Antonio Gibson from Memphis University had one of the most difficult challenges faced by any player in the 2020 NFL Draft. He didn’t know which position teams wanted him to showcase for them. (Running back or wide receiver?) How do you practice two positions with a high degree of specificity? He is listed as a running back in the team list of prospects even though most teams don’t look at him as just a running back.
“I talked to a lot of teams that want to use me around,” Gibson said. “I don’t feel like they just want me to be a running back. You have to label me as something going into the Draft and felt like this would be the best thing...If it was up to me I’d go into the Draft as an ‘athlete,’ but you can’t do that. I felt like to better help me it’s better to come out as a running back, with a lot of receivers coming out this year. I feel like being labeled as a running back will help me.”
Some may wonder aloud why the fuss about a player who doesn’t even have a primary position. The reason being is that Gibson had 14 TDs on a mere 77 touches (44 receptions + 33 rushing attempts) in 2019. Even with those few touches Gipson was second to only Ja’Marr Chase in plays of 50 yards or more in college football.
Gibson is a physically solid 6’ 0 3/8” 228 lbs player with explosive traits. He has a combination of power, fluid and effortless 4.39/40 speed, and a relaxed confident attitude. Gibson led the South team in rushing at the Senior Bowl (11 carries for 68 yards) against some of the best prospects in the country. Best of all he didn’t look out of place.
Gibson was asked about how it felt to play with the other top prospects. “It was just another day of playing football. I’ve been doing it since I was like three. I just got out there and got a feel for their playbook. I was able to have fun,” he said.
Gibson’s dual ability as WR/RB has been evident since high school where he had 126 rushing attempts and 97 receptions during his two year career. His grades were not good enough to gain entrance into a university so Gibson enrolled at East Central Community College in Decatur Mississippi. There he again played both running back and receiver.
At Memphis he played sparingly his first year with only 6 receptions for 99 yards and two TDs. He had to learn the playbook while he played behind a number of quality RBs including Patrick Taylor Jr. and Rams 3rd round pick Darrell Henderson. Memphis was also loaded at receiver with 5 who had between 19 and 72 receptions.
Antonio Gibson is a very raw player with explosive traits. He is a totally traits based prospect who can be developed as an offensive weapon while being a great special teamer. Let’s take a look at how he appears on tape as a prospect.
Some rushing plays...
This first run against Cincinnati in the conference championship game shows some quick feet and an awkward running style on the inside.
This is meant to look like a read option look, but it is a straight hand off all the way. Gibson has a lead blocker on the outside but shows some unexpected vision as the linebacker is blitzing to the left tackle side. This leaves an opening through the middle.
I have discussed before about how a runner’s eyes must tell his feet where to go. On this play Gibson uses his right foot to cut back right which is the wrong foot to use in this situation. See how Gibson is kind of sideways going through the hole. If he had cut off his left foot (going right) he would have made a sharper cut with more momentum and stayed square to the hole. This would allow his to cut again in either direction.
Gibson is now slightly off balance. He goes straight ahead into a bevy of players because he does not have the stability to change direction without falling over. He plows through the players which actually increases his stability enough to allow him to use some of the power he has in those tree trunk legs to get an extra 4 yards.
This play shows quick feet, strength, and power but also rawness. He is a fluid runner in space, but he has to learn how to navigate rushing the ball on interior attempts.
This next play is again a less than graceful run with some awkwardness but works out rather well because of quick feet and raw speed.
You can see how Gipson is leaning when he makes his cuts. It’s like his mind sees the openings, but his feet are slow to react. He actually makes a nice jump cut when DT #93 breaks away from his blocker and enters the path Gibson wants to travel. By doing so it gets Gibson back on balance as he moves to the outside then splits two defenders. Once he gets out in front no one is going to catch him.
This next run is a better job of using the correct foot to cut. His footwork is not close to perfect, but it gets the job done. Gibson has obviously not done a lot of running back footwork drills at the college level. This is correctable. It takes practice and muscle memory to get proficient at footwork in the hole.
You can see how when Gibson cuts to the right his body bobs up and down like he is galloping instead of making smooth cuts. Smooth cuts make you quicker through the hole. You can also see that once he makes it around the edge he gets to full speed in a matter of a couple of steps. This is excellent. From another angle this is easier to see.
The tape shows that as he is making his cut to the right he is not “plodding” but he definitely is not fluid in his movements. They are more labored. Once he is able to come out of his lean at the 20 yard line he becomes almost a different runner. He is smooth, and he eats up the turf like a he is gliding. He is moving fast, but it’s an easy gait. He is not a natural running back. He is much more stiff when he is stressed on the inside.
Let’s see what he looks like as a receiver...
Here his is in the slot to the left of the QB with off coverage by the defender. This is an out and up play against a defender who is 9 yards off and playing on Gibson’s inside shoulder so he wants him to go towards the sideline.
The cut to the outside is very rounded. Gibson needs to learn how to sink his hips going into the break. This will increase his balance as he lowers his center of gravity. He then make a sharper break outside with more speed. It is akin to driving a car. You break into a tight curve. The front of your car drops slightly, and then you accelerate out of the curve. You come out faster which will slingshot you forward.
