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Fantasy Football Team Preview: Washington Football Team — Breakouts, Busts and Sleepers

Nov 26, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) waves to the crowd as he and running back Antonio Gibson (24) celebrate a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There was virtually no scenario where the Washington Football Team would run back last year’s underwhelming offense after ranking 29th in PFF passing grade with Alex Smith, Kyle Allen and Dwayne Haskins at the helm. Enter journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, whose gunslinger mentality will be a welcome addition to an offense that also added dual-threat wide receiver Curtis Samuel in free agency.  

Editor's Note: PFF's 2021 Fantasy Football Draft Guide and 2021 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets are LIVE!

The quarterback change was priority No. 1 and presents an opportunity for the Washington offense to take a massive leap forward, equipped with a number of young playmakers whose fantasy potential was limited by last year's conservative offense.

2021 Team Preview 

Fitzpatrick has been nothing but a fantasy darling over the past two seasons. Through the first six weeks of 2020, before he was “benched” in favor of Tua Tagovaila, the veteran ranked 11th in expected fantasy points per game (20.6) and third in scrambling yards, an underappreciated part of his arsenal.

The year prior, Fitzpatrick finished as a top-seven fantasy quarterback in seven of his final 11 games and was the QB1 in expected fantasy points per game.

Even at 38, Fitzpatrick is a worthy late-round QB option (ADP QB20) entering Scott Turner's offense. The group showed flashes of untapped potential last season even with poor quarterback play. Washington finished eighth in plays per game, while passing the majority of the time. The team finished 11th in both overall pass play rate (64%) and passing on early downs (64%).

Still, the offense lacked explosive passing plays. No team had a worse explosive pass-play rate or lower aDOT (6.5). That’s not too surprising considering two of the three target leaders on offense were running back J.D. McKissic and tight end Logan Thomas.

This all changes with Fitzpatrick under center. Since 2019, Fitzpatrick ranks ninth in aDOT(9.1), second in air yards percentage (64%) and 40th in yards after the catch percentage (37%).

This offense will take significantly more shots downfield than in 2020, and no player benefits more than No. 1 wide receiver Terry McLaurin. His PFF receiving grade (94.7) and passer rating generated (118.8) on 20-plus yard throws rank seventh-best in the league since 2019.

Don’t be surprised when McLaurin enters the elite fantasy wide receiver conversation with a competent quarterback. What he accomplished last season — 12th in YAC/reception and sixth in expected fantasy points per game through 12 weeks (before injury) — shows that he is already one of the league’s true up-and-coming talents at the position. The former Buckeye is a locked-and-loaded top-10 fantasy WR.

The only minor concern for fantasy purposes is this team's defense potentially limiting shootouts. The WFT defense won’t give up yards and points easily, boasting PFF’s second-ranked defensive line, second-ranked linebacker unit and 11th-ranked secondary.

This is slightly problematic for the team’s passing attack, as Turner went extremely run-heavy when leading in 2020. When up by at least three points, Washington ran at the second-highest rate in the league (60%). The script flipped when the team trailed by at least three points, as the offense threw at the seventh-highest rate (68%).

Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) against Detroit Lions strong safety Duron Harmon (26) at Ford Field.
Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

That might sound intuitive — run when ahead, throw when behind — but three points shouldn’t alter an offense’s game plan so dramatically. The six teams ahead of the WFT in trailing-pass-play rate all remained above average in pass rate when the team had a lead, while the Football Team saw the biggest drop.

It makes sense that WFT dialed back the passing when protecting a lead, as the coaching staff didn't have full faith in its 2020 quarterback crew. But Turner could follow the same approach even with Fitzpatrick, who has more than his fair share of multi-interception implosion games.

That might hinder the offense from top-10 overall passing yards production, but the group will still rank closer to average than the No. 24 finish it registered a season ago. And the emphasis on the ground game should have positive effects on second-year running back Antonio Gibson.

BREAKOUTS

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