The Washington Commanders' backfield took a jump in 2021, thanks to Antonio Gibson’s first 1,000-yard season, going from 26th to 12th in just a year's time, and Ron Rivera is expecting another leap with the addition of Brian Robinson Jr.
"We feel really good about who this combination, this tandem can be for us," Rivera told Julie Donaldson.
While Gibson is still considered the top running back for the Commanders, the team is taking a committee approach to the position. That's what Rivera did with the Carolina Panthers, and it led to them recording three Top 10 single-season performances in rushing yards.
From what team analysts Logan Paulsen and Santana Moss can see, the bruiser-slasher-versatile trio of Robinson, Gibson and J.D. McKissic allows them to do anything they want with the group.
"I get super fired up seeing all three of those guys in the backfield," Paulsen said in his most recent film breakdown segment.
That excitement does start with Gibson, who has grown at the position since playing wide receiver at Memphis just two years ago. His ability to read his blocks has improved in that span, and Paulsen highlighted a play against the Los Angeles Charger in Week 1 as an example of that.
On a second-and-6 play during the first quarter, Gibson followed a block made by Logan Thomas and scampered to the left for a 27-yard gain. In another, this time against the Carolina Panthers, he showed patience behind the offensive line on an outside zone play before cutting up for a 22-yard gain.
"Home run hitter," Moss called Gibson.
With McKissic, Paulsen called the running back a good "satellite space player," meaning he can operate and make plays at multiple spots on the field. For this, Paulsen points to his 56-yard catch-and-run against the New York Giants. He breezed past the linebacker covering him on the play and set Washington up for a 19-yard touchdown on play later.
"You can try him in the slot, you can put him in the backfield," Moss said. "But he plays in the backfield for us, and he does a great job on third down of making play after play."
Fifteen of McKissic's catches resulted in first downs, and a prime example of the third-down ability that Moss mentioned was his 30-yard receiving touchdown that eventually won the Week 4 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.
"That's what the NFL is about today, finding mismatches," Paulsen said. "[McKissic] is a mismatch weapon."
That leaves Robinson, who Moss called "a pure runner" for what he does between the tackles. Robinson was drafted for physicality, and he regularly put that on display, like he did against Ole Miss by rushing for 171 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries.
That doesn't mean he lacks shiftiness, either. He showed that against Texas A&M -- another 100-yard game -- on a 24-yard run. He kept his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage before putting his foot in the ground, making a linebacker miss and gashing the middle of the defense.
"He's a complementary piece to Gibson," Paulsen said. "Because he's a pure running back."
Washington's offense has plenty of weapons outside the numbers, including first-round pick Jahan Dotson, but the weapons in the backfield have the potential to be just as potent.
It's why Paulsen is so anxious to see them in action.
"I'm just so excited to see what they can do, especially behind this offensive line."