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What did the ‘Skins brass say about Antonio Gibson, and what can we learn from it?

Who exactly is this guy we drafted at the top of the third round?

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Cincinnati v Memphis Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Who does he remind you of?

So, I heard the 40-time first... 4.39, and I thought — okay, a little scatback. I’m thinking Chris Thompson.

Then I heard someone say Christian McCaffrey, and I got a little excited because, back in 2017 when he was drafted, McCaffrey was the player in that draft I most wanted for the Redskins.

Last night, a reporter compared Gibson to McCaffrey in a question. Rivera’s response surprised me:

No, that’s fair. He’s a little bit bigger than Christian, but he’s got a skillset like Christian.

I didn’t hear the question, so I’m not sure which part wasn’t “fair”, but I’m wondering if maybe he was characterized as a “poor man’s Christian McCaffrey” or something like that.

The part that surprised me was that Coach said he was “a little bit bigger” than the Panthers running back.

Sure enough, McCaffrey is listed at 5’11”, 205, while Gibson is 6’0” and, according to Kyle Smith, 228 pounds.

McCaffrey ran a 4.48 40 at the Combine; Gibson ran 4.39.

So, he’s taller, heavier and faster, but Coach Rivera says he’s got the same skillset.

For anyone who was taking a nap on the 16th of April and might’ve missed the news, Christian McCaffrey signed a contract that day that made him the highest paid running back in the NFL. Playing for Coach Rivera, McCaffrey put up over 2,900 yards rushing and 2,500 yards receiving in his first three years in the NFL — and had over 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving in 2019.

No one is suggesting that Gibson will repeat what McCaffrey has accomplished in Carolina, but it seems to indicate that there will be a place for him in the Redskins offense under Scott Turner. He learned his trade, after all, under his father, Norv Turner, who was McCaffrey’s offensive coordinator in the two most productive seasons of McCaffrey’s 3-year NFL career.

How will Gibson fit into the Redskins offense?

It seems like Gibson will be a key component of Turner’s offense in 2020 and beyond. Here’s Kyle Smith talking about that:

Speaking with Coach Turner and how he’s going to utilize him along with the other backs — you know, it’s not just like a normal running back that you’re like, ‘okay, here’s his skillset.’ You can put him on the field with [RB] Adrian Peterson, with [RB] Derrius Guice, with [RB] J.D. McKissick. You can use this guy in a lot of different ways, so it opens up a lot of different options for our offense.

Did I just hear Kyle Smith suggesting that the Redskins coaches might design an offense that is designed around the specific personnel on the roster?!

It sounded suspiciously like he was talking about offensive sets with TWO running backs on the field at the same time. I’ve seen that done in Green Bay, Atlanta and a few other places, but, aside from putting a fullback in front of AD a few times over the past two seasons, it isn’t something that Jay Gruden seemed to think was part of the NFL in the 21st century.

I also heard a word on Friday night that caught my attention: matchups. This time it was Ron Rivera talking about Gibson:

You can look for matchups, you can create matchups and you’re not necessarily always putting the ball in his hands. They have to honor him wherever he’s aligned. It is going to open up things for his teammates, whether they be wide receivers, tight ends or other running backs. We’re kind of excited about what his impact can be for us.

Mark Bullock wrote an article in the Athletic a few weeks ago that tried to project what a Scott Turner offense would look like.

Let’s look at some of what he said in that article:

From the four games Turner called at the end of the season, he appears to be in the latter camp, running different types of schemes depending on opponents and matchups. The base of his run scheme, however, is the zone run with a jet sweep action attached.

Something Turner does exceptionally well, particularly with the jet sweep action, is sequential play-calling. This is showing the same look multiple times, but making some tweaks to the plays to catch the defense by surprise. On this play, Turner calls for his base 21 personnel, consisting of two running backs and one tight end. This is all part of the design to manipulate and shift the linebackers.

Turner uses a lot of these types of sequential runs, combining zone schemes with jet sweep actions to generate favorable blocking angles. However, he’s not tied to just the zone scheme. He showed a preference for the crack toss scheme to get McCaffrey working on the perimeter.

Turner also had subtle transitions from run to pass through sequential play-calling, where he got creative with his personnel groups, formations, shifts and motions.

Turner’s use of his flexible personnel like McCaffrey and Samuel, along with smart sequential play-calling, allowed him to show similar looks with slight tweaks and adjust from run to pass while not giving the defense much of an indication what was coming. It was without a doubt the most impressive part of his...spell calling plays with the Panthers.

RPOs and screen passes are both great ways of transitioning from run to pass without tipping off to the defense that you’re doing so. Turner uses both regularly, but without a doubt, his creative use of personnel, shifts and sequential play-calling were most effective at making opposing defenses have to concern themselves with both runs and pass on any given play.

I come away from that article with the idea that a guy like Gibson who, like McCaffrey, is a threat as a receiver or a runner, is a key to the Turner offense, which, with its shifts, motions and smooth transitions from run to pass, seems custom-designed for the former Memphis Tiger. And a key part of the scheme, according to Ron Rivera’s comments, is that Gibson doesn’t need to get the ball in his hands to make the play work — I liked that phrase coach used: the defense has to “honor him wherever he’s aligned” and the result is that it will open up things for his teammates. In the words of Kirk Cousins, “I like that!” It sounds like Gibson will really add to the offense.

If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe Riverboat Ron:

You know, Scott Turner really feels that this is a guy that can come in and be a very versatile player for us.

Did the coaches fall in love with this guy’s measurables and ‘reach’ for him in the 3rd round?

