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Ranking the NFC East, 2020: Running backs

Hogs Haven looks at all four teams in the division in an effort to identify the best and the weakest of the NFC East

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The draft is done, the free agents have been signed, the coaches have met their players. Now there’s not much to do but wait for training camp. While we wait, it seemed like it might be fun to evaluate and rank the NFC East position-by-position.

Last off-season, Hogs Haven published articles that focused on ranking position groups in an effort to identify what the division would look like in 2019. This year, we’re going to do it again.

Click here to see all the Ranking the NFC East articles

NFC East Positional overview

The NFC East is a division that is filled with marquee names at the running back position, starting with one guy whom everyone has already fitted for a gold jacket — Adrian Peterson of the Washington Redskins. Of course, ten years his junior, many people have lofty career expectations for Saquon Barkley, who was just named to PFF’s list of the top 25 players under the age of 25. Cowboy fans think that Ezekiel Elliott is among the elite at the position.

There are other players with potential, but who have a lot to prove. In Philadelphia, 2019 rookie Miles Sanders started his promising career with 818 rushing yards, 509 receiving yards, 314 kick return yards, and 6 total touchdowns. The Redskins spent their second pick in the 2020 draft on a player whom they hope can have a similar impact in his rookie season — Memphis running back Antonio Gibson, who had a highlight reel career that consisted of just 77 touches in two years at Memphis.

The Cowboy’s Tony Pollard is also another young running back from Memphis who showed promise playing for the Cowboys last season, but it’s hard to get a lot of time on the field when you’re backing up Zeke Elliott.

The name value of the group also includes accomplished college players who haven’t yet made their mark in the NFL — two of those guys are on the Redskins roster in Derrius Guice and Bryce Love who have accumulated just 49 offensive regular season touches between them in 3 NFL seasons.

When scanning the depth charts of the NFC East running backs, what leaps off the page is the number of high quality backs that the Redskins have on the roster, but, of course, there’s only one ball, only 53 spots on the regular roster, and it really only takes one great running back to make an offense great.

What do scouts look for in NFL running back prospects?

Last year, the Giants fan site, Big Blue View, published a very good series on the topic, “What do scouts look for?”

I’d like to quote heavily from that series here. What follows is the BBV discussion of what scouts look for in running back prospects.

Speed is the most overrated attribute for a running back. Sure it is great if a runner can take one the distance and outrun 11 defenders, but it certainly isn’t required. 40-yard dash times are a useful tool, but don’t let that number sway you too much.

The trait that just missed the final list is balance and it usually is the first thing to go as running backs age. There are many examples, but watch David Montgomery of the Chicago Bears this preseason. He runs with outstanding contact balance and is extremely difficult to knock over. Everything Alvin Kamara does is in balance and it is remarkable to watch.

Power and strength are important without question. This is especially true as an inside runner, of course. Running through arm tackles and inflicting a punishing blow will never go out of style.

Agility is also essential to running back evaluations. Can a guy jump cut from one gap to another laterally like LaDainian Tomlinson? That type of left/right agility puts a ton of stress on pursuing tacklers, as their aiming point changes in an instant. Backs that are “Track runners” like Brandon Jacobs for example, need a defined lane and then get downhill, but ball carriers with great agility create space and running lanes on their own.

Ball security and blocking also have value, without question. A running back doesn’t have to be elite in these categories to be a great asset to his football team, but if he is deficient in either, he simply cannot see the field.

Three Most Important Traits

3. Vision

If you can’t see it, it doesn’t really matter how talented your body is. Great runners are almost like chess players in that they are looking two and three moves ahead. With great vision, it allows their mind to decipher what obstacles lay ahead. Barry Sanders had many unbelievable running skills, but much of that would have been for naught if he didn’t see the field as incredibly well as he did. Big, fast running backs with poor vision don’t go anywhere in the NFL.

2. Burst

Burst is different than speed. Burst is a player’s ability to accelerate. For a running back, it is more important to get to zero to 60 in an instant than it is to reach a high top speed. When a ball carrier sees a hole, he needs to hit it and hit it quick. Think about Le’Veon Bell’s unique style. He seemingly waits forever as a hole develops. Then he attacks it. If/when Bell’s burst leaves him, that style of running will no longer work. Much like a pass-rusher’s ability to turn speed into power, a running back with a great burst creates a lot of force (Remember — Force = Mass X Acceleration) and becomes much more difficult to tackle while eating up a chunk of yardage at a very fast rate.

