Antonio Gibson made an impressive second-year jump in 2021. He set a goal for himself to eclipse 1,000 yards, and 17 games later, he became the first Washington running back since Adrian Peterson in 2018 to reach that milestone.
Gibson, who has 1,832 yards over the course of his two-year career, did more than end a four-year drought for the franchise; he also placed himself among the most explosive players in the league.
In a recent article by Nick Shook of NFL.com, Gibson was listed as the No. 9 runner in terms of explosive plays, according to Next Gen Stats.
"He served as the bell cow for Washington, helping keep the offense on schedule," Shook wrote. "He posted a 44.6 percent success rate on runs (percentage of carries resulting in positive expected points added), second only to Jonathan Taylor among running backs on this list."
Gibson saw a boost in carries last season, jumping from 170 in 2020 to 258 in 2021. That increase was partly because he was on the field for two more games, but it's also a reflection of the confidence the coaches have in his growth at the position.
Gibson rewarded the Commanders for their faith in him. He finished sixth in rushing yards and fourth in rushing attempts last season.
"He operated largely out of the shotgun, gaining the sixth-most rushing yards against light boxes (six or fewer defenders in the box) among running backs," Shook wrote.
Shook also pointed out that Gibson was heavily featured in the passing game with 16 targets on screen passes, resulting int the third-most yards among running backs. As Washington fans will remember, most of that came during his 73-yard touchdown against the Bills.
Gibson had 24 runs of at least 10 yards in 2021 and 38 runs where he reached 15 mph. While he has shown steady growth since being drafted in the third round in 2020, the best example of what Gibson could ultimately become came in the season finale against the New York Giants, when he rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown on 21 attempts.
Gibson's 18-yard score in the fourth quarter helped seal the 22-7 victory for Washington. After the season, he was named to the Pro Football Writers of America's All-NFC team for being the second-leading rusher in the NFC.
"With the ball in his hands, I think he's as good as any back in the league," head coach Ron Rivera said of Gibson.
Gibson is focused on continuing his growth in 2022. He's dropped some weight this offseason to maintain his "twitch," quickness and avoid injuries.
"Why not just lose it and make sure I'm the best me?" Gibson asked the media after May 31's OTA.
Gibson will also have a slightly different role in 2022 now that third-round pick Brian Robinson has joined him in the backfield. Robinson will take most of the carries between the tackles, while Gibson will operate as more of a "slasher," as Rivera called it, meaning he'll be able to make more plays in space.
"Now you feel like you have a combination of running backs that on your first and second down are very physical at one point," Rivera said. "Then we turn around, you got a little bit of a slasher with Antonio's style. But Antonio's got some deceptive speed and quickness as well, so it's a good mix."
That decision should allow Gibson to do more of what he does best, which is use his athleticism and speed to make plays. So, assuming everything goes to plan next season, we could see Gibson make another jump in his third season.