* As the 2021 NFL season inches closer, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux takes a look at the fantasy football outlook of multiple Washington Football Team players. First up: Antonio Gibson, who is expected to be a top 15 running back this season.
Is Antonio Gibson worth a second-round pick in fantasy football?
As fantasy football draft season creeps closer, the hype surrounding Washington Football Team second-year running back Antonio Gibson is real.
Like, really, really real.
Gibson, who had an impressive rookie season in 2020 where he finished as the 13th-best running back in PPR (points per reception) leagues, is going quite high in early mock drafts.
According to FantasyPros -- which takes a consensus of four different rankings to calculate each player's average draft position -- Gibson is expected to be a second-round pick in most leagues, if not an early third-rounder.
So, that begs the question: Is Gibson's value worth where he's going drafted?
The case for using a second-round pick on Gibson
Let's begin here: Washington's coaching staff, beginning with Ron Rivera, fully expects Gibson to make a jump in performance in Year 2.
"The expectation for him is to take another big step," head coach Ron Rivera said in June.
As a rookie, Gibson finished with over 1,000 scrimmage yards, 11 touchdowns and was the 13th-ranked running back in fantasy. Those are exceptional numbers for a rookie -- especially one who never played running back full time before the NFL, either.
If Gibson does take that "big step" Rivera and Washington are hoping for, finishing as a top-five running back in fantasy is certainly not out of the question. At all. Every fantasy football player would happily use a second-round pick on Gibson, or any running back, if they knew they would end the season in the top five at their position.
Where Gibson can truly make a major jump, both in fantasy and for Washington in general, is in the passing game. As a rookie, Gibson caught just 36 catches for 247 yards and zero scores.
Washington's coaches have gone on record saying they expect Gibson to have a bigger role in the aerial attack this season. After all, he's a natural wide receiver who played there in college at Memphis and has plenty of pass-catching skills.
If Gibson totals around the same rushing stats from one year ago (795 yards, 11 touchdowns), yet makes a jump in the passing game, he'll easily finish the season as a top 10, if not a top-five, running back in fantasy football.
The potential for Gibson to be an elite fantasy football running back is there. Now, it's up to him to put it all together.
The case against using a second-round pick on Gibson
The potential for Gibson is there. No denying that. But, since he only has one season under his belt, the track record in naturally going to be thin.
When it comes to using a second-round pick in fantasy football, those drafting in that round expect said player to be a star who can carry their team. Gibson had a solid season in 2020, but there were only a few weeks where he put up fantasy numbers that could carry a team.
That leads to my next point: Gibson was a streaky player as a rookie. He finished with 795 rushing yards as a rookie, but 243 of them came in a pair of games against Dallas. That's 31% of his entire rushing total for the season in just two weeks.
Besides those two Dallas games against a historically poor defense, Gibson failed to top 100 yards rushing once all season besides those two outings. That's not a player you want to use an early pick in fantasy on.
Also, it's worth mentioning that as a rookie, Gibson was not surrounded by as much talent as he will be in 2021. Besides Terry McLaurin and arguably Logan Thomas, no Washington player was more fantasy-relevant in 2020 than him.
In 2021, there are a lot more mouths to feed in Washington. McLaurin and Thomas are back and will get their fair share of targets. Free-agent acquisition Curtis Samuel should see a high volume of touches, too, and even has some experience lining up at running back. Rookie Dyami Brown has shown promise and running back J.D. McKissic could continue to spell Gibson on some pass-catching downs as well.
Gibson averaged nearly 15 touches per game as a rookie. With the new faces on offense, it's unknown just how many more touches the second-year running back will get this fall.
The reality is this: Gibson has the potential to be one of the best running backs in fantasy football this fall. But with him come risks, which might lead more cautious players to stay away from the Washington running back in the draft this season.
Verdict: Yes, Gibson IS worth a second-round pick
So many times we have seen second-year running backs become elite in fantasy football. Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, Christian McCaffrey, Melvin Gordon and recently, David Montgomery are just a few examples in the past decade of running backs who made that Year 2 jump.
Entering their respective second years, all of those players had risks. Yet, they were all in situations where they had the chance to blossom in Year 2. Gibson is in one as well and now it's up to him if he can do it.
Washington's coaches believe that he can. You should, too.