Pump the Brakes on Antonio Gibson?
After enjoying unprecedented success as a rookie in Washington that saw him total over 1,000 yards and 11 total touchdowns, Antonio Gibson enters year two as a prospective second-round pick in 2021 fantasy drafts. While there’s certainly the chance that Gibson may take the next step in his sophomore year in the NFL, it’s not guaranteed, and his 2020 production is rather alarming when you look beneath the surface of his numbers. While managers should believe in Gibson as a fantasy player overall, with the way the media and many fellow fantasy analysts are hyping him up, his ADP has drastically inflated to the point where the bar just seems too high for him to clear, and places him on the radar as a potential bust candidate.
A brief overview of Gibson’s 2020 season reveals a player that performed admirably; with double-digit touchdowns and a finish as the RB13, he’s predictably seen his stock rise over the course of the offseason and up until the time of this writing. His production hit a resounding high in week 12 of last year, when the Washington tailback racked up 136 yards on the ground en route to a season high 36.6 PPR point performance, which featured three scores on the ground and a complementary dose of pass-catching work (5 REC, 21 YDS). Gibson appeared at his best in games against division rival Dallas, who were in the Top 10 in points allowed to the position. It’s those types of performances fantasy managers and analysts alike are banking on to pay dividends in 2021 for their team. But while he performed well in those matchups, his production in the rest of the games he played in lacked luster, paling in comparison to his performances against the Cowboys.
Most telling are his splits by opponent for the 2020 season, specifically the difference in his production between when he plays against Dallas and when he doesn’t. The Cowboys’ run defense was nearly the worst in the league, ranking 31st against the ground game and 28th overall, and evidently spurred Gibson’s best performances of the season: all relevant fantasy metrics for Gibson were heavily inflated in games against Dallas. This includes nearly an 80 yard increase in rush yards per game, as well as a considerable uptick in points per game from 12.23 against opponents not based in Dallas to a commanding 27.7 point average against the Cowboys.
It’s no coincidence that Dallas suffered one of the worst defensive performances in a season in franchise history at the same time Gibson tore them up: as great as he was in those games, against very average defenses, Gibson put up very average numbers. Without the two games against Dallas on the schedule, Gibson would have averaged just 12.23 ppg and finished as the RB15 in 2020. Any semblance to that kind of production in 2021 would without a doubt be a let down on Gibson’s part, especially given his incredibly high draft price (which is edging on first-round value according to fantasydata for 12+ team leagues).
Pair his inability to perform at an elite level against quality defenses with recent personnel changes in Washington, and suddenly the outlook becomes rather bleak for Gibson in 2021. The Curtis Samuel acquisition affords the Washington offense a gadget player who will almost surely cut into Gibson’s workload, even if it’s only 20-30 carries on the season, and the addition of Ryan Fitzpatrick also constitutes a subtle, but still relevant, shift towards improving a passing attack that has been relatively dormant since the departure of Kirk Cousins.
While a finish as the RB15 wouldn’t be a terrible finish, it would be a disappointment after an offseason of incredible hype surrounding his name. The bar has been placed far too high for the WFT tailback to meet expectations, not because of a lack of ability to produce, but rather because of excessive media hype. Gibson may very well pick up where he left off in 2021 and finish as a top-12 RB. However, it’s not a bad idea to pump the brakes a bit on a player that remains an unproven talent, both in the NFL and for fantasy purposes.
— You can see more of Zach's writing and analysis on Instagram @1stand10fantasy