Three down backs just aren’t easy to find in the NFL anymore. What are even harder to find, though, are running backs that can contribute at an elite level every week. So who is the next running back that can produce the numbers that guys like CMC, Cook, and Derrick Henry consistently have? Not a one-hit wonder. A dynasty superstar. That man is Antonio Gibson. An intriguing prospect coming out of college, Gibson has shown his ability to be a top fantasy running back for the foreseeable future.
Although this might not carry much weight to some, it is very important to hear what Ron Rivera has said about Antonio Gibson. While he and McCaffrey aren’t the same, it is very interesting to hear what Rivera had to say regarding Gibson’s similarities to McCaffrey: “(Gibson’s) a little bit bigger than Christian, but he’s got a skill set like Christian,” Rivera said. “He’s shown some position flexibility playing in the slot, then he shows position flexibility playing in the backfield. Ran some wildcat with him behind the center taking direct snaps. This is a very versatile young football player that we really think is going to be a guy that can get on the field for us early and contribute.” Now, even if Gibson doesn’t have the talent that McCaffrey has, there is no doubting the confidence that Rivera has in him.
So how can Gibson produce just as much as McCaffrey? Let’s look at their numbers in their rookie years, respectively. It’s pretty amazing to see the numbers in McCaffrey’s receiving game compared to the numbers in Gibson’s rushing game. They both left much to be desired in their rookie year; McCaffrey in the rushing game, and Gibson in the receiving game. Here are their rookie season numbers:
McCaffrey: 16 Games, 117 Rushes, 435 Yards, 2 TDs, 80 Receptions, 651 Yards, 5 TDs, 1,086 Yards from Scrimmage
Gibson: 14 games, 170 Rushes, 795 Yards, 11 TDs, 36 Receptions, 247 Yards, 0 TDs, 1,042 Yards from Scrimmage
What is worth noting is that McCaffrey was splitting time with Jonathan Stewart in 2017, limiting his rushing upside. But on the other hand, Gibson split much of his receiving work with J.D. McKissic this past year. It was very impressive to see Gibson put up basically the same production as McCaffrey in their rookie seasons. We saw a huge jump in snap count and rushing attempts for McCaffrey from 2017 to 2018. While McKissic should be back next year, there is no reason to believe that Gibson won’t take over at least some of that third-down work in the 2021 season. The coaching staff made it clear that they were easing him into the position in 2020. McCaffrey also saw an amazing jump in rushing attempts from 2017 (117 attempts) to 2018 (219 attempts). Gibson should, at the very least, get above 200 rushing attempts. But he could very well see over 250 carries depending on game script throughout the season.
While Gibson played in 14 games in 2020, he only played five percent of snaps in Week 13 before having to leave with a turf toe injury. Then in Week 13, he played in only 30 percent of snaps, his lowest since Week 1 of the season. Even modest production in both of those weeks would have resulted in Gibson finishing as a Top-10 running back in PPR formats.
So why buy high on Gibson? I am suggesting to buy very high on Gibson. The biggest worry for Gibson coming out of college was if he could change positions to become a full-time running back. All of that worry is gone. The biggest worry now, is if he can succeed in pass protection. I don’t have many stats to back it up, but there is no reason that Gibson should struggle with this as a 6-foot-0, 228-lb. running back. He has already shown to be a very coachable player, and the only thing he needs to become that bellcow back is the third-down work. As long as Gibson can become the passing down back we know he can, the production will come. Even if Gibson has half of the receiving work that McCaffrey has had in his career, we can expect him to be a Top-8 running back for years to come.
What is worth considering in this analysis, is that Gibson could have a much better situation with a better quarterback in Washington next year. There should be no concern for Gibson. His floor is a high RB2, while his ceiling is the RB1.
For me, Gibson is the number one running back in dynasty. If there’s anything to show from Gibson’s and McCaffrey’s nearly identical rookie years, Gibson should turn into a top fantasy running back in 2021. With Washington looking to win the division, and Gibson looking to be a key part of that, there’s no reason Gibson shouldn’t be part of your top 5 dynasty running backs. He’s dynasty RB1 for me, and you should buy him before he gets too expensive.