Connect with us

NFL

Lions RB coach wants to see Jahmyr Gibbs take the next step as a pass-catcher, do more in the slot

USATSI

When the Detroit Lions made running back Jahmyr Gibbs the No. 12 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, there were a lot of questions about positional value. The Lions insisted that Gibbs was not merely a running back, but instead an offensive weapon, and that his skill set and ability to contribute in all aspects of the game justified selecting him higher than running backs had come off the board in recent years.ย 

Gibbs then had a really good rookie season. He ran for 945 yards and 10 scores, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He also caught 52 passes for 316 yards and another score. He made the Pro Bowl and finished fourth in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. All of that worked out great. But Detroit’s plan to make him an “offensive weapon” who lined up all over the place didn’t exactly come to fruition. He did almost all of that work out of the backfield.ย 

Here’s what we wrote last offseason, when both the Lions and Falcons employed the “offensive weapon” rationale:

Anyway, the idea is that [Bijan] Robinson and Gibbs are so versatile and so explosive that you don’t have to just play them in the backfield and hand them the ball. You can throw them the ball, and you can line them up anywhere — including in the slot or even out wide. The issue there is, well, that is just not really a thing that happens …

Since 2017, justย threeย times has a running back lined up in the slot or out wide for at least 10 snaps per game: Christian McCaffrey in 2017, Tarik Cohen in 2019 and J.D. McKissic in 2020. That’s it. Cohen and McKissic were part-time players whose roles were near-exclusively about receiving, while that 2017 McCaffrey season was his rookie year, before he became Carolina’s full-time starter at running back. Even last season, with McCaffrey playing under position-less football aficionado Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, he totaled just 108 slot or wide snaps in 17 games (6.4 per game), and that figure led all running backs league-wide …ย 

It’s entirely possible — perhaps even likely — that Robinson and/or Gibbs become very good players. Maybe they even wind up All-Pros, or among the best running backs of all time. The might even contribute at a high level, or merely be useful pieces in the passing game. It’s just highly unlikely that they will be the all-purpose weapons that line up all over the place that their teams apparently envision, unless their offensive coordinators are about to revolutionize the way NFL offense is played.

Then this exact scenario played out in 2023. Gibbs played 91 snaps in the slot or out wide last season, according to TruMedia. In his 15 games played, that’s an average of almost exactly six per game. It’s less than the number he played at Alabama (7.5 per game) and less than what McCaffrey did under Shanahan. (Robinson, for what it’s worth, actually did get to pretty much exactly 10 snaps per game in the slot or out wide.)

Even if you want to say that the volume was limited by his splitting snaps with David Montgomery, the rate at which he was used somewhere other than the backfield isn’t all that much higher: Among the 340 instances of a running back running at least 150 routes in a season since 2017, Gibbs’ slot rate (8.2%) ranked 59th and his share of snaps lined up out wide (7.7%) ranked 81st.ย 

Now, though, running backs coach Scottie Montgomery wants Gibbs to scale up his passing game usage, including moving into the slot more often.ย 

“What we need him to do from a passing game standpoint is go to that next level,” Montgomery said,ย via The Detroit Free Press. “I do think there’s a certain difference between route running from the backfield and being a really, really sufficient and efficient check-down runner versus what it is to be a great route runner, a guy that can run all types of choice (routes). We know we’ve seen him do those things, but now can you go into the slot and do a little bit more down the field? Some intermediate stuff, can we continue to grow him there? And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Montgomery thinks Gibbs has it in him to do just that, and that he can continue to be an X factor for Detroit’s offense.ย 

“The tape says it,” Montgomery said. “It’s all over the tape. I think that when you have guys that are super talented, that going from good to great is probably the hardest thing you have to do. And what we’re doing, a lot of people think about when you get to that level, ‘Man, I’ve done a good job.’ But right now they all feel like, ‘Man, we weren’t good enough,’ and that’s the way that we’re going to fight complacency but it’s also the way that we’re going to take the next step and that is what we expect. We do need to see another step.”

Gibbs should again be one of the top weapons for the Lions, alongside Montgomery, Amon-Ra St. Brownย and Sam LaPorta. It’s clear that he’s a good running back, and he’s running behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. He should continue contributing in the running game, as well as catching passes out of the backfield. Whether he fulfills the “offensive weapon” vision is another matter. Again, the Lions would have to dramatically scale up his usage in other alignments in order to make that a reality, and that’s just not something we have seen teams do very often, if ever.ย 

Go to Source
Author: Jared Dubin
June 4, 2024 | 10:10 am

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

More in NFL