Commanders Can Replace Antonio Gibson With 107-Catch RB

Antonio Gibson

Getty The Washington Commanders can replace Antonio Gibson with a 107-catch RB in 2024 NFL free agency.

Eric Bieniemy, Scott Turner and the Washington Commanders never made the most of Antonio Gibson’s dual-threat talents. New offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury can correct the mistake if the Commanders sign Austin Ekeler from the Los Angeles Chargers in 2024 NFL free agency.

Ekeler is the right replacement for free agent Gibson, according to Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus. Spielberger believes Ekeler could form a formidable one-two punch with Brian Robinson Jr.

The combo might work like this: “Robinson as the early-down bruiser and Ekeler as the late-down pass catcher who can break off chunk gains through the air and make life easier for a rookie quarterback.”

Even though Spielberger noted how “Robinson’s pass-catching volume increased significantly in his second season,” Ekeler is a far more accomplished receiver. He caught 107 passes during his best season in 2022.

Adding Ekeler would give the Commanders the multi-purpose backfield threat they’d hoped Gibson would become. A roving playmaker with Ekeler’s skills would indeed be invaluable to whichever quarterback the Commanders likely select second overall in the 2024 NFL draft.

Austin Ekeler Perfect for New-Look Commanders

A franchise projected by to have $83,543,548 worth of space under the salary cap shouldn’t worry about investing heavily in a running back. Even given how the position is undervalued in modern football.

That valuation matters little because Ekeler is as close to the modern prototype for running backs as it’s possible to get. He’s a true all-rounder, able to grind out yards on the deck, help in pass-protection and snag catches from multiples spots.

A beefy, 5-foot-10 and 200-pound frame means Ekeler can mix it between the tackles. He’s also blessed with deceptive speed, a quality he showcased on this touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars in last season’s playoffs.

Ekeler has the traits of a workhorse, but the Commanders wouldn’t need him to carry the load for the running game. Not after Robinson’s averaged four yards per attempt during each of his two seasons in the pros.

What ought to appeal more to Kingsbury is Ekeler’s flexibility as a pass-catcher. The 28-year-old made most of his 51 catches in 2023 from deep in the backfield, evidenced by an average of -1.5 yards before catch per reception. Fortunately, Ekeler still managed to average 10.1 yards after catch per reception, according to Pro Football Reference.

Ekeler stays active in the passing game. He ran 20.1 routes per game, good for ninth-most in the league, per Player Profiler.

What’s more impressive is what Ekeler does once he gets the ball in his hands. He’s prolific after the catch, with Next Gen Stats putting only San Francisco 49ers’ All-Pro Christian McCaffrey ahead of Ekeler in this category back in October.

The things Ekeler does as a receiver are what the Commanders couldn’t get often enough from Gibson.

Antonio Gibson a Case of What Might’ve Been for Commanders

It looked like excellent value when the Commanders drafted Gibson in the third round back in 2020. A wide receiver and return specialist at East Central and Memphis, Gibson had all the hallmarks of a matchup nightmare for both phases of defenses.

Things never worked out that way, despite the Commanders having play-callers capable of making the most of Gibson’s receiving skills. Turner had been McCaffrey’s offensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers, when the player made 107 catches in 2018 and 116 a year later.

It was surprising then Gibson never caught more than 46 passes in a single season when Turner called the offense in Washington. Bieniemy replaced Turner in 2023, and while Gibson grabbed a career-high 48 receptions, there was still a sense of what might’ve been.

That sense came from Bieniemy’s time as OC for the Kansas City Chiefs, who often move running backs around formations to catch passes. The likes of Jerick McKinnon and Dexter McCluster were prolific in this role when Bieniemy had the headset.

Gibson feels like a missed opportunity, but the disappointment will soon ease if the Commanders add a prolific and proven commodity like Ekeler to a new-look offense.

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