This article was originally published on 17 October, about one week prior to Antonio Gibson’s initial “breakout” game against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7, when he rushed 20 times for 128 yards and a touchdowns. In light of his latest performance (115 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns on Thanksgiving), it seemed like a good time to re-visit this early analysis of the team’s rookie running back.
Here’s the link to ESPN’s rushing stats.
If you sort the rushers by total yards or even yards per carry, you won’t find a Washington rusher in the top 32. Whether it’s the scheme or the blocking, the WFT running game hasn’t been efficient this season.
Of course, this raises the question of whether the problem isn’t the blocking or the scheme, but the running backs who are carrying the ball. Somehow, Adrian Peterson always seemed to put up decent numbers behind the Washington line, even when it wasn’t very good.
I went from the standard rushing stats to the Pro Football Reference “advanced” stats to see if anything stuck out in a positive way, and some things did.
Gibson as a runner
Antonio Gibson ranks 2nd in two key (related) rushing statistics.
- He has 13 broken tackles this season (MIke Davis in Carolina has 14); and
- Gibson averages one broken tackle per 4.2 attempts (Davis averages one per 3.3 attempts)
To give this some perspective, the players that occupy the 11th spot on the list (a 3-way tie) average one broken tackler per NINE attempts, meaning that Gibson is more than twice as effective at breaking tackles as they are. And this isn’t just a small sample size issue; 5 games and 55 carries represents enough of a sample to feel confident that Gibson is, indeed, a hard back to bring down.
Does it matter?
I think it does. Watching the games so far this season, Gibson is often getting hit at or behind the line of scrimmage. Interestingly, his Yards After Contact number is a rather pedestrian 1.9 yards per attempt, so he isn’t breaking away after breaking tackles, but he is earning tough yards and helping prevent negative plays.
In this run against the Cardinals, for example, the first tackler has a shot at him at the line of scrimmage. Gibson makes a neat move to his right and picks up 5 yards. There are two looks at this play in the all-22, and I zoomed in and changed to slow-motion on the second view, so watch both angles to get a good feel for what Gibson does on the play.
Later in the same drive, the defense has a better shot at Gibson — this one a yard behind the line of scrimmage — but the running back makes a jump to his left, runs past a second guy, cuts right to avoid a third defensive player and doesn’t go down until the 4th potential tackler brings him to the ground after a gain of nearly ten yards on the play. Like the GIF above, the second angle is zoomed and slowed down, so watch both angles to see how Gibson defeats three defenders on this run.
This is at the heart of what makes Antonio Gibson a promising offensive weapon. He has the ability to make tacklers miss, both in the tight confines of between-the-tackles running and in open space.
So far this season, as you can see from the two plays above, he has had to do too much himself. The blocking from the offensive line, as in the first film clip, just hasn’t been good enough. But when the offensive line starts playing better (and that may not be this season), then Gibson’s skills will start to pay off in a bigger way, and we will start to see his name appearing closer to the top of the list in traditional running back stats.
We heard this from Scott Turner just this week:
Antonio...is just continuing to grow. His comfort level is going to continue going up and up as he gets more experience. He’s a rookie. He’s a guy that was really a spot player and didn’t play a ton in Memphis. He’s already I think had more carries already this year than he had in, maybe not his college career, but definitely in his last season. His body is just getting used to that workload and I think you’re just going to continue to see him improve as a player.
Gibson as a receiver
Antonio Gibson has been used much more as a runner than a receiver, which may be a surprise to many fans. While he has carried the ball 55 times, so far in 2020, Gibson has been targeted just 17 times in the passing game. The good news is that he has caught 15 of those 17 targets.
Looking at his advanced receiving stats from Pro Football Reference, there are some interesting things to note.
- The first interesting thing to me is that the total air yards passes traveled before being caught by Gibson is -32 yards, meaning that, on his 15 receptions, he has typically gotten the ball about 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
- Gibson, though, is tied for 3rd in the NFL (among all players, not just RBs) in Average Yards After Catch per Reception, at 10.3.
- He has also gotten 5 first downs in those 15 catches, for a very solid 33.3% rate.
- Gibson as a receiver, like Gibson as a runner, is a tackle-breaking machine, ranking 4th in the NFL and 3rd among running backs in total broken tackles as a receiver, with 5 broken tackles in 15 receptions.
- That rate of one broken tackle per 3 receptions is the best in the NFL.
- Washington quarterbacks, when targeting Gibson, have a very solid passer rating of 96, indicating that he is a good bet for a quarterback hoping for a successful play
It’s clear that Antonio Gibson hasn’t “arrived” yet; his journey in the NFL is just getting started, though the early returns indicate that it’s likely to be a long one. At the moment, Gibson barely shows up on the radar of traditional stats like attempts, yardage and average yards gained.
But hidden in the advanced stats are indications that someday Antonio Gibson will break out and be recognized around the league for being special. For now, he has to be appreciated by Washington fans more for the excitement he adds to individual plays like the ones from the Cardinals game above, rather than for compiling stats that will win you a fantasy football championship.
It’s probably good to remember that Gibson is still developing. As a pro running back, he has 55 carries and 15 receptions. In his two-years at Memphis he had 33 rush attempts and 44 carries. Those 147 combined touches in the last three years are roughly equivalent to about the number of touches that Adrian Peterson got in ten games last season. This young man is only just getting started, and he definitely shows a lot of promise.