It’s Terry McLaurin’s hustle. Antonio Gibson’s wave.
Week after week, the Washington Football Team’s third-round draft selections make a difference on the field. In Washington’s convincing 41-16 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, McLaurin and Gibson set the tone.
McLaurin recorded a team-leading seven receptions for 92 yards. But his most memorable play was not on the offensive side of the ball. When Jaylon Smith intercepted Alex Smith’s pass intended for McLaurin at 4:21 in the third quarter, McLaurin chased Jaylon Smith down. Refusing to give up on the play, McLaurin hustled and managed to tackle Jaylon Smith at the Washington 4-yard line – a play that saved Washington four points and has been compared to DK Metcalf’s chase-down of Budda Baker in Week 7.
Meanwhile, Gibson rushed for 115 yards and three touchdowns in the game. He became the first rookie to score three touchdowns in a matchup on Thanksgiving since Randy Moss in 1998. In addition to his strong performance, the Memphis product demonstrated his swagger. After out-running Donovan Wilson for his second touchdown of the game, Gibson looked back and waved.
“I do like the fact that our young guys have played a lot,” coach Ron Rivera said. “Because guys that are in their first, second, or third year playing as much as they have been, it makes things not that big. First, second, and third year players become second, third and fourth year players and that’s the plus about guys that are playing right now.”
Gibson and McLaurin make up an ever-growing and increasingly talented group of third-round draft picks on the Washington Football Team. Gibson was selected No. 66 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft and McLaurin was drafted No. 76 in the 2019 NFL Draft. In 2018, Washington selected tackle Geron Christian from Louisville. The Football Team chose cornerback Fabian Moreau in 2017 and picked cornerback Kendall Fuller in 2016 (who returned to Washington this season after two years with the Kansas City Chiefs).
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All five of these players were selected in the third round and all continue to make an impact. Together, these third-rounders have out-performed expectations and, with the exception of Christian who is on IR with a knee injury, have played a large role in Washington’ growing success over the course of the 2020 season.
Gibson’s NFL potential was uncertain coming out of the draft. Entering the league, he had just one career game in which he tallied more than six carries. In his two years at Memphis, Gibson lacked the type of experience that makes certain players NFL-ready coming out of the draft. But he always had a spark.
“When we drafted him, we saw his potential, his ability,” Rivera said. “One of the unique stats he had was that one in every nine times he touched the ball, he scored. So he’s got this skill set that really hasn’t been developed. Especially with the coaching he’s gotten, he has started to shows the signs of growth.”
Because Gibson also caught 44 passes in college, he demonstrated potential to be a dual-threat. The hope was that he could serve as another weapon alongside McLaurin.
With each passing week, Gibson has shown growth. In his first six games, 17% of Gibson’s runs went for two yards or less. In the past six games, only 8% of his runs have resulted in such gains, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Gibson is on track for 1,277 rushing-plus-receiving yards. He ranks 12th in the league with 645 yards rushing and he is third in the league behind Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry with 11 rushing touchdowns.
After Gibson’s three-touchdown performance, McLaurin called the rookie a “special” player.
“I don’t think he knows how good he can be,” McLaurin said. “He’s a very hard worker and he doesn’t say much. But just to see the way he’s matured and grown over this season, I feel like he has a really good feel for where the holes are.”
McLaurin, meanwhile, is on pace for 100 catches and 1,401 yards this season. The only Washington players to top 1,400 receiving yards are Santana Moss (1,483 in 2005) and Bobby Mitchell (1,436 in 1963). The former Buckeye was named a team captain earlier this season.
Gibson and McLaurin may be the most noticeable of the third-round picks on Washington’s roster, but they are not the only contributors.
Christian, who was placed on IR on Nov.19, had started and played every snap of the first six games of the season at left tackle. He played in 18 games and made two starts in his first two seasons in Washington.
Moreau saw less playing time in Jack Del Rio’s defense at the beginning of the season, but he has since played in 11 games with one start and two interceptions. The first came in Washington’s 27-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1. His second interception was against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 11.
In his career, the former UCLA Bruin has recorded six interceptions in 55 games played.
Moreau lines up alongside fellow third-round pick Kendall Fuller. Fuller spent the first two years of his career in Washington before being traded to the Chiefs in the deal that brought Alex Smith to Washington in 2018. Fuller is best known for recording the game-sealing interception in the Chief’s Super Bowl LIV victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
After spending two seasons in San Francisco, Fuller returned to Washington. This season, Fuller has started all nine of the games in which he has played. The Virginia Tech product has recorded four interceptions, two of which came against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2. His four interceptions are tied for third in the league overall. Fuller also has seven passes defended and 26 tackles on the season. USA Today named him one of the most underrated defensive players through the first half of the season.
The Philadelphia Eagles do not play until Monday night, but Washington sits at second place in the NFC East for now. In the final stretch of the season, the Football Team will turn to its third-round draft picks as it competes for a first-place finish.
Source: Forbes – Business