Just moments after the Redskins drafted Antonio Gibson in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the running back/wide receiver hybrid was asked what position he plans to play in the NFL.
Gibson's answer was simple: "I view myself as a weapon."
The 21-year-old is officially listed as a running back, and the No. 24 jersey that he will wear backs that up. But Gibson plans to contribute in a lot more ways than just as a rusher, and his versatility and experience on special teams is Nate Kaczor is excited about.
Kaczor, Washington's special teams coordinator, believes that the combination of Gibson's size and speed will allow him to make an impact for the Redskins specials unit in a variety of ways.
"He's big and fast," Kaczor told the local media in a Zoom call on Tuesday. "He [is] 220-ish pounds, some people had him in the low 4.4's, high 4.3 area. Regardless of what time he's prescribed to, he's fast. He's not only a returner; he can bring some protection and speed and coverage."
A year ago, the Redskins found a gem in undrafted wide receiver Steven Sims. The Kansas product became Washington's starting slot receiver by the end of the season, but Sims first made an impact as an NFL player on special teams.
Kaczor believes the combination of Gibson and Sims gives the Redskins a lot of flexibility in the return game.
"In an ideal setting, if you have a legitimate returner [Sims] and your off-returner [Gibson], who is 30 pounds bigger than your returner, if he doesn't get the ball he becomes a blocker," Kaczor said. "And he weighs 220 [pounds]. That's a really good situation. If they don't really want to kick it to one guy and they want to kick it to your other one and he's really good, then you have a heck of a situation there."
The special teams coach emphasized that Gibson has the skill set to make an impact in other ways on special teams, too, even if he's not the primary returner for the Burgundy and Gold.
"He could be on the punt team and play a slot, which is very conducive to running backs skill sets, where the block rushes and then release and help contain," Kaczor said. "Quite often on the punt team in the NFL, you will see a starter or two on offense or defense being used. He's more versatile because he is a returner, he is big enough to play in the return game as a blocker, as an off-returner."
As a senior at Memphis in 2019, Gibson was the team's primary returner, and the third-round pick was a home run threat every time he touched the ball. He notched 23 total returns on the season, averaging close to 29 yards per attempt and even took one kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.
That kickoff return touchdown came in an upset victory over then-ranked No. 15 SMU last October. That game was truly a coming-out party for Gibson, who finished with 386 all-purpose yards on 12 total touches. In addition to scoring a touchdown via kick return, Gibson found the end zone twice more in two different ways: a 50-yard TD reception and a 78-yard TD run.
Florida State head coach Mike Norvell, who was Gibson's coach at Memphis at the time, told the Redskins Talk podcast that Gibson's outing that evening "was probably the finest performance I’ve ever been a part of from a single game."
Kaczor is excited to get to work with Gibson in the near future, but knows that the running back's value could be best displayed in other ways.
A year ago, Washington drafted Terry McLaurin in the third round, who at the time was known just as much for being a special teams ace as he was a wide receiver. Well, it didn't take long for Kaczor to realize that McLaurin could be an excellent wideout at the NFL level, and that the then-rookie was too valuable as a pass-catcher to be used on special teams.
“Well geez, the more [Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner] uses [Gibson], the less we can," Kaczor joked.
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