1. Receiving Ability

This might sound blasphemous, but in today’s NFL, the passing game rules. Big power backs who can’t catch the football are nearly extinct. If such a player is on the field, the defense just has too strong of a run indicator. At a minimum, a running back must serve as a dump off/screen option for his quarterback, but more and more, that isn’t enough. Kamara was mentioned above for his balance, but his receiving skills are second to none right now. His ability to split out and run wide receiver routes just has immense value.

PFF Comparison on selected NFC East running backs

The film room - Andrew’s analysis

In this section, we’ll offer a look at a few of the top players in the division, with an analysis of their styles, skills and limitations written by Andrew York, who has volunteered to co-author this series with me.

Andrew is a self-taught film analyst with a pretty impressive resume. He has a PhD in Experimental Particle Physics and has spent several years doing research with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, and now does R&D work as a US government contractor. He will put that analytical brain to work this off-season helping to analyze some of the top players in the NFC East.

He will break down film of the top NFC East running backs:

Click here to see the 2019 film breakdowns of Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson, Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott is one of the most consistently productive RBs currently playing in the NFL. Not only is he a rare talent at RB, he plays behind an elite offensive line in an offensive scheme designed around the run; in short, a perfect combination of talent, supporting cast, and usage.

Not much has changed since last year’s evaluation of Zeke. I would still describe him as “very good” in terms of every skillset and trait associated with being a RB. He has no real flaws to speak of, though he isn’t quite as elite an athlete as Saquon Barkley, nor is he cross-trained at multiple positions like Antonio Gibson. He is essentially what most fans would build in Madden if they were trying to create a prototypical RB for their team. He can run with power and vision up the middle, cut outside and accelerate up the sideline for a big gain, stay back to protect the QB on a blitz, or line up in the slot to catch passes.

One difference from the analysis I did a year ago is that I think Elliott looked just a touch slower and less explosive in the 2019 tape than he did in the film I watched of 2018. He didn’t seem to break quite as many long plays. Don’t get me wrong; he’s still a top RB and made a lot of big plays, just not quite as much as the year before in my subjective opinion. More objectively, his YPC dropped from 4.7 to 4.5 and he went from only a single game with no runs of more than 10 yards to five such games according to ESPN.

One more point worth reiterating is that Zeke’s offensive line often blocked several yards for him, keeping him clean in the backfield and opening wide holes for him to run through. The Cowboys were the 2nd best team in the NFL at run blocking in 2019 according to Football Outsiders, although looking at the numbers, they were effectively tied with the Saints for best, and there was a noticeable dropoff to 3rd place.

Ezekiel Elliott

Cowboys @ Redskins, Week 2 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube

Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

[2:24] Elliott gets important yards to push his team away from their own endzone. More than that though, look how big of a hole the Cowboys offensive line is able to open for him! Although a bigger hole than most, this was fairly typical of the help Elliott got from his line.

Cowboys @ Jets, Week 6 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube

Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

[6:03] Here, Elliott shows good vision finding a much smaller hole and hitting it hard between the tackles, powering through a couple of arm tackles before finally being brought down almost 10 yards after contact. Elliott is a tough, physical runner and can create yards for himself even if the line doesn’t open much of a hole.

Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

[6:31] This play shows Elliott’s ability in pass protection. He quickly identifies a hole opening up in the protection and free rushers coming through. Elliott runs forward and shoulder slams the first free rusher aside, protecting Dak long enough for him to get off the pass.

Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

[8:34] This play shows Elliott’s ability as a pass catcher. Elliott runs forward from the backfield and freezes a LB with some jukes before breaking inside to catch a pass from Dak and run it to the sideline for a first down. Elliott shows soft hands on the catch and a smooth transition to running after the catch.

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

Miles Sanders was a top 25 overall prospect coming out of high school, but committed to Penn State, where he sat behind All American Saquon Barkley for the first two years of his college career. Sanders finally got a chance to start in his junior year, after Barkley left for the NFL. Sanders had a very productive season, rushing for 1,274 yards overall (at 5.8 Y/A). He also tested well at the Combine, running the 40 in 4.49 seconds and measuring 5’11” and 211 lbs, putting him on the lighter side of the RB spectrum, but still within the prototypical range. The Eagles took Sanders in the 2nd round of the 2019 NFL draft.