From the overhead view you can see the entire play develop better. The corner plays this very badly, but he seems much slower than Gibson to begin with so I don’t know if there was much he could do. Gibson probably could of run right by him to begin with, but this was a way to shake to coverage without any safety help.
As the play evolved the safety was covering air on the opposite side of the field anyway which is puzzling. Gibson seems very natural tracking the ball and makes an easy hands catch on a well thrown ball. You can also see how he is not some skinny speedster. He is well put together and should be able to muscle corners in the NFL once he gets some good technique on how to break press coverage.
This next pass is just a simple 10 yard out route that he makes a nice catch on and turns upfield for a 17 yard gain. It looks good, but when you watch closely he needs some technique refinements to be successful in the NFL.
First, watch when he goes to make his cut. He slows himself down by taking three little steps. This is a no-no in the NFL. Corners will see this on tape then jump the route in the game. He needs to cut off his inside foot only as to not give away his intentions. Second, when he does make his cut he drifts upfield which again is a no-no as corners will undercut the route and pick off the ball for a pick six. If anything, he needs to travel further upfield (12-13 yards) then come back towards the line of scrimmage to make his 10 reception. These may seem like little things, but they are really big things. He is raw so he needs some coaching.
This next play is a 12 yard dig route that lacks any real technical acuity but gets the job done mainly because of the corner who plays this pattern as badly as you can.
The route is sloppy. The coverage is horrible but. Still, the catch is terrific as the pass is way behind Gibson and high. Gibson shows some good athleticism by jumping and flipping his body in air to grab the errant throw. By doing so he saves an INT for his QB as the safety #18 is eyeing the pass and is in the direct line of the throw.
This next route is run much better, a shallow out to the numbers. Gibson is again in the slot played by off coverage. Since they are in the red zone the corner doesn’t have to worry as much about letting Gibson behind him. The defense is rolling the safety that way anyway to take away any throw to the end zone.
You can see that Gibson uses one extra step which is a vast improvement. He also comes back towards the throw after the break. By moving back away from coverage he gives himself more room to navigate which allows him to make it around his man and into the end zone. All in all this was a much better job.
This next play is a simple wide receiver screen pass with two men out in front to block.
The play would have been pass interference in the NFL since #10 on the offense starts blocking far too early on the play plus he is more than 1 yard downfield. Since this is college and he caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage, I believe there can be no pass interference.
This next play Gibson is on the line of scrimmage, the middle receiver of the three men aligned to the QB’s right with a corner playing 10 yards deep in off coverage.
This play is a simple post route that was so obviously the primary play that you can almost see the QB salivating prior to the snap. With a corner in coverage who is no match for the speed of Gibson combined with the fact there is no safety in the middle of the field the QB never looks in any other direction than at Gibson. Another view is just as telling.
Gibson slow plays the release like he might want to make a cut then accelerates by the corner like he is an old man. By the time Gibson get to the opponent’s 35 yard line the defender is not even in the picture anymore. This is impressive speed which travels with any scheme and any team. This also was a middle of the year game. The slow playing of the route is a nuanced type of WR ploy that means Gibson was improving his skill level as the year progressed.
This last clip is of his special teams ability which is where Gipson will earn his bones as a player early in his career. There is no nuance on this play as the kickoff is well-blocked, and Gibson never has to slow down on this 97 yard kickoff return.
Gibson doesn’t have to do much. A shoulder fake to the inside to freeze the kicker is all that is needed. Memphis had excellent special teams play, and Gibson averaged 28.0 yards per return on 23 kick offs in 2019.
Antonio Gibson is exactly what we thought he was coming into this. He is a raw player both in rushing and receiving with superior physical talents. He is much more advanced as a receiver yet he still has a long way to go. A team could develop a handful of plays for Gibson to run in certain situations. Until then he can work on special teams as a gunner and returner.
Gibson impressed R. C. Fischer of FantsyPros at the 2020 Senior Bowl practices saying:
“Memphis running back Antonio Gibson looks like an elite athlete at the position. I’m not sure if he has a feel for running the ball at the next level. But we should give some grace to him on that because Gibson was a wide receiver for most of his college career. He’s raw at running back. But just watching him move around this week — he’s the only guy that elicits “wow” comments because of his build, size, and movement skills.”
Gibson himself realizes that he has had an awkward journey to the NFL so far but he persevered.
“I’ve learned many things along the way and made way more family then I could ever imagine,” Gibson said. “At JUCO I learned that everyone wants the same thing you want so you have to work 10 times harder to stand out and you can’t do it alone. When I got to Memphis, I had to learn that everyone had talent so what is going to make me get on the field. I had to take criticism and you can take that to heart or you can take it as motivation and go to work and that’s what I did and the outcome of going to work and keeping God first and staying in touch with family and friends. I wouldn’t have asked for it any other way.”
The buzz on Gibson is that he might have worked his way into the bottom of the day 2,but I find that highly unlikely I’m thinking middle 4th round to the top of the 5th round sounds about right for a team to throw a dart on Gibson.
Gibson himself remains confident in his chances. Who could blame him? With his raw speed and the right attitude he can accomplish a lot.
“Anyone who lines up in front of me is trying to stop me from my future,” Gibson said. “And no one is doing that.”
He may be right.
That is what I think.
What do you think?