By Tyler Dell
On average, people date for 4.9 years before they get married. In a general sense, men seem to feel five years of someone is a reasonable sample size to answer the critical question, “Will this work at the next level?” Yet we all know at least one couple with that spicy, head over heels “love at first sight” story…who go on to finish top 12 in marriage scoring formats for years and years despite having the much-feared small sample size. One example doesn’t always matter.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Antonio Gibson. Where did he come from? Why should he be on your fantasy radar? Could I have picked a less relevant analogy to start this article? Two of these three questions will be answered as we dive deep into the most fascinating prospect of the 2020 rookie class.
Let’s go back to a much simpler time, the year 2016. While D’andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, and Cam Akers were about to close out their final year of a 4-5 star high school career, Antonio Gibson was preparing to make the long climb to Division one competition, beginning at East Central Community College. In high school, Gibson’s grades were not that of a D1 athlete, so he would have to prove himself worthy not only as a football player but also academically. Rostered as a WR, he provides a sharp contrast from his 2020 RB peers.
Over his two-year stint in JUCO, Gibson’s time on the field was split evenly between rushing attempts and receptions, which followed him from as early as his high school days.
As shown above, his freshman season was his most productive at East Central, accounting for 563 of his team’s 1437 total passing yards. At this level of competition, the season only consists of 10 games, so his 10 total TDs in 2016 brings his average to (you guessed it) one per game. Averaging one TD per game is even more impressive when factoring that he averaged only 5.6 touches per game, bringing his TD rate to a staggering 18% on the season.
Now bear in mind this is junior college; his TD rate SHOULD be extremely high. His usage and production dipped his sophomore season, but he also only participated in nine games as opposed to 10 the season prior. Throughout his time in JUCO, Gibson began to fill out his frame. He enrolled as a 195-pound freshman,and by the time he requested a change of scenery, he had added 20 pounds of muscle. A necessary change as his fantasy upside begins to mutate from career “swiss army knife” to potential workhorse.
His first season at Memphis, he mostly rode the pine, accounting for only six receptions and 99 yards. No carries. His involvement in the offense being next to zero in his first year on the division one scene is often a talking point that is melted down and forged into a giant iron club used to beat Antonio Gibson truthers over the head until they submit.
I will have none of it!
Admittedly, I cannot use this season as a net positive in the argument for AG. Instead, all I can offer is a reasonable, contextualized explanation. The inn was full, and there were no more rooms for the night. In 2018 he was sharing the team with two future NFL running backs. Darrell Henderson was busy averaging over 8 yards a carry and posting just under 2000 yards on the ground, and his job was more secure than Fort Knox. But there was another baller in 2018 that kept Gibson off the field: Tony Pollard.
Pollard’s role in 2018 was identical to Gibson’s in 2019. Memphis coach Mike Norvell seemed to have a trend during his time with the program on how he allocated his touches. He granted the primary ground game workload and a few targets to a primary back (Henderson in 2018 and Gainwell in 2019). Norvell also has a secondary back that he uses as a runner/receiver. Comparable to the role of Tarik Cohen in the NFL. Enter Pollard and Gibson.
While Henderson was having a monster season out in the open for all to notice, Pollard was quietly having a stellar season of his own, posting 78 carries for 552 yards (7 YPC) and 39 catches for 458 yards (11.7 YPR) for a total of 1100 yards. Between Pollard and Henderson, over 3000 yards of the offense for the 2018 season was already being occupied. There is only one ball.
The 2019 season paints a different picture. Henderson and Pollard both declare for the NFL draft and pack their bags. Good riddance. And while I wish Gibson would have received the Henderson role in the offense, he won an acceptable consolation prize with Pollard’s role, 71 touches are better than 6. These 71 touches contained 33 carries for 369 yards (11.2 YPC, I mean c’mon) and 38 receptions for 735 yards (19.3 YPC). This is face-melting efficiency, even in comparison to the top-notch efficiency demonstrated by Pollard and Henderson. Same system, same competition, albeit much smaller sample size. (see “love at first sight analogy above). To frame a side by side comparison of how efficient Gibson compared to his counterparts at Memphis, I put together a chart.
You can see a clear trend amongst his teammates. Their % of touches correlates to their % of total yards in an almost identical fashion, until you get to Gibson who also tops them in TD rate.
The Senior Bowl
Many non-believers will often say most of his 33 carries came out of shotgun or off a jet sweep type play and would be correct. The senior bowl was an opportunity for him to showcase to skeptics that he really can do this whole professional RB thing and that he wasn’t just an athlete who was a product of a schemed, gimmick offense. When seniors arrived for drills and practices, the staff gave Gibson a choice. Either work out as a WR or wear the official RB badge for the first time with honor. He chose wisely.
It did take not long for AG to do his thing and turn heads. Many of the pro scouts and (more importantly) fantasy analysts in attendance began raving about #24, and he even displayed his chops in the pass blocking drills. During the Senior Bowl itself, he received the second-most carries of any running back.