In his rookie year, Sanders looked like a very good 3-down back. The Eagles ran him as part of a committee with Jordan Howard and Darren Sproles (and Boston Scott after Sproles was injured). Howard served as the downhill 1st/2nd down and short yardage back, Sproles/Scott served as the 3rd down back, and Sanders alternated on all 3 downs. Eventually, injuries to Howard and Sproles forced Sanders into a bigger role, and he did well with his increased opportunity. I think Sanders was clearly the best all-around RB in that backfield, and if I were the Eagles, going forward, I would use Sanders in a more featured role, only alternating with another RB for short yardage situations, as Sanders isn’t exactly a bruiser when it comes to running through contact.

In terms of playing style, Sanders is a quick, shifty back who reminds me of a slightly larger (and hence, slightly slower) LeSean McCoy. He is best when running outside and being used on screens and passes to get him in space, where he can use his agility and jukes to break tackles and get additional yards. He also has sufficiently good vision and patience to run inside between the tackles, but doesn’t have the weight and leg drive to run through much contact. However, the Eagles have a pretty good run blocking offensive line, and whenever Sanders was given a good hole to run through, he had the vision and burst to exploit it. He is a good (though not elite) pass protector and pass catcher, so there’s no reason he should have to come off the field on 3rd down. Sanders is fast enough in the open field to run away from most LBs and safeties, though he doesn’t have the elite speed of Saquon Barkley.

Sanders is also a capable kick returner, averaging 22.4 Y/R on 14 returns last year.

Miles Sanders

Eagles vs Redskins, Week 1 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube

Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

[2:24] Sanders does a good job recognizing the blitzing LB coming through the B gap and intercepting him, pushing him just out of Wentz’s way. It’s not quite as impressive as some pass protection plays from Barkley, but it gets the job done and shows why Sanders was a trusted 3rd down back from the start (this was week 1 of his rookie year).

Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

[8:52] Sanders with a run outside. As often happened, the Eagles OL opened a nice big hole for him to run through, but Sanders did a great job at the second level juking defenders and using his lateral agility to break tackles en route to the end zone. Sanders is a very shifty back who is difficult to tackle in open space and has very good (though not elite) top-end speed.

Eagles vs Cowboys, Week 16 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube

Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

[6:27] This play shows Sanders’ ability as a pass catcher. Sanders does a great job sidestepping a DL on his way out of the pocket and turns around just in time to catch the pass from Wentz, showing reliable hands and turning upfield and to the sideline to get the first down. Sanders also finishes with a nice stiff arm to gain an extra yard.

Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

[11:00] Good interior run by Sanders. He takes the handoff and shows good patience waiting a second for his blocks to develop. The moment he sees the hole, he shoots through it and to the second level for a long run.

This play happened to be at the end of a game that the Eagles were winning, so Sanders intentionally goes down after securing the first down to run out the clock, but it looks to me like Sanders could have taken this one to the house. Although he doesn’t have elite speed like Barkley, Sanders does have very good speed and can outrun most LBs and safeties in a foot race.

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Saquon Barkley is a top 3 RB in the NFL and one of the most athletic players at any position. Honestly, when I look at the list of RBs in the NFL, I can only see arguments for Christian McCaffery or Derrick Henry being rated above him, and even then only by people who prefer a very specific kind of running game (one that heavily meshes the pass and run game for McCaffrey or a downhill power running game for Henry). Personally, I would still rate Barkley above them because he can fit any scheme and there is literally no RB attribute or skill that he doesn’t possess at a high level. He is as big and strong as a linebacker, but runs like a gazelle. He doesn’t just have deep speed, he also has tremendous agility to sidestep tackles and acceleration to get to top speed quickly, which allows him to break any play into a big gain. He is a good pass catcher and one of the best pass protecting RBs I’ve seen.

