Fantasy Football Debate: Josh Jacobs vs. Antonio Gibson
Running backs Josh Jacobs and Antonio Gibson are being drafted as RB22 and RB25, respectively on Underdog Fantasy. In this debate, Tim Talmadge argues for Josh Jacobs while Brandon Niles fights for Antonio Gibson.
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The Case for Josh Jacobs
Tim: Admittedly the situations Jacobs and Gibson find themselves in are fairly similar. Talented runners that have been productive but can't seem to wrestle away a bellcow type role. However, I don't believe Gibson has as easy a path to reach his upside and his downside is being overlooked.
Jacobs has established a nice floor with three consecutive top-20 finishes in terms of half-PPR points per game. His ADP falling outside of the top-20 running backs may have something to do with the addition of Josh McDaniels as the new head coach. He's notorious for operating with running back committees and the team also brought in some competition in the offseason. This competition may be in the form of special teamer Brandon Bolden and a fourth-round pick that never caught ten passes in a season, however the intent can't be overlooked. The main reason I'm not concerned about a committee is Jacobs' productivity despite splitting time his whole career. Since entering the league he's received nearly 20 touches per game, despite only averaging around 60% of the snaps. That's because he's really freakin' good...
Josh Jacobs has a 90.4 PFF Grade since entering the NFL in 2019...
Tied for 4th among RBs in that span ☠️ pic.twitter.com/QSUUbezuYf
— PFF Las Vegas Raiders (@PFF_Raiders) April 5, 2022
He also ranks fifth in missed tackles and yards after contact over that time. It's not crazy to believe he's far and away the most talented runner in this backfield. That could be enough to set him up for the best year of his career on this high octane Raiders offense. Keep in mind he's already averaged nine rushing touchdowns per season and now this team has potential to be a top-ten scoring unit. They also play in a division against some of the top offenses in the league, setting up several shootout scenarios.
The inverse is true for Antonio Gibson. His upside is capped because he plays for a Washington team that likely finishes in the bottom half of the league in scoring. I say likely because it's been that way since he was drafted to the team and a change to Carson Wentz at quarterback won't help much. It also won't help much that the team spent a day two draft pick on big body runner Brian Robinson. Washington has been unwilling to unleash Gibson in the passing game and losing his stranglehold on red zone work would be devastating. To drive this point home, the Commanders ranked 27th and 24th in red zone trips per game last season.
Ultimately, even if you don't buy a massive breakout for Josh Jacobs this year, he just checks more boxes. His competition for touches is weaker, his team is more talented, and his overall scoring environment is better.
The Case for Antonio Gibson
Brandon: This is an interesting debate because it features two running backs with very similar strengths and weaknesses. Both backs are excellent at catching the ball, but neither are viewed as being heavily used in that capacity. Both have new rookie running backs acquired in the middle rounds of drafts. And both are honestly undervalued in fantasy drafts at the moment. Fantasy managers are fading Gibson because of the narrative that he doesn’t catch passes, and also because of the arrival of Alabama rookie running back Brian Robinson in the third round.
Gibson and Jacobs both get touches around the goal line, but Gibson is far more effective at it. Per Sports Info Solutions, Jacobs has had 10 more carries (26) than Gibson (14) inside the 3-yard line over the past two seasons, but he’s scored only two more touchdowns (12 to 10). Gibson has double-digit touchdowns in each of his first two seasons and should continue to be the primary short-yardage back in 2022.
Both players have caught the ball more than advertised, with Gibson catching 42 of 52 targets last season, up from 36 of 44 as a rookie. Part of that was an inflated 3.5 targets per game while J.D. McKissic was out after Week 11. Washington brought back McKissic, but Gibson still averaged 2.7 targets in the games where McKissic was active. That’s a 45.9-target pace with poor quarterback play. The addition of Carson Wentz may not help things, but he did target Jonathan Taylor 48 times last year while also providing Nyheim Hines with 53 targets. Gibson isn’t Jonathan Taylor, but Hines and McKissic have stylistic similarities and Wentz should at least be able to maintain Gibson’s 2021 trajectory.
Gibson’s speed and playmaking are on full display when he gets the ball with just a little bit of space.
Every time he touches the ball, Antonio Gibson is a threat to go the distance@AntonioGibson14 | @Commanders
via @nfl pic.twitter.com/HxMB4Bk9yq
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) July 14, 2022
Additionally, he seems to be getting better, while Jacobs’ punishing running style has caused him to land on the injury report constantly with nagging ailments. Jacobs is tough-as-nails and has mostly gutted it out through the pain, but you have to wonder if all these brutal hits are going to land him on IR sooner rather than later. Gibson had 1,331 yards from scrimmage last year after 1,042 as a rookie.
The addition of Robinson is a concern, especially when news reports include comments from his running backs coach comparing him to Alfred Morris and Adrian Peterson. Still, the team has trusted Gibson to the tune of 16.9 touches per game over the past two seasons and 18.75 last year. Even if Robinson chips away at that number, there’s no reason to suspect Gibson will fall under double-digit touchdowns. His short-yardage efficiency and game-breaking ability make him a steal at the end of the sixth round in fantasy drafts. We’re talking about the RB10 in half-PPR points last season!
Finally, Gibson himself is starting to take notice of the disrespect he’s receiving:
I love the HATE 🔥
— Antonio Gibson 👑💯 (@Antonio Gibson14) July 12, 2022
Yeah, sign me up for that guy.