April 22, 2024

Eric Bieniemy, Scott Turner, and the Washington Commanders never made the most of Antonio Gibson’s dual-threat abilities. If the Commanders sign Austin Ekeler from the Los Angeles Chargers in 2024 NFL free agency, new offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury will have the opportunity to fix the mistake.

Ekeler is the ideal alternative for free agent Gibson, according to Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus. Spielberger believes Ekeler and Brian Robinson Jr. may make a strong one-two punch.

The pairing may go something like this: “Robinson as the early-down bruiser and Ekeler as the late-down pass catcher who can break off chunk gains through the air and make life easier for a rookie quarterback.”

Despite Spielberger’s observation that “Robinson’s pass-catching volume increased significantly in his second season,” Ekeler is a far more capable receiver. He caught 107 passes during his greatest season of 2022.

Adding Ekeler would provide the Commanders with the versatile backfield threat they had hoped Gibson would become. A wandering playmaker with Ekeler’s abilities would be vital to whichever quarterback the Commanders pick second overall in the 2024 NFL draft.

Austin Ekeler Perfect for New-Look Commanders

 

Chargers' Jim Harbaugh Praises 'Tremendous' Austin Ekeler: 'We'd Love to  Have Him' | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors | Bleacher Report

 

Spotrac.com estimates that a company with $83,543,548 in salary cap room should not be concerned about investing much in a running back. Even yet, the position is underrated in modern football.

That assessment is insignificant because Ekeler is as close to the current running back prototype as one can get. He’s a genuine all-arounder who can grind out yards on the deck, aid with pass protection, and catch passes from a variety of positions.

Ekeler’s muscular 5-foot-10, 200-pound build allows him to mix it up between tackles. He also has deceiving speed, which he demonstrated on this touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars in last season’s playoffs.

Ekeler possesses the characteristics of a workhorse, but the Commanders would not require him to carry the load during the running game. Not after Robinson averaged four yards per attempt in both of his professional seasons.

Kingsbury should be more interested in Ekeler’s pass-catching versatility. The 28-year-old made the majority of his 51 catches in 2023 from deep in the backfield, with an average of -1.5 yards before catch per reception. Fortunately, Ekeler continued to average 10.1 yards after catch every reception, according to Pro Football Reference.

Ekeler remains aggressive in the passing game. According to Player Profiler, he averaged 20.1 routes per game, ranking seventh in the league.

What’s more astonishing is what Ekeler does once he has the ball in his possession. He’s a productive receiver after the catch, with Next Gen Stats ranking just San Francisco 49ers All-Pro Christian McCaffrey ahead of Ekeler in October.

The Commanders could not get enough of what Ekeler does as a receiver from Gibson.

Antonio Gibson a Case of What Might’ve Been for Commanders

When the Commanders chose Gibson in the third round in 2020, it appeared to be fantastic value. Gibson, a wide receiver and return specialist at East Central and Memphis, possessed all of the characteristics of a matchup nightmare for both phases of defense.

Despite the fact that the Commanders had play-callers capable of capitalizing on Gibson’s receiving abilities, things never went as planned. Turner was McCaffrey’s offensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers in 2018, when the player caught 107 passes and 116 the next year.

It was surprising that Gibson never caught more than 46 passes in a single season when Turner ran the Washington offense. Bieniemy replaced Turner in 2023, and while Gibson set a career best with 48 receptions, there was still a sense of what may have been.

That sense stemmed from Bieniemy’s experience as offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, who frequently shuffle running backs around formations to catch passes. When Bieniemy was in charge of the headset, players such as Jerick McKinnon and Dexter McCluster were extremely productive.

Gibson feels like a squandered opportunity, but the regret will be alleviated if the Commanders add a prolific and established commodity like Ekeler to their new-look attack.

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