Last year I listed his traits from elite to good. This year I’ll list the same traits again, but put in italics the traits that have improved since last year (none of them regressed):

  • Elite: acceleration, top-end speed, change of direction ability, body control, toughness, motor, pass protection, contact balance
  • Very good: pass catching, elusiveness, vision, power
  • Good: route running

His biggest areas of improvement from last year were in his vision and power. Last year he danced a bit too much at the line, but this year he did a better job finding holes and hitting them decisively. The OL also did a better job creating holes for him and it’s tough to separate the two, but I think Barkley genuinely improved his vision or maybe his trust in his vision. Last year I also thought Barkley went down a bit too easily on contact. Greg Cosell of NFL network frequently says one of the most important traits for a RB to successfully transition from college to the NFL is “the ability to grind out tough yards” because holes are smaller and contact comes earlier in the NFL. Barkley has noticeably improved his ability to grind out tough yards through contact, though he is still as elusive as ever.

In addition, this year showed we can add one more elite trait that wasn’t apparent last year: ability to recover from injury. Barkley suffered the dreaded high ankle sprain in week 3, but was able to return to the field in week 7 and play at a high level. I have seen good players look like a shell of themselves for an entire season after returning from a high ankle sprain, but Barkley basically hit the ground running as soon as he got back.

I know this has been an extremely positive review and there will undoubtedly be some people who disagree that Barkley is the best RB in the NFL because someone else got more yards, TDs, or carried their team to a playoff win, to which I can only say: watch the games and tell me which RB was more hindered by the team around him. The Giants OL has improved from last year, but is still a below average unit. Barkley is far and away the best player on the Giants roster and teams gameplanned each week to stop him, especially when a declining Eli Manning was under center. The play designs and usage for Barkley seemed to become more vanilla in 2019, which hindered the run game. Maybe they simplified the offense for their rookie QB, I don’t know, but the Giants featured Barkley less in the passing game (despite his ability as a pass catcher) and many plays (some shown below) seemed designed to stack the box and make rushing more difficult. And I can’t think of too many RBs who faced more negative game scripts; the Giants were rarely salting away a massive lead by running the ball in the 2nd half. Despite all of this, Barkley managed to consistently make something out of nothing, turning what should have been a tackle for loss into a first down and more.

Saquon Barkley

Giants @ Bears, Week 12 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube

Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

[2:27] Incredible pass protection by Barkley. Many times when you see a RB block a LB, the RB dives at the LB’s feet in an effort to trip them up. But Barkley is as big and strong as a LB, so he simply runs up and punches his hands inside the LB’s chest, standing him up and walking him back the way a good pass-protecting TE would do. Very few RBs can do this. He also shows good awareness identifying the weak spot in the protection as it emerges and getting there in time to plug it.

Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

[11:16] Barkley does a great job trusting his blocks and running through a small hole to break a big play. Initially nothing is blocked up front, but Barkley has the patience to wait for the pulling LG (71, Will Hernandez) and TE (82, Kaden Smith) to get to their assignments and runs in right behind them, through a small hole they briefly create.

Once he’s through, he does a great job evading tackles and bursting to the sideline for around a 20 yard gain and a first down. He showed great patience, discipline, vision, decisiveness to hit the hole, elusiveness, and that incredible burst that makes him a threat to turn any play into a big gain.

Giants @ Eagles, Week 14 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube

Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

[4:04] First I want to talk about play design here, because this is bad play design.

The Giants are going extremely heavy with 13 personnel (1 RB, 3 TEs, 1 WR). Because all of the players (save the WR) are grouped tightly in the middle of the field, it essentially forces the Eagles to stack the box against them. In addition, all 3 TEs are lined up to the right of the OL, telegraphing their intent to run to the right.

Understandably, the Eagles have no trouble blocking up the middle and anticipating the run to the right, meeting Barkley at the line. Despite this, Barkley manages to evade a diving tackle by CB Jalen Mills and essentially picks up FS Rodney McLeod and carries him to the first down line.

This shows Barkley’s ability to make something out of nothing on a play. But more importantly, it shows a power and toughness (in dragging McLeod with him) that I thought was lacking in last year’s film, where he too often went down on first contact.

Posted by Bill Horgan on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

[5:46] The Giants once again funnel Eagles defenders into the box by grouping all of their personnel in the middle of the field, but at least this time they’re using 3 WRs? I don’t actually think It’s an improvement — they’re still stacking the extra players in the direction they intend to run.

