When the Washington Football Team faces the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the Burgundy and Gold will have their top two wide receivers, Terry McLaurin and Dontrelle Inman, active.
After that? Steven Sims, Antonio Gandy-Golden and Isaiah Wright are all either already ruled out or unlikely to play this week.
So, what will Washington do in order to cope with a lack of depth on the outside? Well, there's one solution that might work out pretty well: Washington should give an expanded role to rookie running back Antonio Gibson in the passing game.
A third-round pick of Washington in April, Gibson played both running back and wideout during his time at Memphis, with his touches almost evenly distributed between the two positions. Washington drafted Gibson as a running back, and through the first six weeks of the season, he's seen snaps mainly out of the backfield.
Gibson leads Washington in rush attempts with 64, more than double than the next highest mark on the team. Yet, the rookie is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and hasn't totaled more than 55 yards on the ground in any game this season.
But, where Gibson has been effective for Washington this year is when he's been used as a pass-catcher. The Memphis product is third on the team in catches with 19 and has the team's longest reception on the season (40 yards). In Week 3 against Cleveland, Gibson had 82 receiving yards on just four catches, the highest single-game receiving yards total of any Washington player this season not named McLaurin.
When asked about Gibson throughout the season, both head coach Ron Rivera and OC Scott Turner have emphasized not giving the rookie too many responsibilities in order to allow him to fully learn the running back position.
"[He's] a young guy and just kind of learning the play and starting to play," Turner said of Gibson on Wednesday. "Again, only playing six games so far in this league, it’s kind of that fine line I was talking about with some of those other guys. You want to give him enough to be successful, but not give him too much where he doesn’t play fast or he’s overwhelmed or he makes mistakes."
Despite showing promise as a receiver out of the backfield, Washington has not made it a major priority to involve Gibson in the passing game. Sure, he's averaged nearly five receptions per outing over his past three games, but a good portion of his touches have come on check-downs and the occasional screen. Washington has rarely split the rookie out wide, or even in the slot, to see what he's capable of doing.
Turner knows Gibson has the potential to be a threat on the outside. In fact, he even said Wednesday that the offense should utilize him as a receiver more often.
"He’s done a couple things at receiver so far," Turner said. "That’s definitely something that we would like to expand on because he does have the physical tools to be successful there.”
Washington's opponent this week, the Dallas Cowboys, has one of the league's worst defenses in modern NFL history through six weeks. They've given up 218 points already on the season, which is the most by any club since the NFL-AFL merger.
Rivera said Wednesday he doesn't feel as if Dallas' struggling defense presents Washington's offense the chance to breakout, citing the rivalry between the two teams and that it's still professional football. But the reality is, this weekend is as good of an opportunity as Rivera's team will get all season to put up a large number of points.
"The more [Gibson] grows and gets better and gets more comfortable, the more he’s going to be given," quarterback Kyle Allen said Wednesday.
Gibson may only be a rookie, but he's already Washington's second-best weapon on offense behind McLaurin. If there was ever a week to expand his role, this is the one to do it.