News & Analysis

2020 NFL Team Preview Series: Washington Football Team

It’s a transitional time in Washington. There are set to be new (or relatively new) elements everywhere you look, from a new coach to a second-year quarterback to an entirely new team name. On paper, it looks as though it will be an uphill battle for the team in 2020, as the offensive side of the ball and the back seven of the defense are both filled with massive question marks. However, first-round pick Chase Young will add some star power, and the defensive line looks primed to be one of the league’s best for years to come.

This season will be all about figuring out what they have in quarterback Dwayne Haskins while looking to next season to find the requisite playmakers and offensive line help to put around him.

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ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS

Additions/players brought back:

G Brandon Scherff (franchise tag)
CB Kendall Fuller (signed for four years, $40 million)
LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (signed for one year, $3.45 million)
LB Thomas Davis (signed)
S Sean Davis (signed for one year, $5 million)
RB J.D. McKissic (signed for two years)
G Wes Schweitzer (signed for three years, $13.5 million)

Losses:

QB Case Keenum
G Ereck Flowers
CB Josh Norman (cut)
CB Quinton Dunbar (via trade)

QUARTERBACK

Nov 3, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins (7) walks to the sidelines against the Buffalo Bills during the second quarter at New Era Field. Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s what I said about Dwayne Haskins after the 2019 season:

Haskins had his ups and downs as a rookie, making plays outside of structure but also struggling in key situations from the pocket. He did a nice job of taking care of the ball, ranking among the league leaders in avoiding turnover-worthy plays, and he was on the wrong end of some bad luck on multiple interceptions. Haskins must improve pocket presence, though, as he took too many sacks — many of which could have been avoided. While he performed better than expected on plays outside the pocket, Haskins will take the next step when he cleans up his work in more classic dropback situations. Overall, he missed a high percentage of throws while inviting pressure more than you’d like to see. He must get back to the efficient short and intermediate thrower that he showcased at Ohio State.

While Haskins did well to take care of the ball as a rookie, 2020 will be a crucial year in his development. He must show the same short and intermediate accuracy that made him a first-round pick last season.

The new coaching staff will be eager for him to play a tick faster, and they'll no doubt be looking to find another playmaker for Haskins to trust outside of his former college teammate and future star, wide receiver Terry McLaurin. Haskins had the second-highest percentage of negatively graded throws last season, so Washington fans will certainly want to see that number cut down in Year 2.

RUNNING BACK

The situation at running back will be determined by how much Adrian Peterson has left at age 35. He carried a heavy workload last season, totaling 211 carries and earning a 69.7 rushing grade to go along with a 4.3 yards per carry average. He’s still an effective runner, but he's not the same dynamic big-play threat that he was earlier in his career.

Former second-rounder Derrius Guice showed the flashes that made him a home-run threat coming out of LSU, as he averaged 5.8 yards per carry on his 42 rushes. He’s battled injuries in his first two years in the league, but he should steal more touches if he's healthy in 2020.

The wild card is third-round pick Antonio Gibson, a running back/wide receiver hybrid who could become one of the team’s best playmakers. Gibson averaged a ridiculous 11.2 yards per carry and 19.3 yards per reception in his hybrid role at Memphis last year, and Washington will do everything they can to get his 4.39 speed on the field.

While Peterson remains solid, Washington’s running back situation has big-play potential because of Guice and Gibson.

WIDE RECEIVER

Oct 24, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

In a year of outstanding rookie wide receiver performances, it was Terry McLaurin who posted the top receiving grade (86.5), which was good for seventh-best in the league. McLaurin combined slick route running with big-play ability, adding up to 15.8 yards per reception and a passer rating of 118.3 when targeted.

McLaurin’s emergence as a third-round pick gives Washington plenty of hope, but they still have work to do to build around him. No other receiver graded higher than 65.0, with Steven Sims leading the way at 64.4. An undrafted free agent, Sims showed well in the slot, where he picked up 165 of his 310 yards.

Yet another rookie, sixth-rounder Kelvin Harmon, ranked second among the team’s receivers with 365 yards to go with a 64.6 receiving grade. Trey Quinn has shown flashes as a slot receiver, though he’s graded in the 50s in his two NFL seasons.

