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Maurice Jones-Drew ranks Brian Robinson, Antonio Gibson among his top RBs

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Maurice Jones-Drew was regarded as one of the better running backs during his nine-year career with three Pro Bowls on his resume, so he has a good idea of how to evaluate talent at the position. 

The way he sees it, the Washington Commanders have two of the NFL's most talented running backs in the same backfield. 

2022 third-round pick Brian Robinson and 2020 third-round pick Antonio Gibson were both on Jones-Drew's recent list of top 75 starting running backs from the 2022 season. Robinson, who wrapped up his rookie year with 797 rushing yards, was ranked at No. 28, while Gibson came in at No. 38. 

"Robinson finished his rookie campaign as the team's leader in carries and rushing yards despite not seeing the field until Week 5 (he was shot twice during an attempted robbery in August) and splitting time with Antonio Gibson," wrote Jones-Drew. "He put out plenty of positive tape to build on in Year 2."

Robinson, taken by the Commanders with the 98th overall pick, was one of nine rookie running backs to make the list and ranked fourth in that group. His total numbers, however, point to him being more impactful than that. His rushing numbers were fifth among rookie running backs, despite the fact that he missed the first four games of the season.

And according to Pro Football Focus, Robinson was ranked second among rookie running backs in overall offensive grade (82.5).

"He's got really good body balance, he's a little bit of a tweener when it comes to a thumper and being able to set a guy and make a guy miss and be able to get that hidden yardage that we always talk about," said running backs coach Randy Jordan.

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Perhaps Robinson's biggest contribution was the way his presence changed the way Washington ran its offense. Prior to Robinson's debut against the Tennessee Titans, the Commanders were 21st in rushing offense. After that point, Washington eclipsed 100 rushing yards 10 times and finished the season 12th in rushing average (126.1).

Coach Ron Rivera wants to see more of that next season.

"If you look at a lot of the teams that do end up at the end where they are [in the playoffs], most of them rush for well over a thousand on offense," Rivera said during his end of season press conference. "And I think they control the tempo of the game, and I think that's what we need to do to win football games. We need to control that tempo of the game."

Once Robinson returned to the active roster, Gibson's role changed from being the starting back to more of a backup role. That does not mean he was less valuable to the game plan, though, as he still finished the season with 899 scrimmage yards and five total touchdowns.

From Week 5 on, Gibson was used to attack the defensive perimeter more often. It ended up working out on several occasions, too, with his 18 first down conversions through receptions being fourth on the team. PFF also gave Gibson the second-best receiving grade (80.5) among all running backs.

Rivera sees the duo as a strong combination.

"We got a big, physical, powerful guy and then we got an elusive guy that's got great hands," Rivera said.

When Gibson and Robinson were together and at their best, Washington had a 6-1 stretch and was able to knock off the Super Bowl-bound Philadelphia Eagles.

Leaning on the running back looks to be Washington's plan going forward. The hope is that the philosophy will lead the Commanders to postseason success.

"When you can't run the football late in the year, it makes it very, very difficult to advance, make the playoffs or have success in the playoffs," said general manager Martin Mayhew. "So that's why I think it's really important, and the physicality of the game, I think, is what can make a good team better or an average team good. When you can out hit somebody, it gives you a chance to win every game."

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