Washington running back Antonio Gibson gave plenty of people something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. He gave his team, the Washington Football Team, the chance to thankfully claim first place in the NFC East with a big win over the Dallas Cowboys. He gave plenty of fantasy managers a jolt with his explosive three-touchdown performance. And he gave plenty of draftniks a lump in their throat as they watched him romp through the Dallas defense with a career high 25 touches and 136 yards to go along with those three scores. It was no secret that Gibson was an explosive talent at the University of Memphis, but we're only now getting to see that potential fulfilled over the past month in the pros.
Here's a crazy stat: Gibson has carried the football more times in the last five days (wins over Cincinnati and Dallas) than he did in his entire career at Memphis as a member of the Tigers program. Seriously. Gibson's 36-carry workload over the past five days is three more carries than the 33 he logged for Memphis between the 2018 and 2019 seasons. And that's why it has been so damn fun to watch Gibson explode the way he has and prove those right who were willing to bet that the raw tools and clear potential would shine through.
Gibson's path to the here and now started with a stop at the 2020 Senior Bowl, where Gibson's play was able to sell many on his ability to play ball at a high level despite such a limited resume at the running back position. I remember taking an elevator to the hotel gym after the week of practices and running into the great Charles Davis and asking him who he was most excited about from the week.
The first name he mentioned? Antonio Gibson. Good call, Charles!
Davis certainly wasn't alone. There was plenty of buzz from the NFL draft community about Gibson as a prospect. He ultimately fell 84th overall on TDN's final consensus player rankings of 2020 before being drafted 66th overall by Washington. And now, with Washington in position to make a push to the postseason if they can string together enough wins to claim the NFC East, their patience in slow-playing Gibson along is starting to pay off. His explosiveness and fresh legs are jumping off the screen as he continues to progress as a featured piece of the Washington offense.
It has become something of a perfect storm for Gibson, given that the team has transitioned to veteran quarterback Alex Smith and seen pass-catchers like Kelvin Harmon and Antonio Gandy-Golden fall onto injured reserve. The team's best weapons are Gibson and wide receiver Terry McLaurin, and the team has embraced feeding them both accordingly. Gibson has, over the last five weeks, logged 402 rushing yards and eight touchdowns as his raw profile as a runner has started to take shape.
How has he done it? With a little help from his friends up front.
Washington is creating some big push and creating clean gaps for Gibson to read with the football—he had massive creases for each of his three scores against Dallas and was able to accelerate and break pursuit on the second level on each of them en route to the end zone. And when you consider Washington's previous "brand" at the running back position with heavy footed runners like Adrian Peterson, Samaje Perine, Peyton Barber, Chris Thompson, Matt Jones, and Rob Kelley in recent years, it is no wonder Gibson's 4.39s 40-time is putting defenders into cement as they try to press and squeeze him in the hole—this ain't your typical Washington running back, even if he's built like one at 6-foot and 228 pounds.
They say you can find running backs just about anywhere and everywhere—and that may be true—but you don't find athletes like Gibson lying around very often, which is why Washington was so eager to bet big on a running back prospect with just 33 career carries coming out of college. We sure as hell aren't in position to argue with them at this point and Gibson figures to only get better from here as he continues to uncover his potential and discover his flair for carrying the football.
And as Washington looks to win the division over the final month of the season, they'll likely continue to ride their new-found workhorse at a rate in which he's never been fed the ball before. Washington's final five games close against rushing defenses ranked the following in the NFL this season:
- 7th (Steelers)
- 10th (49ers)
- 4th (Seahawks)
- 18th (Panthers)
- 26th (Eagles)
The ceiling is sky high for Gibson—no one can question that at this point. But we're about to find out just how good he is in the here and now real quick.
- Aug 22, 2022
- Aug 22, 2022