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2020 Team Report: Washington Football Team

Last updated: Sun, Sep 6

Offensive Philosophy

Washington enters 2020 with more offensive questions than any team in the league. The team finished dead last (32nd) in points scored and 31st in yards gained, and yet returns the majority of the same offensive cast. New head coach Ron Rivera is putting a lot of faith in inexperienced coordinator Scott Turner, who presumably will try to modernize his father Norv's run-heavy scheme. With questions at quarterback, running back, tight end, offensive line, and -- to a lesser extent -- receiver, this could be a year of assessing in-house talent to figure out how to best invest for 2021 and beyond.


Starter: Dwayne Haskins
Backup(s): Kyle Allen, Alex Smith

Starting QB: Dwayne Haskins was living the dream. His hometown team drafted him to be the new face of the franchise; he could return home and re-establish the storied franchise's offensive identity. Unfortunately, things didn't go according to plan as he was forced into the starting lineup sooner than ideal. Haskins struggled executing Jay Gruden's system. Haskins was inaccurate; his 58.6% completion rate ranked 40th among qualifying quarterbacks. With no material changes to his projected starting receiving group, the hope is new offensive coordinator Scott Turner can rebuild Haskins' confidence by crafting a playbook that better fits his strengths.

Backup QB: Alex Smith would still be captaining the offense were it not for a gruesome leg injury suffered two seasons ago. After 17 surgeries, Smith is far enough along in his rehab that he expects to play again; a major triumph. Whether he has a future in Washington is less certain, but he's under contract through 2022. He has been cleared for football activities and might even challenge to start. The team raised eyebrows when it traded for Kyle Allen. Allen started most of the 2019 season in Carolina after Cam Newton's injury, and now follows his former head coach and play-caller to D.C. He could see the field if Haskins fails to raise his game.

Running Backs

Starter: Antonio Gibson [R], Bryce Love
Backup(s): Peyton Barber, J.D. McKissic

Starting RB: Derrius Guice's unceremonious release in early August threw the Washington backfield into disarray. Guice was no sure thing given back-to-back season-ending injuries, but he was unquestionably the most talented option heading into training camp. But then things got really crazy when Adrian Peterson was released at 53-man roster cutdowns. Now the team has to cobble together a committee of unproven young players. But with a new coaching staff with a relatively long leash, in a rebuilding year, it makes more sense to see what the team has in Bryce Love and rookie Antonio Gibson. Many believe the Gibson -- the former Memphis Tiger -- could step into the role and provide a three-down threat that Washington hasn't had in many years. While Gibson's upside is vast, it's entirely predicated on projecting things we didn't see him do in college. He sat behind fellow NFL running backs Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard for in 2018 and was mainly a special teamer, but took over last year in a dynamic role. Unfortunately, he only touched the ball 71 times -- which was two games worth of carries for Bryce Love at Stanford. Gibson only ran the ball 33 times for 369 yards and four touchdowns, but he caught 38 receptions for 735 yards (19.3 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns. Anyone that scores twelve touchdowns in 71 touches is going to have NFL talent evaluators salivating at the untapped potential. Coming into the draft, it was unclear whether Washington drafted Gibson as a wide receiver or running back, but it's now evident he'll principally play tailback.

Backup RBs: If not Gibson then what about Love? Bryce Love was a workhorse at Stanford University running for 2,118 yards as a junior and winning the Doak Walker Award as college's best running back. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in the team's season finale against rival Cal. The late season injury dropped him down draft boards and Washington selected him in the fourth round. He effectively red-shirted last year as a rookie. He had a follow-up surgery in October, but was given a clean bill of health a week before the start of camp, and was a full camp participant. J.D. McKissic will also play the classic third-down, passing-down specialist role when appropriate.


Wide Receivers

Starters: Terry McLaurin, Dontrelle Inman, Steven Sims
Backups: Cody Latimer, Antonio Gandy-Golden [R], Emmanuel Hall,

Starting WRs: Terry McLaurin has a remarkable rookie season. The third-round pick finished second among NFL rookies with 919 yards, and caught 58 receptions and 7 touchdowns. Those numbers portend greatness, under normal circumstances, but are all the most impressive considering how moribund Washington's offense was otherwise. McLaurin quickly emerged as the team's go-to receiver, and continued to produce late in the season in spite of being matched up against opposing defense's top cornerbacks. Kelvin Harmon was penciled in opposite McLaurin, but tore his ACL before camp opened. Free agent Dontrelle Inman is getting the first shot at the job, but he'll be pushed during the season by rookie Antonio Gandy-Golden.