He did not waste the opportunity. He finished second in YPC only behind Josh Kelley (who is also pretty good). Many of these carries looked a little different than that of the ones he received at Memphis. While he did take some rushes out of the shotgun, as is reasonable in NFL football, most of his carries came with the QB lining up behind center. This means for AG to find success running the ball in this formation, he needs to show vision and instincts to find the opening in the play design (which he did beautifully I might add).
Watch the play at the 56:00 mark. You will see Gibson line up with the QB under center, and immediately after taking the handoff, his center and guard are pushed into the backfield, accompanied by a defender coming off the edge. Gibson spins away from multiple tacklers, getting to the outside, turning a two-yard loss into a two-yard gain.
Everyone saw AG’s ungodly explosiveness during his final year at Memphis. The NFL combine is when he turned speculation on his athleticism into a scientific fact. Weighing in at 228 pounds, and running a 4.39. This is precisely the kind of performance a player like Gibson needs at the combine to solidify previous notions scouts may have had. He needed to prove that it wasn’t just sub-par competition in the AAC that led to his college efficiency. Scoring in the 99th percentile in PlayerProfiler speed score (one of the most predictive metrics for RB success in the NFL) and posting an almost identical size/speed comparison to Top 2 dynasty pick Jonathan Taylor.
Washington Football Team
The unnamed DC football squad needs all the help it can get, on multiple fronts. With the second overall pick in 2020, they wisely selected Chase Young, every team in the NFL has a use for an edge rusher. It was a bit more eye-popping when the team selected AG with the second pick of the third round. Not having a second-round pick this year made Gibson the team’s second overall pick, which is telling, in my opinion. They felt strongly enough about Gibson to grab him where they did despite numerous holes on their roster.
Experts view the third round as the last call for fantasy relevancy. The hit rate on prospects drops from the 4th round and beyond. Most teams see their third-round selections with realistic intentions that the player could be a contributor either that season or the following. Many RBs in the league found success after being drafted in a comparable draft slot such as Alvin Kamara, Kenyan Drake, Devin Singletary, etc. Washington demonstrated faith in his abilities, from a draft capital perspective and have the intent to use those skills on Sundays.
The depth chart in WAS is currently full of uncertainty, which will likely make 2020 messy for all parties involved. The bulk of the early-down carries should distribute between Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson. I think it is reasonably apparent that Gibson will be handling most if not all the passing down work, especially if he indeed can pass protect. It’s also likely Gibson will see snaps lined up in the slot or elsewhere on the field with Guice or Peterson lining up in the backfield. I think 8-10 touches a game for Gibson is a reasonable expectation to have for the start of this season, with room to grow.
When we look beyond early 2020, we can see from where AG’s actual sleeping value derives. Adrian Peterson is 35 this year. It’s not a hot take to say Ron Rivera and OC Scott Turner know he is not the long term answer at the RB position. I don’t see a scenario where AP stays with the organization extending beyond 2020. The only real threat to Gibson’s value in the future is Derrius Guice.
Mr. Guice has had an unfortunate introduction to his NFL career. He appeared in only five games out of a possible 32 and left two of those games early with injuries. He has sustained an ACL tear, a Meniscus tear, and an MCL sprain. Before these injuries, his profile as a prospect was impressive. And in minimal touches, he has shown that he can play at a high level averaging a surprising 5.8 YPC last year. However, two major knee tears in two years, accompanied by a severe knee sprain soon after, is a major red flag. Also, keep in mind that we know the coaches believe in AG. Guice is not Rivera’s draft pick.
Finally, we turn to the coaching staff—Ron Rivera as head coach and Scott Turner as OC. Rivera is known widely as the coach that CMC thrived under for the first portion of his career. Turner comes from the Norv Turner coaching tree, both metaphorically and biologically. A coaching tree that has its fingerprints all over successful, versatile RBs in the NFL. This is a system that loves to throw the ball, which for a dual-threat RB is music to the ears. There will be plenty of available targets to go around. Once you get beyond Terry Mclaurin, the receiving weapons become scarce, opening a massive door for Gibson to enter a Kamara-type role potentially even this season.
If you have made it this far into truther-ville, you have to know that Antonio Gibson is much more than a late-round dynasty stash. Dynasty players should feel comfortable taking him in the early second round of rookie drafts. The opportunity and talent are as high as any prospect coming into the league this year. Don’t be afraid. Lean into the risk.
It is not an exaggeration to say his upside is the most valuable dynasty asset of this class. And contrary to popular belief, I think his pass-catching ability gives him a floor of James White. People know he can make plays, the only question at this point is can he handle a full RB workload at the next level. Only time will tell.
All I know is, there is plenty of room on the bandwagon with me.
Tyler Dell – Dynasty/Devy Writer
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