The skepticism was justified. Gibson’s carry total dropped from 258 in 2021 to 149 in 2022, and his yards per carry again dropped from 4.0 to 3.7. Even with the receiving volume holding steady, Gibson dropped out of the range of startable fantasy options in most formats.
Any hope for improvement from Gibson has to come from improvements in the offense. Washington made changes to make sure that happens. With a new ownership group on the way in the nation’s capital, Ron Rivera had to know he couldn’t maintain the status quo and keep his job. Out went offensive coordinator and nepotism poster boy Scott Turner, replaced by perpetual head coaching search bridesmaid Eric Bieniemy.
Bieniemy has coached with Andy Reid in Kansas City since 2013, including being the OC and co-play caller since 2018. The Chiefs were unquestionably running Reid’s offense, and he was the primary play caller, but you can’t be with one of the best offensive minds in the history of the game for that long without learning a thing or two. The next innovative thing Scott Turner does will be his first.
It would be unfair to blame the entirety of Washington’s offensive woes on Turner. He hasn’t exactly been blessed with elite quarterback play. In 2022, he wasn’t even blessed with competent quarterback play. Pro Football Focus graded Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke as the 32nd and 38th-ranked quarterbacks in the league last year. I don’t think I need to point out there are 32 teams in the league. Heinicke ranked ahead of only Zach Wilson. I’ll pause to let that sink in. It’s certainly reasonable to disagree with PFF on their grading. Still, since Football Outsiders ranked them at 30 and 25, it’s tough to make an argument that the Washington QB situation was even league-average.
Sam Howell was a 5th-round rookie last year. He had one nice start against a Dallas team with nothing to play for in Week 18. His development is TBD. If he isn’t ready to be a starting-caliber player for the Commanders, the team made the wise decision to sign Jacoby Brissett as a fallback.
I would argue Brissett should be the front-runner for the job. As a fill-in starter for Cleveland, while Deshaun Watson served his suspension last year, Brissett put in a career season and ranked 6th among all QBs in PFF grading. At age 30, Brissett could be this year’s Geno Smith. A career journeyman who breaks out when given the opportunity to be a full-time starter. The team is publicly suggesting they want Howell to win the job, as is reasonable given his salary status, but if Rivera truly wants to win enough games to keep his job, Brissett is his best option.
Antonio Gibson has shown the ability to do everything we want from a fantasy running back. He has a double-digit touchdown season. He has a 1000-yard rushing season. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t have them in the same season. The one constant with Gibson has been the receiving acumen. His receptions, targets, receiving yardage, and yards per reception have all increased every season.
If Gibson can “put it all together” in one season, he can fulfill the promise of Draft Day three years ago. A better offensive environment and attitude may be just what he needs to make that happen.
A Look Inside the Washington Commanders
Editor’s Note: We don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Joel’s article focused on Antonio Gibson in fantasy football, he also gave us a quick look at the other fantasy-relevant Commanders.
Howell’s rushing ability could make him a fantasy factor. He shouldn’t be considered a shoo-in for the starting job, though, no matter what the staff says in June.
Geno Smith was the fantasy QB5 in 2022. Brissett’s a better player. If he wins the job in training camp like Geno did last year, Brissett has the weapons to have a similar outcome.
Coming back from being shot was one of the more inspirational stories of 2022. His on-field production was, unfortunately, less than inspiring. Tough to see a fantasy star in this profile. Draft pick Chris Rodriguez is the exact same player.
Captain Consistent. There’s no reason not to expect another 75/1100/5 season. There’s room for more if the aforementioned offensive upgrades become the proverbial rising tide.
If your leaguemates discount him as a “TD only” scorer, draft him and profit.
Please, I’m begging you, don’t compare him to Travis Kelce because he’ll nominally fill the “Kelce role” in the offense. The Kelce role only exists because Travis Kelce exists in Kansas City. He does not in Washington.
We will be covering every team this offseason. So check back here often for all of our A Look Inside articles.