Backup WRs: Trey Quinn was initially projected as the starting slot receiver, but the new coaches appear unimpressed with the veteran's paltry 7.6 yards per reception last year. Rookie Antonio Gandy-Golden has a physical profile unlike anyone else on the roster. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Gandy- Golden can be a dominant downfield receiver even against physical defensive backs. The remaining spots on the depth chart will come down to the best special teams contributors, with Latimer possibly due to be released after an offseason run-in with the law.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jeremy Sprinkle
Backups: Richard Rodgers, Logan Thomas, Hale Hentges, Thaddeus Moss [R]

The tight end group accounted for just 44 receptions, 467 yards, and three touchdowns last year, so moving on from veterans Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis isn't really the hurdle some might believe. Jeremy Sprinkle has the opportunity thrive in a full-time role entering his fourth year. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder has above average athleticism, but hasn't shown an ability to make plays downfield yet. Veteran free agent Richard Rodgers is the most experienced on the roster, but he's never been a regular contributor for his prior teams. Undrafted rooked Thaddeus Moss has long-term potential, but will need this year to get healthy.

Place Kicker

Dustin Hopkins: Hopkins returns for another season as a steady kicker in an uninspiring offense. He made 25 of 30 field goals attempts last year, although two of the misses were from under 40 and one under 30 yards. 21 of 22 extra points is more than acceptable, but this again underscores the low wattage of this offense. Hopkins is a bottom of the barrel option, but he is safe to draft in deep best ball leagues.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Steven Sims

Washington has had one of the worst return units in the league for years, which made the out-of-nowhere performance of Steven Sims on kickoff returns last year all the more surprising. Given his performance in 2019, Sims is the strong favorite to lead the team again in 2020. Should sims falter, new addition Cody Latimer has six years of kickoff return experience.

Punt Returners: Steven Sims

Washington has had one of the worst return units in the league for years, and punt returner Trey Quinn had more of a season to forget in 2019, averaging just 4.9 yards per return. Steven Sims was sensational on kickoffs but limited on punt returns, but newcomer J.D. McKissic is experienced at returning both punts and kickoffs.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Geron Christian, LG Wes Schweitzer, C Chase Roullier, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses
Key Backups: OL Wes Martin, OL Saahdiq Charles [R], C/G Keith Ismael [R], OT Cornelius Lucas, OL Jeremy Vujnovich

This line will have two new starters as left tackle Geron Christian III will take over for Donald Penn and left guard Wes Schweitzer was signed from Atlanta to replace Ereck Flowers. The team invested a fourth-round pick in tackle Saahdiq Charles from LSU and a fifth-round pick in Keith Ismael from San Diego State. Charles should compete at left tackle with Christian while Ismael will backup Chase Roullier at center.

Team Defense

The Washington defense was barely keeping them in games in 2019, with 46 sacks and 22 takeaways, but the 27th ranked group in yards and points allowed. Ron Rivera was and Jack Del Rio are moving to a 4-3 defense that features five first-round picks on the defensive line, including No. 2 overall pick Chase Young. The rest of the defense is a big question mark with a lack of experience at many spots. They will depend on Thomas Davis to anchor the linebacker group, and the return of Kendall Fuller to help a cornerback group that lost Quinton Dunbar in a trade to Seattle for a fifth-round pick. If the offense can improve in Dwayne Haskins second year, they could be much more competitive, but making major changes in a year with limited to no offseason might get them off to a slow start. They are available in the second half of drafts and Washington should be considered a decent sleeper third defense pick in best ball and matchup play in redraft against weak offensive lines with the best defensive line room this side of San Francisco.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Montez Sweat, DT Da'Ron Payne, DT Jonathan Allen, DE Chase Young [R]
Backups: DE Ryan Kerrigan, DE Jordan Bradford, DT Tim Settle, DT Matt Ioannidis, DE Ryan Anderson, DT Treyvon Hester

Starting DL: Is it hyperbole to say Washington has the best defensive line in the NFL? Based on what we've seen in recent years, probably. But based on the talent and a transition to a 4-3 front that better suits the personnel, it shouldn't surprise anyone if the line is a disruptive force in 2020 and for years to come. No. 2 overall pick Chase Young steps into the lineup as an instant impact pass rusher, and second-year Montez Sweat gets to play with his hand on the ground after being miscast as an outside linebacker last year. Da'Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen are two of the best interior defenders in Nick Saban's storied history, and can both play 3- and 5-technique as needed.