At any rate, nothing is blocked up the middle, but Barkley is able to dance around and buy time for his second level blockers on the edge, running around the edge to get into space. He’s able to evade the first tackle with a sidestep, then power through two more tackles to get the first down.

This play is a bit better blocked than the previous one, but Saquon still created a lot from a little. He has shown much improved power and toughness over the last year by running through tackles to get that first down.

Antonio Gibson, Washington Redskins

I got halfway through a film breakdown of Derrius Guice before the draft, but then (surprise, surprise) the Redskins drafted Antonio Gibson. Rather than dedicate this breakdown to Guice, who hasn’t really done enough to need to update last year’s breakdown, I’ll focus on Gibson instead.

However — since I did the work — the synopsis of what I saw with Guice is the following: still a powerful, explosive runner, good vision between the tackles, good cutting ability, good hands as a pass catcher, and great ability to push a pile. However, it’s clear the coaches didn’t trust him in pass protection (same with Adrian Peterson). He was almost never left back to pick up free rushers and I think this is why Wendell Smallwood played so many infuriating snaps. We know from the Alex Smith example what can happen when a RB misses a free rusher. Until Guice gets better in pass protection, he won’t be a 3-down back.

Now, on to Gibson...

Antonio Gibson is an amazing athlete who flew under a lot of people’s radars. According to his own account, he missed out on attending a top college football program due to poor grades in high school that made him ineligible for a scholarship. This forced him to go the JUCO route, spending two years at East Central Community College in Mississippi before finally moving on to Memphis for his final two years.

Trained as a WR and still very raw in his technique, Gibson didn’t see the field much his junior year before exploding on the scene his senior year. It was his then that his coaches finally realized he may have been miscast as a pure WR and started giving him snaps at RB as well.

Because of his newness to the program and inexperience at RB, Gibson was still relegated to a timeshare role, but was electric with the opportunities he did get. At Memphis, during his senior year, Gibson averaged an amazing 11.2 yards per carry, 19.3 yards per reception, and 28.0 yards per kick return! Those gaudy numbers make him a huge big play threat whether being used as a RB, WR, or returner. Gibson also blew away the Combine, measuring 6’0”, weighing 228 pounds, running the 40 yard dash in 4.39 seconds, and showing off a 35” vertical and 118” broad jump.

I should also mention, before getting into the film breakdown, that Memphis seemed to have some poor offensive line play, so keep that in mind when you read my observations and watch the clips. Similar to the handicaps that Barkley faced playing for a bad Giants team last year, Gibson rarely had a clean backfield or wide open holes to run through, and his QB was constantly under pressure, which resulted in some errant passes and improvisation from Gibson. Gibson’s catch rate would probably have been higher if he’d been thrown more catchable balls, and his YPC may have been higher (though that’s hard to imagine) if he’d had better blocking.

Gibson is really impressive in his college film; every single game I saw included highlight-reel plays. It’s very difficult making a player comparison because he isn’t quite like any player I’ve seen. The best way I can think to describe him is Percy Harvin’s playstyle in Saquon Barkley’s body.

Gibson is actually a pretty good WR, with great ball-tracking ability, reliable hands, ability to adjust to the ball, ability to plan his routes to find soft spots in zones, and good use of fakes and misdirection to get open.

He has really good hands as a receiver, catching away from his body and catching everything thrown near him. I don’t remember seeing any concentration drops or easy misses — the only balls he didn’t catch were simply uncatchable for the most part.

His main limitation as a WR is that he has a very limited route tree, almost exclusively running fades, crossing routes, and out routes in college. However, the routes he does run, he runs pretty well. He’s a true mismatch for opposing DBs in the slot, tall enough to highpoint the ball over top of short slot defenders, and fast enough to simply run past bigger, slower DBs.

He is, surprisingly, not very physical as a WR, and I’d like to see him use his hands and size to push DBs around more. Still, he is a pretty good and willing blocker as a WR, though he needs to work on sustaining his blocks and I’d like to see him block more DBs to the ground, which he’s certainly strong enough to do (he just doesn’t seem to have that aggressive, physical mindset where he wants to dominate people on the field). In a similar vein, I never saw him stiff arm someone while rushing.

