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2021 Team Report: Washington Football Team

Last updated: Sun, Sep 5

Offensive Philosophy

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner''s first season was uninspiring. The Football Team ranked 25th in points scored (335) and 30th in yards (5,076), and the ineptitude was balanced between the passing game (25th) and the rushing attack (26th). But the coaching staff arguably gets a pass given an incalculable quarterback situation that saw four players start games: Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke, and Alex Smith. As if the quarterback situation wasn't dire enough, Turner was also installing a new system amidst the pandemic, so there's reason to expect marked improvement this year. While the overall offense sputtered, Turner deserves high marks for turning rookie Antonio Gibson from collegiate gadget player to NFL lead back and helping former college quarterback Logan Thomas emerge as an impact tight end.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Backup(s): Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen

Starting QB: Alex Smith's improbable return to the playing field was the feel-good story of the 2020 season, but the on-field metrics didn't live up to the emotional value of his return. While the team needs to figure out its long-term answer, the 2021 season will be guided by Ryan Fitzpatrick. When he steps on the field in D.C., he'll set an NFL record starting for a record ninth franchise. Fitzpatrick is an aggressive, risk-taking downfield passer who embodies the boom-or-bust mentality of bygone days. He's capable of making a jaw-dropping downfield throw to win a game and following it up with a soul-crushing interception into double coverage. At this point, you know what you're getting from Fitzpatrick.

Backup QB: Both Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke have starting experience, and re-signed for another go around. Heinicke has the clear edge for the No. 2 role after a strong preseason.

Running Backs

Starter: Antonio Gibson
Backup(s): J.D. McKissic, Jaret Patterson [R]
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Antonio Gibson only touched the ball 71 times in his final year at Memphis, so even the optimists thought his rookie year would be part of a committee. Instead, he started ten games, rushed 170 times for 795 yards, and scored 11 rushing touchdowns. Gibson's ability to score at the goal-line was a bonanza and portends further success in Year Two. Gibson is built like a wide receiver (6-foot-0, 228 pounds) but showed a surprising ability to push the ball and gain yards after initial contact. The coaches say they want Gibson to have a \"Christian McCaffrey-like\" role, which could mean massive upside that more than justifies his lofty ADP.

Backup RBs: J.D. McKissic gained 954 yards last year, outgaining his career total of 917 yards in four prior seasons. He stepped into a key role alongside Gibson and was the primary safety valve in third-down situations. McKissic caught 80 passes and was second on the team (behind Terry McLaurin) in targets. But his role isn''t assured with Curtis Samuel joining the receiving corps and potentially gobbling up the receiving opportunities in and around the line of scrimmage. Rookie free agent Jaret Patterson was dynamic for Buffalo in 2020, and despite fears about his size and durability, turned an electric preseason into a regular-season role.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel
Backups: Dyami Brown [R], Cam Sims, DeAndre Carter, Adam Humphries, Dax Milne [R]

Starting WRs: What Terry McLaurin has accomplished in two seasons is remarkable. After finishing second among rookies with 919 yards in 2019, he caught 87 receptions for 1,118 yards last season despite playing with Dwayne Haskins, Alex Smith, and Kyle Allen. McLaurin is the complete package. He runs precise routes, is aggressive at the point of attack, and can get separation against most defensive backs. It's exciting to think about what he might do in 2021 with Ryan Fitzpatrick taking shots downfield. Curtis Samuel signed a big free-agent deal to reunite with Ron Rivera and Scott Turner and start opposite McLaurin. Samuel can play both inside and out and is also a capable ball carrier. It's worth noting Samuel's best season came with Joe Brady calling plays, while his worst season came with Scott Turner at the helm.

Backup WRs: Dyami Brown is an intriguing addition and could become a starter on the outside quickly, if not in Week 1. Brown is a vertical dynamo well suited to Ryan Fitzpatrick's downfield aggressiveness, but the former UNC Tar Heel will need to refine his route-running to put up fantasy-relevant numbers. Adam Humphries earned the slot role with a solid camp; he''s sure-handed and built a quick rapport with Fitzpatrick.

Tight Ends

Starters: Logan Thomas
Backups: John Bates [R], Sammis Reyes [R], Ricky Seals-Jones

Very few players enjoy a breakout in their seventh year, but Logan Thomas defied the odds. Thomas -- a converted quarterback -- had a combined 35 receptions in his first six years. But he took to OC Turner's system and caught 72 receptions for 670 yards and six touchdowns. At 6-foot-6, 248 pounds, Thomas is nearly impossible to defend in single coverage across the middle. What Thomas lacks in refinement he makes up for in strength and tenacity. Depth is an issue beyond Thomas. International development signee Sammis Reyes is intriguing. He was an international basketball player who has just begun playing football, but he has world-class size and athleticism. Rookie fourth-rounder John Bates is a jack of all trades, master of none. But he has the frame and pedigree to become a lower-end NFL starter in time.