It would be easy, I suppose, to think that taking Gibson in the third round might represent the front office reaching for a player that Turner said he simply had to have. Rivera’s comments on Friday evening belie that idea. Asked how Gibson came to the attention of the Redskins, Rivera gave credit to Kyle Smith and his personnel team:

I know he was a guy that was brought to our attention because they were moving him around in the Senior Bowl, and Kyle [Smith] and his guys kept pointing him out, so, we started really diving into who he is and what he does and what he’s capable of with the multi-faceted offense style of offense we use.

So, Kyle Smith “and his guys” spotted Antonio Gibson, and the coaching staff felt that they could use him to enable the mismatch offense that Turner has designed. Imagine going, with two substitutions, from Adrian Peterson or Derrius Guice, with Kelvin Harmon and a tight end, to Terry McLaurin, Steven Sims, Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic , and the stress that a defense will be under from defending power and speed both in the same offense.

That all sounds pretty good.

This doesn’t sound like the Redskins offense I’m used to seeing

Another impression I got from reading the Mark Bullock article is that the Redskins are likely to run a lot of 21 personnel — that is, 2 running backs and one tight end — which is a set that we rarely saw from Gruden. It’s easy to imagine the offense coming out in a 21 grouping and then shifting Gibson into a receiver’s position to go from a seeming run set to a 4-wide look in an instant.

The upshot is that the Redskins may have a different emphasis than we have grown used to over the past 5 years. We may see a roster that has 4 running backs, 4 wide receivers, Gibson, and just two tight ends active on gameday (remember that there will be 48 players who could see the field in 2020 - not 46). This would give the offense the ability to truly stress the defense through scheme and speed.

Still, with that many skill players, the 3rd round may have been early to draft a guy who isn’t likely to see more than the 8 to 10 touches that Chris Thompson typically got under Gruden.

Well, not so fast.

He plays special teams, too

It turns out that, like Terry McLaurin, whom the Redskins drafted in the third round last year, Gibson has the size, speed and desire to be a versatile special teams player, making him more valuable on game day.


I also do think he can make an impact on our special teams. it was most certainly a consideration. It was talked about. [Special Teams Coordinator] Nate Kaczor really likes him. He thinks that this is a guy that can come in and contribute from the beginning on special teams. He’s also had some play time as a gunner, as a cover guy, so this guy is going to get on the field for us early.

Scott Turner really feels that this is a guy that can come in and be a very versatile player for us. Plus, he has special teams value. He’s a very good fit, we believe, into what we do and how we want to do things.”

Kyle Smith:

At the end of the day, it wasn’t one position that we were looking. It was actually multiple positions. We talked about how this guy fits, and we felt really good about making the pick.

Antonio Gibson has, in his time at Memphis, been a gunner (like Scary Terry at Ohio State) and kick returner. Last night, in fact, I watched a highlight reel of Gibson that featured a kick return for a touchdown. He averaged 28 yards per return last year on 23 returns in 14 games. At the same time he rushed 33 times for an 11.2 average, and caught 38 balls at a clip of 19.3 yards per reception. He had around 1,750 all-purpose yards.

But... but... at Memphis?

Of course, the NFL isn’t the American Athletic Conference, but Memphis was 12-2 and finished ranked 17th in the nation. They played UCLA, Temple and Penn State, along with 21st ranked Cincinnati and 23rd ranked Navy. In other words, Gibson faced some quality college competition, and produced.

Anthony Miller is a wide receiver who was drafted from the same program in 2018 by the Chicago Bears. He had 56 receptions for 656 yards in 2019 playing in a struggling Bears offense.

Last year, the Cowboys drafted running back Tony Pollard, who managed 5.3 yards per carry and 2 TDs as a rookie playing behind Ezekiel Elliott.

The point is, players have come out of the same Memphis program (in the 2nd & 4th rounds) and had early success in the NFL. Having played for the Tigers in the AAC shouldn’t prove to be a handicap.

What does Antonio Gibson have to say for himself?

Thanks to the COVID-19 impact on draft coverage, Gibson was able to talk to reporters almost immediately after being drafted on Friday night. Here are a few of the more interesting things he had to say.

I view myself as a weapon. I’ve been playing running back and receiver my whole life. But not just that, I’ve been playing all over the ball. Offense is something that I’m very talented at. It’s always been like that since a young age, and I feel like I can dominate wherever they put me. So, you know, if they’ve got somebody in the backfield, I feel like I can help out at receiver. If they’ve got too many outside, I feel like I can hop back behind the center, behind the quarterback, and gunner – wherever you need help out there. Also, I could make a big impact on special teams, so I feel like I can be a weapon wherever. Wherever they need me, I’m willing to go.”

I would definitely like to compare myself to [Christian McCaffrey] because he’s exactly like what I want to do. I want to be in the backfield, but also I want to play the game in the receiving game. I feel like he’s tremendous doing that, and that’s what I want to bring to the team. My ability to catch effectively and make plays happen and also be able to run and be able to protect the quarterback – just an all-around team player and an all-around back.

If the Redskins want me to be a running back, I’m going to do it. If they want me at receiver, I’m going to do it. If they want me at special teams, I’m going to do it. So, it’s just all about being open-minded and being able to adapt, and that’s what I feel like I’m really good at.

As a receiver, I kind of like getting in space – you know, a post, a corner, anything like that, kind of taking the top off. For a running back – also the same thing, I like getting in space being able to make one person miss and getting vertical – so probably like a pitch or an outside zone. Those are some of my favorite things to do.