As a RB, Gibson has all the traits of an elite RB, but is still very new to the position and rather raw. However, RB is perhaps the most instinctive position in football; you either have the traits or you don’t, and he definitely has the traits.

He has good vision finding the hole and running between the tackles, even though I think he needs a bit of work choosing his angles between the tackles. He has amazing contact balance and leg strength, staying upright despite contact and running through tackles, sometimes dragging multiple defenders with him only to break free due to relentless effort and leg power.

He also has a natural feel for space and does a good job following blockers and choosing safe lanes in space. He’s very elusive, with a quick side-step he uses to dodge tackles and a knack for anticipating tackles and suddenly stopping to let the tackler fly past him.

Gibson’s contact balance, power, and elusiveness allowed him to post an absurd 48% broken tackle rate on rushes, and 45% broken tackle rate on receptions. To put that into perspective, a 25% broken tackle rate is considered elite.

After he breaks tackles, Gibson has the acceleration and top end speed to turn on the jets and leave defenders in the dust. Gibson also takes care of the ball, not recording a single fumble in college.

The one major weakness Gibson has as a RB is inexperience in pass protection. That said, he acquitted himself well on the small handful of pass protection plays I did see, so I think this is a skill he will develop quickly. He also runs a bit too upright and will need to get lower in the NFL.

Finally, I should mention that Gibson was a really good kick returner in college, averaging 28 yards per return. His good hands and ball tracking ability make him a safe bet to secure the ball, and then his speed, vision, and skill at following blockers and choosing running lanes make him a dangerous returner. I’m not sure teams will want to risk him in such a role in the NFL, but it’s good to know he’s capable.

In summary, Antonio Gibson is a major big play threat whether used as a WR, RB, or returner. His athletic ability is off the charts and he has very good instincts, though he is a bit inexperienced and raw.

I don’t say this lightly, but I think his ceiling is Saquon Barkley, with more upside as a WR. He’s not quite the athlete Saquon is (slightly less explosive and doesn’t have Saquon’s upper-body strength), but he’s the closest I’ve seen in recent years. His height/weight/speed are more comparable to Saquon than any other RB in the NFL, and he flashes a lot of the same elite traits on the field. He’s not there yet, though, and still needs a lot of development, but Antonio Gibson has the physical tools that make it possible.

Antonio Gibson

Memphis vs SMU, All Gibson Plays | CFB 2019 on YouTube

Posted by Bill Horgan on Thursday, April 30, 2020

[4:37] Here Gibson lines up in the slot on the strong side (right side) of the QB. He does a good job faking outside and forcing the CB to flip his hips away, then breaking inside between the LB and the CB before running past the LB.

However, what he does is actually a little more subtle than that. He seems to intentionally choose the timing of his fake to coincide with when he’s passing out of the LB’s field of vision, so the LB also thinks he’s breaking outside (this is most visible on the replay from behind). This causes the LB to cheat in that direction and leaves Gibson completely open once he breaks in the opposite direction.

Gibson also does a great job choosing the depth of his route so that he’s about equally distant from the two deep safeties as he is from the LB inside. The ball is thrown a bit behind Gibson, and he does a great job adjusting to the ball in the air and reaching back to snag it out of the air.

This play shows Gibson’s natural feel for finding the soft spot in zones as well as his great body control and hands catching ability — the skill of being able to adjust to the ball and bring it down.

Posted by Bill Horgan on Thursday, April 30, 2020

[5:10] Gibson starts out in the slot towards the bottom of the screen. He does an excellent job selling that he’s running an out route, even looking back for the ball once he reaches the sideline (more visible in the replay after the play). This baits the CB into breaking down on the play and lets Gibson sneak by him before turning on the jets and getting separation. Gibson then does a great job running down the sideline and tracking the ball over his shoulder to catch the long TD.

This play showcases Gibson’s ability to be a big play threat in the receiving game, using his speed as well as some savvy in his route to get open, then showing great ball-tracking and hands-catching ability at the end to reel in a long pass.

Posted by Bill Horgan on Thursday, April 30, 2020

[8:30] Not only is Gibson a capable WR and RB, he’s a really good kick returner. He does a great job early in this return of following his blockers, finding a crease and hitting it, and going off to the races for a long return TD. This play showcases not just his speed, but also his vision and ability to utilize his blocks.

