Which non-McLaurin skill player steps up most for Commanders?


With training camp just around the corner, NBC Sports Washington's Pete Hailey and Ethan Cadeaux will come up with, and then respond to, some burning questions facing the 2022 Washington Commanders.

Next up: Not including Terry McLaurin, which Commanders skill player will step up most in 2022?

Pete's Take: 

I'm an Antonio Gibson truther through and through. At this point, I probably need a bumper sticker for my not-as-cool-as-I-wish-it-was car or should start a subreddit to discuss his exploits.

Where many see a talented running back with strengths (he's logged double-digit touchdowns in his first two seasons and is hard to bring down both in traffic and in space) but also major weaknesses (he developed a troubling fumbling issue in 2021 and is often criticized for leaving yards on the table), I see a guy who's seriously-talented and has the potential to explode.

He just needs to be given the chance to do so.

So, when J.D. McKissic kind of became a Bill but then officially re-became a Commander, I was mostly encouraged because McKissic is a baller in his own right. However, a part of myself was disheartened, because McKissic eats into Gibson's workload a good amount and, without him, Gibson would've been ready to take off.

Then, when Washington drafted Brian Robinson Jr. a couple of months ago, I was once again understanding — he'll provide the backfield with a pure and punishing runner — yet was also, again, a tad unnerved. Robinson Jr. will be given reps in his own right, which could further limit Gibson's ceiling.

That said, Gibson is still my choice for the non-McLaurin skill guy who'll be the most useful and productive in 2022.

Even with Carson Wentz in the huddle to go along with McLaurin and the club's many attractive pass catchers, coordinator Scott Turner is going to look the run the ball as much as he can. Turner is mega-fond of play action, but play action is useless if defenses don't respect the threat of the handoff.

And while McKissic and Robinson Jr. will have their roles, Gibson has the most upside and should at last be truly comfortable at the position. For the first two seasons in the NFL, he was identified as a former wideout who transitioned to running back. Now, he can't lean on that; he's a damn running back.

"I took everything that I learned... and it clicked," Gibson said following 2021's finale in New York, where he turned 21 carries into 146 yards and a score.

I expect there to be much more clicking for him in the near future, and for his vast skills to undeniably emerge in his third pro campaign.

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Ethan's Take:

Like Pete, I'm a big fan of Antonio Gibson's ceiling. As I explained when breaking down the running back room last week, Gibson has the highest upside of all in Washington's backfield and this has to be the year he puts it together.

That being said, I'm going to go in a different direction for my non-Terry McLaurin skill player who will step up the most for the Commanders in 2022. I've been drinking the Jahan Dotson Kool-Aid all spring and there's no reason to put that beverage down now.

Dotson had the best overall performance of any offensive skill player during OTAs and minicamp. I don't think it was particularly close, either. With McLaurin absent, the rookie quickly established a promising connection with Carson Wentz, as the Commanders' new signal-caller looked Dotson's way often. Many times, those passes ended as completions.

Wentz was quick to praise Dotson throughout the offseason program, too, even saying the rookie “catches the football as natural as anybody I’ve been around." That's a big compliment, especially from a seven-year NFL veteran.

And yes, while Washington should be applauded for extending McLaurin, those lost reps during the offseason program with Wentz do matter. Dotson, on the other hand, caught a bevy of passes from Wentz during those five weeks. Now, the two enter training camp with a good understanding of each other's strengths. With McLaurin, that's something Wentz will still have to learn.

Over the past three seasons, getting McLaurin some help on the outside has been a constant topic of conversation. Washington attempted to do so last spring by signing Curtis Samuel, but injuries have prevented him from really making an impact thus far. In Dotson, the early returns have been almost exclusively positive. If the offseason program is any indication, the rookie should have a big role in the Commanders' offense immediately.

Dotson has yet to play an NFL down, so there naturally should and will be some growing pains. But over the past few years, we've seen many rookie wide receivers come in and shine — Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and Odell Beckham Jr. are just a few recent examples. Even McLaurin was fantastic as a rookie — he came just nine yards short of breaking the franchise's rookie receiving yards record.

So, it's not out of line to expect a big rookie campaign from Dotson. The reality is Washington needs more production from its non-McLaurin wideouts and Dotson should be the main guy expected to step up. His performance during OTAs and minicamp suggest he's ready for the challenge.

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