Backup DL: Ryan Kerrigan should also thrive as a 4-3 end, but will become more of a part-time player with Young in the lineup. Kerrigan has 90 career sacks and is a natural pass rusher; he's just been unfairly asked to cover as an outside linebacker for too many years. Matt Ioannidis is an ideal rotational tackle, and he -- like Payne and Allen -- is not limited to playing the run; Ioannidis has 8.5 sacks last year. Tim Settle and Ryan Anderson are veteran contributors, and should be fine if forced into the occasional spot start.


Starters: OLB Cole Holcomb, MLB Thomas Davis, OLB Kevin Pierre-Louis
Backups: OLB Khaleke Hudson [R], OLB Josh Harvey-Clemons (opt out), ILB Jon Bostic, OLB Nate Orchard, OLB Shaun Dion Hamilton, ILB Reuben Foster, OLB Jared Norris

Starting LBs: While the defensive line is the envy of the NFL, the linebacking corps is uninspiring and worrisome. Cole Holcomb acquitted himself as a rookie, racking up 105 tackles. But he's a "see it, hit it" player and isn't disruptive, nor can he cover. With the 4-3 transition, the linebackers are going to have to be able to cover in today's pass-happy NFL, which could limit Holcomb's snap count. Thomas Davis is 37 years old and heading into his 16th season, yet projects as the team's best linebacker. After fourteen seasons in Carolina, Davis spent one season with the Chargers before signing with Washington. He started all sixteen games for Los Angeles and made 112 tackles. Unfortunately, Davis isn't very good in coverage anymore, thanks to a lot of years and multiple knee surgeries. Which leaves Kevin Pierre-Louis as the only starter who might be an asset in coverage. Pierre-Louis has bounced around; Washington will be his fifth team in seven seasons. He grades well in coverage, but has only started four games in six years.

Backup LBs: It's a motley crew of backups, save for Jon Bostic who is a sure-tackler and effective against the run when plays are funneled to him. Bostic may start at the MIKE and Thomas may move outside, but that leaves will put the defensive backs under intense pressure to handle intermediate and deep zones. Reuben Foster has the talent to start over most of the roster, but his health and off-the-field issues make it impossible to count on him until he officially earns the role.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Fabian Moreau, SS Landon Collins, FS Sean Davis, CB Kendall Fuller, NB Jimmy Moreland
Backups: CB Ron Darby, S Jeremy Reeves, S Deshazor Everett, CB Greg Stroman, S Troy Apke

Starting DBs: Kendall Fuller was the prized piece in the Alex Smith trade with Kansas City two years ago, but now he's back in Washington. The headline contract terms -- 4-years, $40 million -- point to Fuller being a key piece of Ron Rivera's rebuilding contract, but the team can get out of the deal next offseason. It's really a one-year, $13.5 million contract for Fuller to prove himself after a terrible 2019. Fuller got hurt mid-season with the Chiefs, and a pair of young corners outplayed him in his stead. Fabian Moreau is technically slated for the No. 2 role but that's only out of deference to his incumbency. Moreau has been a below-average player in all facets for three seasons, and free agent Ronald Darby should win this job in training camp. Landon Collins' first year in Washington was statistically in line with his Giants days; he had 117 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles and 4 passes defensed. But he wa inconsistent in coverage and needs to play at an All Pro level to justify his contract. Sean Davis comes over from Pittsburgh and will be given every opportunity to start at free safety.

Backup DBs: Ronald Darby was supposed to be the shutdown corner Philadelphia needed a few years ago, but it never happened. He only appeared in 28 games over three seasons and wore out his welcome. Now he'll try to reinvigorate his career under Ron Rivera's watch; Rivera and his coaching staff were exceptional at getting the most out of their corners in Carolina. The rest of the backups are league-average contributors, at best.