Posted by Bill Horgan on Thursday, April 30, 2020

[11:48] This is the first rushing play of Gibson in this series. He takes the handoff and does a good job following what should be his lead blocker, but the blocker does a poor job and a defender immediately has him wrapped up. Gibson doesn’t go down though, instead churning his legs and dragging the tackler with him and staying upright despite being tackled by a second player, who manages to jar the first tackler free.

Gibson shows amazing contact balance by staying upright through the second tackle, running free of it, and head faking then sidestepping a third tackler. After that, Gibson turns on the jets and outruns the defense down the sideline to get the long TD.

Memphis vs Cincinnati, All Gibson Plays | CFB 2019 on YouTube

Posted by Bill Horgan on Thursday, April 30, 2020

[5:37] Gibson is rushing again on this play. Despite some poor blocking that allows a DL to come rushing into the backfield, Gibson quickly finds the hole and runs through it. A poor second level block gives a LB the opportunity to tackle him, but Gibson runs through the tackle while barely breaking stride, runs through a second tackle several yards later, and despite being surrounded by a sea of defenders manages to power forward for about 5 more yards gain before going down.

This play shows Gibson’s good vision and decisiveness hitting the hole as well as his power and contact balance in being able to run through tackles while staying upright and fighting for extra yards.

Posted by Bill Horgan on Thursday, April 30, 2020

[3:03] I think this play is a taste of what’s to come in the NFL for Gibson. Gibson lines up in the backfield as a RB. However, when the ball is snapped, he races downfield without a defender to cover him and stays inside the DB that rushes down.

Gibson is essentially uncovered downfield for several crucial seconds, but unfortunately the QB is being pressured during this time and can’t throw. By the time the QB is able to throw, the two deep safeties have crashed down to cover the play.

Although this play didn’t work out due to pressure, it shows how Gibson’s versatility can lead to matchup nightmares and confusion for opposing defenses.

A look at the top of the depth chart for each team

Of course, no position group consists of just one star player. In a sport that is as physically demanding as football, one in which player injuries are common, the unit depth is as important a factor as the skill of the star players.

Here, we’ll take a look at the top of the depth chart for each team — the pool of players from which the ones on the final 53 seem likely to be chosen. Not all the players listed will make the team, and I might easily miss — especially for the Redskins’ division rivals — players who will make the Week 1 roster, but this list should give some idea of the relative depth of the four positional groups.


  • Ezekiel Elliott
  • Tony Pollard


  • Miles Sanders
  • Corey Clement
  • Boston Scott


  • Saquon Barkley
  • Dion Lewis
  • Wayne Gallman


  • Adrian Peterson
  • Antonio Gibson
  • Derrius Guice
  • Bryce Love
  • JD McKissic
  • Peyton Barber


Who is the best Running Back in the NFC East?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Ezekiel Elliott
    (136 votes)
  • 0%
    Tony Pollard
    (1 vote)
  • 2%
    Miles Sanders
    (17 votes)
  • 65%
    Saquon Barkley
    (470 votes)
  • 0%
    Dion Lewis
    (0 votes)
  • 5%
    Adrian Peterson
    (38 votes)
  • 2%
    Antonio Gibson
    (18 votes)
  • 4%
    Derrius Guice
    (30 votes)
  • 1%
    Bryce Love
    (10 votes)
720 votes total Vote Now


Which NFC East team has the BEST POSITION group (taking backups into account) in the division?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    (159 votes)
  • 7%
    (45 votes)
  • 10%
    (64 votes)
  • 55%
    (328 votes)
596 votes total Vote Now


Which NFC East team has the WEAKEST Running Back group (taking backups into account) in the division?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    (26 votes)
  • 72%
    (422 votes)
  • 9%
    (56 votes)
  • 13%
    (77 votes)
581 votes total Vote Now


Which Redskins running back will have the most yards from scrimmage in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Adrian Peterson
    (136 votes)
  • 45%
    Derrius Guice
    (254 votes)
  • 4%
    Bryce Love
    (25 votes)
  • 23%
    Antonio Gibson
    (129 votes)
  • 0%
    JD McKissic
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Peyton Barber
    (6 votes)
554 votes total Vote Now