Place Kicker

Dustin Hopkins: The Football Team kept Hopkins with a one-year, $2.46 million dollar deal this offseason. He actually had his second-highest field goal attempt and make numbers of his career, but his lowest field goal accuracy rate, falling below 80 percent for the first time in his career (27-of-34). He is outside of the range of draftable kickers, but fine bye/injury material with the addition of Ryan Fitzpatrick to soup up the offense, which also makes Hopkins a candidate to break into the top 12 kickers like he did back in 2016.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jaret Patterson

Undrafted rookie Jaret Patterson outlasted his more experienced competitors to secure the kickoff return role, as well as the No. 3 spot on the running back depth chart. Patterson is a dynamic open-field runner with enough speed to flourish as an NFL returner.

Punt Returners: DeAndre Carter, Dax Milne [R]

DeAndre Carter has some experience as a returner, but could give way to rookie Milne early in the season.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Charles Leno, LG Wes Schweitzer, C Chase Roullier, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Sam Cosmi [R]
Key Backups: G Ereck Flowers, OT Cornelius Lucas, OL Saahdiq Charles, C Tyler Larsen

Washington is meaningfully shuffling the line with two new tackles. Veteran free agent Charles Leno will man the left side while rookie Sam Cosmi handles the right. Cosmi had a rocky preseason start but rounded into form in August. Wes Schweitzer and Ereck Flowers have battled snap for snap at left guard, but the good news is both look like above-average players. Scherff is a proven fixture at right guard. Roullier may be the weak link, but he's far from a liability.

Team Defense

Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio enabled a remarkable makeover of the defense in their first season at the helm. They inherited the 27th-ranked unit but turned the same players into one of the league's staunchest defenses. Washington allowed just 20.6 points per game (4th), and made big plays, including 47 sacks (6th) and 23 turnovers (9th). Armed with arguably the NFL's best defensive line, this unit should keep Washington in contention in the NFC East even if the offense plays erratically.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Montez Sweat, DT Da'Ron Payne, DT Jonathan Allen, DE Chase Young
Backups: DT Matt Ioannidis, DT Tim Settle, DE David Bada, DE James Smith-Williams, DE Casey Toohill

Starting DL: Both Montez Sweat and rookie Chase Young played at elite levels last year. The edge rushers combined for 16.5 sacks and 89 tackles, and neither has reached their peaks. Young, in particular, has the potential to be a perennial All-Pro. The embarrassment of riches doesn't stop on the edge, as starting tackles Da'Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen also provide Pro Bowl-caliber impact. Even though Allen's sack total (2) fell precipitously last year, his tackle numbers (63) and quarterback hits (14) remained impressive. Payne is a more traditional run stuffer but notched 54 tackles and three sacks. There's no weak link on the line, at least until the team has to prioritize who to re-sign.

Backup DL: Matt Ioannidis is an ideal rotational tackle, and he -- like Payne and Allen -- is not limited to playing the run. He only played three games last year but combined for 16 sacks in the prior two years. Tim Settle enters his fourth season in a familiar role; he'll spell Payne and Allen in the rare instances they need a breather.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Cole Holcomb, MLB Jon Bostic, OLB Jamin Davis [R]
Backups: LB Khaleke Hudson, LB David Mayo

Starting LBs: If the team has a defensive liability, it's the linebacking corps. Last year, Cole Holcomb missed five games and failed to match his big-play propensity from a strong rookie season. Jon Bostic played 1,039 snaps and logged 118 tackles; he's reliable. Jamin Davis, a first-round linebacker out of Kentucky, will start immediately and could be the team's best linebacker before the season's over. He only started 11 games in college but has excellent instincts and reads the field well. He's adept in coverage and projects as a rare three-down player.

Backup LBs: David Mayo is the only backup with significant experience and could play over Hudson if the second-year pro struggles. Khaleke Hudson played just 5% of snaps as a rookie, and will find playing time hard to come by again in 2021 barring injuries.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB William Jackson, SS Kamren Curl, FS Landon Collins, CB Kendall Fuller
Backups: CB Benjamin St-Juste [R], CB Troy Apke, CB Deshazor Everett, DB Bobby McCain, CB Torry McTyer, CB Daryl Roberts

Starting DBs: Kendell Fuller graded out as a top-50 cornerback last year, which is a far cry from Washington's elite expectations when they acquired him last offseason. He had four interceptions, 11 passes defended, and 50 tackles. He'll be paired with William Jackson this season, who signed a 3-year, $42 million deal. Jackson was one of the best available defensive backs, having strung together four Pro-Bowl caliber years in Cincinnati. While not a ball hawk, Jackson blankets opposing receivers and can shut down No. 1 receivers more often than not. Adding him to a secondary that features Fuller and safety Landon Collins is an imposing prospect.

Backup DBs: Rookies Benjamin St-Juste showed well in his first NFL preseason and earned a role. Veterans Apke and Everett have seemingly been on the bubble for years, but each held out younger competitors with strong preseasons.