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Brian Robinson surpasses Antonio Gibson as Washington Commanders starting running back

Vincent Frank

The writing was on the wall for the Washington Commanders with rookie running back Brian Robinson looking very much the part of a starter during training camp and the preseason.

Meanwhile, fumble issues surrounding star running back Antonio Gibson saw him relegated to second-team and special teams duties. In no way was this seen as a guarantee that Robinson would be RB1 when Washington opens its season Sept. 11 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But it does seem that we have some more confirmation on this. According to ESPN’s John Keim, Brian Robinson “appears to have supplanted” Gibson as the Commanders’ starting running back.

If we told you that Robinson would’ve replaced Gibson as Washington’s starter a few weeks back, our credibility would have been shot. But based on Keim’s report and comments from Commanders coaches, this now doesn’t seem to be too much of a surprise.

“That’s one of the first things that we talk about when we get together as an offense when training camp started is protect the football. We can’t waste possessions, and obviously, if you fumble the ball, that’s a waste of a possession. That’s a ball carrier’s first job, to protect the ball. We can’t have that.”

Commanders offensive coordinator scott turner on Antonio Gibson

As for Robinson, his lack of playing time in the preseason pretty much indicated that Ron Rivera and Co. were high on the former Alabama standout from the get. That should have been the first indicator.

Related: Jaret Patterson makes case for Washington Commanders’ 53-man roster

Brian Robinson as a difference-maker for the Washington Commanders

washington commanders starting running back brian robinson
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Robinson tallied 26 yards on six attempts with a touchdown in his preseason debut earlier this summer. He also caught both of his passes for 15 yards. That very same game saw Gibson put the ball on the turf after he fumbled it six times a season ago.

More than Robinson’s in-game work, Washington’s coaching staff absolutely loves what it has seen from the rookie third-round pick during training camp practices.

“Brian’s been great. He’s a real serious guy, football is extremely important to him. He takes a lot of pride in being a physical runner, but he can run too. I was happy and impressed with him the way that he ran,” Turner on Brian Robinson earlier this summer.

This doesn’t necessarily come out of left field. A four-star recruit of Alabama back in 2017, Robinson with the eighth-ranked running back in the nation. He didn’t disappoint in five seasons under Nick Saban despite splitting time with the likes of fellow NFLers Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs. Last season was a true breakout for Robinson in Tuscaloosa.

Brian Robinson stats (2021): 1,343 rushing yards, 35 receptions, 296 yards, 16 TD, 5.4 yards per touch

Dating back to his days with the Carolina Panthers, Ron Rivera has favored certain types of backs. That includes those who can hit the hole quick and show awesome field vision. Robinson seems to have that ability.

Related: Washington Commanders schedule and game-by-game predictions

The Antonio Gibson dynamic and impact of Brian Robinson’s presence

Antonio-Gibson-Washington-Commanders
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Gibson now likely transitions to full-time return duties heading into his third season with the Commanders. Rivera all but confirmed that the wide receiver turned running back will have a larger role on special teams than offense in 2022.

“You still need to see some more stuff, but you know, I think he (Gibson) is [their new kick returner]. I do. I think he’s done a nice job. When you watch it on tape, you see him circling the ball, getting under it, and making a good catch. It’s something he did well in college, and we’re pretty excited having him do it.”

Ron Rivera on Antonio Gibson

If Brian Robinson is Washington’s RB1, there’s not going to be a lot of room for Gibson on offense. That’s especially true with J.D. McKissic primed for third-down duties. The former Seattle Seahawks undrafted free agent has recorded a combined 123 receptions while hauling in 76% of his targets over the past two seasons. Having that type of threat on passing downs with Carson Wentz under center can’t go unnoticed.

The devaluation of Gibson in D.C. has been pretty darn swift given just how well the former Memphis star performed in his first two seasons with the Commanders.

  • Antonio Gibson stats (2020-21): 1,832 rushing yards, 78 receptions, 541 yards, 4.7 yards per touch, 14 TD

One now has to wonder whether Washington will look to find a trade partner for Gibson. However, that seems highly unlikely given his upside and Washington’s need for actual talent all over the field. For now, Brian Robinson is the man in Maryland.