Before he even took an NFL snap, Washington Football Team second-year running back Antonio Gibson drew comparisons to Panthers' star Christian McCaffrey.
Part of the reason McCaffrey is so special is he's just as dynamic as a receiving back as he is a rusher. In Washington, getting Gibson more involved in the passing attack is something head coach Ron Rivera has stressed this offseason. After a promising rookie season with over 1,000 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns, Gibson is poised for a second-year breakout.
So, will Gibson be able to take that next step and play a McCaffrey-esque, three-down back role this season? Backup quarterback Kyle Allen, who's played with both running backs, thinks it's possible.
"You saw Christian McCaffrey in this offense a couple of years ago," Allen told reporters on Tuesday. "Obviously, one of the best players in the league. But, I think that's where we're trying to push Antonio to go."
As a rookie, Gibson seemed to get more comfortable playing the running back position by the week. A natural wide receiver in college at Memphis, the 2020 season was the first time in his football career he primarily played running back.
Yet, while Gibson impressed as a rusher, he wasn't used in the passing game nearly as much as some expected. Gibson hauled in just 36 receptions last season, which was significantly below the 80 grabs Washington's other back, J.D. McKissic, totaled.
In order for Gibson to meet those sky-high McCaffrey comparisons, he'll have to make a significant jump as a receiver in 2021. Allen believes the running back has the skill set and is certainly capable of doing just that.
"We try and get him the ball in the pass game. We try and run the ball with him a ton," Allen said. "We'll motion him out, we'll use him in different spaces."
After recovering from a turf toe injury that derailed the end of his rookie season, Gibson is fully healthy entering Year 2. With a year of running back under his belt, he's a lot more comfortable at the position and impressing his teammates with the strides he's made.
"He's improved a ton," Allen said. "He's gaining a lot more confidence, he's playing a lot faster, understanding it, making decisions quicker. Just like last year, the more reps the better he gets. He's just been continuously getting better."
While Allen made it clear that he's not trying to compare McCaffrey to Gibson, he firmly believes that his current teammate has the potential to play a similar role to the one his old backfield mate does in Carolina.
"I think we'll try and use him that way," Allen said. "I'm not trying to compare him, but it's the way we're trying to go with it. I think he has the potential. He's only gotten better since he's been there."