Camp hype across the NFL is no joke. For the most part, there are positive reports about players dazzling their team and the assembled fans and media. Videos of practice reps circulate on social media and immediately, the hype grows. We've seen that firsthand over the past few weeks with the likes of Romeo Doubs in Green Bay and George Pickens in Pittsburgh.
However, once in a while, the training camp vibe around a player is negative. The negative hype might be the intel that we should take more seriously. It's a positive time of the year across the league as most teams have some semblance of hope entering a new season. If bad things are coming out about a player, it must be pretty bad.
The vibe around Antonio Gibson
The franchise now known as the Washington Commanders drafted Antonio Gibson in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft. Immediately, due to Ron Rivera's presence in Washington, fans and pundits dreamed of Gibson turning into a similar player to Christian McCaffrey, who Rivera drafted and coached in Carolina. Even Rivera said the comparison was "fair."
Gibson had nearly 800 yards on the ground in his rookie season and eclipsed 1000 yards last season. In total, he's had nearly 2400 yards from scrimmage over his first two seasons. He played through injury last season, but even then, he was productive. However, it always felt like there was more to his game just waiting to be unlocked.
Oftentimes, the best gauge of a team's belief in a player is their other transactions. You could tell the Carolina Panthers don't believe in Sam Darnold because they acquired Baker Mayfield. For Washington, this offseason was a red flag that they might not be in love with Gibson. They made a late push to prevent J.D. McKissic from leaving and joining the Buffalo Bills in free agency. They then used a third-round pick in this past year's draft to select Brian Robinson Jr. out of Alabama. Teams that are comfortable with their running game aren't getting into bidding wars for a third-down back or using Day 2 draft picks to bolster their depth.
In Washington's preseason opener, Gibson lost a fumble and was subsequently replaced on the field by Robinson, who capped a drive with a touchdown. Gibson returned to the field with Taylor Heinicke and the Washington second-string offense later in the game.
In practice Tuesday, Gibson spent some time with the third-string offense. He also was blocking on the punt team earlier in practice. That's not a role you usually assign to your team's starting running back.
Tough love or beginning of the end?
It's important not to overreact to training camp, even if it's very hard. It's worth remembering that this is a time coaches use to get their teams ready for the season. Maybe Ron Rivera thinks Gibson needs a kick in the pants and is using this to motivate him. That's a realistic possibility.
However, it's also a realistic possibility that Gibson will lose significant touches in this offense. He already comes off the field on most third downs and in a lot of red zone situations, ceding those touches to McKissic. If Robinson takes over some early down work, where are the snaps coming from for Gibson? Gibson was primarily used as a receiver in college at Memphis, but the Commanders have already invested heavily in Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel.
The betting market originally opened with Gibson's season-long rushing prop set at over/under 1049.5 rushing yards. It seemed like a fair number for a young running back who had 1,037 yards last season while dealing with injuries to his shin, toe and calf. His team upgraded at quarterback and drafted a receiver in the first round, which should theoretically open up more running lanes.
However, as of last week, Gibson's rushing total was down to just 799.5 rushing yards. After Tuesday's less than glowing camp reports, BetMGM pulled the prop off the board. Gibson has obviously been getting heavy under money throughout the offseason and more was surely coming after he spent time with the punt blocking team and third-string offense on Tuesday.
Gibson opened with 16-to-1 odds to lead the NFL in rushing yards this season. Those odds have ballooned all the way up to 30-to-1. Maybe we'll look back at this in a few weeks and laugh when Gibson is leading the way for the Commanders on the field. However, the vibes right now are not great and the betting market has clearly taken notice.