Veteran Cody Latimer joins the team after a career-high 300 yards last year with the Giants, but you should also keep an eye on fourth-round pick Antonio Gandy-Golden, who has a 6-foot-4 frame and the catch radius to produce immediately after an impressive 89.4 receiving grade last season at Liberty. Emanuel Hall is the other name to watch, as he ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3, but he’s a project who is yet to play an NFL snap.

The full story is McLaurin and numerous question marks, so while Washington has an excellent starting point for their receiving corps, the team needs at least two players to develop to rank above the worst units in the league.

TIGHT END

Washington is going with a see-what-sticks approach at tight end, as there are several options who could see significant playing time. Jeremy Sprinkle led the unit with 241 yards last season, though his 49.8 overall grade ranked fourth-worst among tight ends. Richard Rodgers comes over from two years with the Eagles, where he caught just one pass. He has just one year with a grade above 70.0 in his career, and it came in 2015.

Logan Thomas joins his fifth team and has yet to grade above 64.0 overall since transitioning from quarterback to tight end. Marcus Baugh and Caleb Wilson will also compete for snaps, though neither has played a regular-season snap in the NFL.

Unless Sprinkle or one of the youngsters develops, this is one of the worst tight end units in the league.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Washington got solid play across the line last season, finishing 13th in our final rankings. With Trent Williams absent, the team signed veteran Donald Penn in a move that paid off relatively well. Penn finished the campaign with a 64.2 overall grade that ranked 50th among players at the position.

This season, it will be a battle between veteran swing tackle Cornelius Lucas and third-round rookie Saahdiq Charles. Lucas is a 6-foot-9 monster who has graded above the league average on 999 career pass-blocking snaps, though his size makes it a challenge to play low in the run game or get to the second level. Charles, meanwhile, may not be ready to play right away, as he never graded above 70.0 overall in college, and he gave up over 20 pressures in each of the last three years. The one other name to throw in the mix is 2018 third-rounder Geron Christian Sr., who has only played 189 snaps in his career and notably earned a 63.0 grade in limited time last season.

At right tackle, Morgan Moses has been a viable starter, though his highest-graded years came in 2015 and 2016. Last season, however, his 65.2 overall grade ranked 43rd among tackles.

On the inside, Wes Schweitzer comes over from Atlanta to compete at left guard, though he’s coming off a career-low 56.4 overall grade. Right guard Brandon Scherff is the best lineman on the team, and he’s in the last year of his rookie contract. Scherff had the 11th-best overall grade among guards last season, at 75.0 overall, a number that is right in line with the rest of his career.

At center, Chase Roullier also enters the final year of his rookie deal, and he experienced the classic Year 3 spike last season. Roullier posted career highs in overall grade (69.3) and run-blocking grade (65.4), and he finished with the No. 15 grade among centers.

For Washington to rank in the top 15 once again, they need someone to emerge at left tackle to go with a return to form for both Schweitzer and Moses.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Oct 26, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Chase Young (2) lines up during the third quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Young will be the most intriguing player to watch on Washington’s front line. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft may be the best pass-rusher to come into the NFL in a decade, and we have seen some excellent ones arrive over that time. He was able to statistically separate himself from players like the Bosa brothers and Myles Garrett during their college careers and could be a transcendent player for a defensive front that has had a lot of good players recently but, perhaps, lacked true star power. Young gives the team five former first-round picks along the defensive line, each of whom has shown flashes.

Ryan Kerrigan has been consistently excellent for Washington, but he posted the lowest pressure total (37) and PFF grade (63.1) of his career in 2019, and at 32 years old by the time the season starts, he may have his best days behind him. Montez Sweat will have a chance to take a step forward and potentially supplant Kerrigan, along with Young, if he can improve on his rookie performance.

Inside, the former Alabama pairing of Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen should be a pair to be reckoned with, but they were actually outdone in terms of snaps by Matt Ioannidis, who had the best pass-rushing grade (76.6) of the unit. Ioannidis led the team in total pressures (55) and will look to maintain his role despite being surrounded by first-rounders. Ryan Anderson, another one of the few non-first-rounders on Washington's line, saw more snaps in 2019 than he saw in his previous two seasons combined, but he may be the first to lose playing time with Chase Young's arrival.

LINEBACKER

There are numerous options for Washington at linebacker this season, starting with the addition of veteran Thomas Davis Sr. Once one of the best all-around linebackers in the game, Davis has slowed down in recent years, posting grades in the 60s in three of his last four years. At his best, Davis was one of the rangiest linebackers in the league, peaking with three elite coverage grades from 2013 to 2015 with the Panthers. He’s also a viable blitz threat, but he was used in that capacity just 19 times last season after regularly being sent after the quarterback at certain points with the Panthers. Davis is still effective enough to contribute, especially on a lesser team, but he may best be used as a versatile blitz/coverage option in sub-packages.

