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NFL Draft

Can Antonio Gibson Have Christian McCaffrey-Like Role?

  • The Draft Network
  • August 17, 2021
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Well, what do we have here? Washington Football Team quarterback Kyle Allen went on record on Tuesday and said the team is trying to push running back Antonio Gibson into a similar role as Christian McCaffrey plays in Carolina, per JP Finlay.

To properly capture how large of a role that truly is, let me remind you what McCaffrey is capable of. During his two most successful seasons in 2018 and 2019, McCaffrey totaled an astonishing 4,357 yards from scrimmage and 32 touchdowns. His 2020 campaign was limited to just three games due to ankle and shoulder injuries.

Nobody knows how talented and valuable McCaffrey is to that Panthers offense more than Ron Rivera, the current head coach of Washington. Rivera was Carolina’s head coach when the Panthers used a top-10 pick on McCaffrey during the 2017 NFL Draft.

So can Rivera and company really transform Gibson into the type of player McCaffrey has been? It’s a complex topic. 

During his rookie campaign, Gibson ran for 795 yards and 11 touchdowns. Gibson did a great job taking advantage of his 170 carries, turning them into an average of 4.7 yards per carry. His rushing total may seem modest, but it’s worth noting that when comparing rookie seasons, Gibson out-gained McCaffrey on the ground by 360 yards (795 vs. 435) and averaged a full yard per carry more than McCaffrey did (4.7 versus 3.7). The big difference when weighing up their debut years against one another comes in the passing game, where McCaffrey caught 80 balls as a rookie compared to Gibson’s 36 receptions.

There’s no denying that Gibson’s rookie season was a massive success. Many analysts thought he would take some time to acclimate to the NFL game. That wasn’t the case, as he impressed fans on almost a weekly basis. If you were one of the people that didn’t see that coming, we forgive you. Gibson entered the league with little experience under his belt. He was primarily used as a wide receiver at Memphis and touched the ball just 77 times in two seasons with the Tigers.

Of those 77 touches, 44 of them were receptions versus just 33 carries. These facts made Gibson’s inconsistent usage in Washington’s passing offense as a rookie all that more surprising. Gibson wasn’t always an option on passing downs as a rookie. Those duties were largely assigned to J.D. McKissic, a veteran back who more than doubled Gibson’s production in the passing game by turning 100-plus targets (!) into 80 receptions for 589 yards and two touchdowns.

Perhaps some of these numbers could be explained by Washington’s quarterback play. Four different quarterbacks attempted a pass for Washington in 2020 due to a varying degree of reasons. Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins saw the most playing time, and neither player is known for their ability to push the ball downfield. That type of inconsistency and constant change at the quarterback position will lead to a ton of check-down passes more often than not. With Ryan Fitzpatrick now taking the reins, a quarterback known for his gunslinging mentality, we’ll likely see a much different Washington offense in 2021 than we did in 2020.

But if Rivera and company want to transform Gibson into the type of player McCaffrey is, it’s time for them to turn Gibson loose.

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