The player we’d really like to see more of is Shaun Dion Hamilton, a 2018 sixth-round pick who earned an impressive 74.9 overall grade last year on just 387 snaps. He has battled injuries and been limited to just 994 snaps over the last three years, including college, but Dion Hamilton has always performed well when on the field.

Last season saw rookie fifth-rounder Cole Holcomb play 718 snaps, and he earned a solid 71.3 run-defense grade though his 43.4 coverage grade ranked just 86th in the league. Jon Bostic also returns after a career-high 1,031 snaps, but he has just one season grade above 60.0 in his six years.

The wild cards are Reuben Foster and Kevin Pierre-Louis. Foster is a former first-rounder who looked like a future star after his rookie season in 2017, but off-field issues, poor play and a season-ending injury last season have all derailed his career. If Foster returns to 2017 form, however, he’s a three-down, impact linebacker. Pierre-Louis, on the other hand, has played just 779 snaps in his five years in the league, though he recorded a 90.5 grade last year in what was an excellent stint for the Bears.

Washington has several options to choose from, and that gives them a wide range of outcomes when it comes to the quality of this unit in 2020.

SECONDARY

Quinton Dunbar was by far the highest-graded player in Washington’s secondary in 2019, as the former UDFA finished his breakout season with a PFF grade of 87.6, third-best among qualifying cornerbacks. However, he was not a great fit for new coach Ron Rivera’s defense and was shipped off to Seattle in exchange for a mid-round pick.

So, with Dunbar out of town, Kendall Fuller returns to the team he began his career with after an ugly stint with the Chiefs, albeit a stint that earned him a Super Bowl ring. Fuller was the best slot corner in the league for a period, but he wasn't quite the same force when he was asked to play outside. Fuller will likely be expected to start because the alternative options include Fabian Moreau, Aaron Colvin and Jimmy Moreland.

Ronald Darby also has a chance to resurrect his career after a sharp decline in Philadelphia. Darby has the talent to be a high-end corner, but that play is getting further and further away in the rearview mirror. Also in the mix is third-year cornerback Greg Stroman, who could be a sneaky dark horse for playing time, too. Stroman played just two snaps in 2019, but his rookie year saw him play well across almost 400 snaps.

At safety, Landon Collins has yet to recapture the form that made him a Defensive Player of the Year candidate with the Giants, but he is, at worst, a solid starter. With Montae Nicholson still unsigned, Troy Apke will have to fight off Sean Davis and Jeremy Reaves for the other safety spot. Apke and Reaves both saw snaps last season, and both were solid, though Apke earned the higher PFF grade.

DEVELOPMENT NEEDED: MONTEZ SWEAT

While all eyes will be on Chase Young this season, Sweat was the side's first-rounder in 2019, and his 60.2 overall grade ranked just 11th among rookie edge defenders. Don’t be fooled by the eight sacks, as Sweat ranked fifth among the rookies with 341 pass rushes, yet he only picked up 32 pressures, good for a 58.8 pass-rush grade.

Sweat was better against the run than he was rushing the passer as a rookie, the same profile he showed coming out of Mississippi State. If Washington is going to compete to have the best defensive line in the league in the coming years, they need Sweat to live up to his first-round potential.

DRAFT CLASS REVIEW

Chase Young is the star of the class, but several boom-or-bust prospects rounded out the rest of their draft. Antonio Gibson could be a mismatch weapon if deployed properly while fourth-round wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden was good value in that range, as his size and high-end play give him starting potential. Offensive tackle Saahdiq Charles fills a need at tackle, though he has some developing to do if he's to play right away.

Washington fans will be happy if Young is as good as advertised, but they need the rest of the class to perform well in order to accelerate the team's rebuild.

BEST BET

As discussed at length in a previous article, one of the best boards still on the board is the Washington over 5 win total.

This bet boils down to the ability of QB Dwayne Haskins, who flashed promise in his rookie season, maintaining a high aDot while also minimizing mistakes. With a significant amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball, too, one of the most comfortable overs to bet is that of Washington, a team that appears to be mispriced given the ability on this roster.

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