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2017 Team Report: Washington Redskins

Offensive Philosophy

Head coach Jay Gruden knew the type of offense he hoped to run when he arrived in Washington, and he spent years implementing that vision. The result was deadly in 2016, with Kirk Cousins leading a deep-passing offense that ranked 3rd in yards and 2nd in yards per play, though it struggled greatly to turn those yards into points in the red zone when the field compressed. Though the top three players in receiving yards were all wide receivers, Washington really runs its passing game through its tight ends. All of that passing and the lack of a true standout running back, however, leaves the running game playing second fiddle when the team has the ball.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Kirk Cousins
Backup(s): Colt McCoy, Nate Sudfeld

Starting QB: Kirk Cousins bet on himself last preseason and looks prescient. He completed 67% of his passes for 4,917 yards, 25 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. Cousins arguably established himself as one of the NFC's better field generals. Unfortunately, Washington and Cousins' agent couldn't agree to a long-term contract so Cousins is back playing on a one-year deal; betting on himself. That's a risky bet this year because Sean McVay left for the Rams head coaching job. With McVay's departure in combination with Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson's free agency, Cousins has a less opportune situation. He should regress this year, but if he somehow manages to match last year's production, he will have quieted his remaining critics and earned himself a monster contract with Washington or another QB-hungry team.

Backup QB: McCoy returns as Cousins backup and is one of the league's better backups. He's got starting experience, is an accurate passer, knows the system and is a locker room leader. Nate Sudfeld is in familiar territory, trying to hold off camp bodies for the 3rd quarterback spot.

Running Backs

Starter: Robert Kelley
Backup(s): Samaje Perine [R], Keith Marshall, Chris Thompson, Matt Jones, Mack Brown
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Robert Kelley wasn't a heralded rookie, but he finished the year as Washington's leading rusher. 168 carries for 704 yards (4.2 per carry) aren't ground-breaking numbers but he was unquestionably the team's best running back. Kelley's experience within the system and competent pass blocking ensure he'll have a meaningful role in 2017. What's unclear is whether he can handle a full slate of touches.

Backup RBs: Samaje Perine broke Billy Sims' all-time rushing record at Oklahoma, and could challenge Kelley for the starting role with a strong preseason. Perine (5'11", 233 lbs) is a powerful back that thrives running between the tackles and converting short yardage situations. At worst, Perine should be the goal-line back. At best, Perine can be an every down starter because he not only has the power to handle 20 carries but is an accomplished pass catcher. Keith Marshall has Olympic-caliber speed but can't stay healthy. Chris Thompson has evolved into a 3rd-down receiving threat (84 receptions over the last two seasons) and should maintain that role regardless of who gets the bulk of the carries. Matt Jones is fighting for a roster spot.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Jamison Crowder, Terrelle Pryor, Josh Doctson
Backups: Ryan Grant, Robert Davis [R], Brian Quick

Starting WRs: A year ago, most thought Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson would be looking for new teams in 2017. The two veterans were coming off disappointing seasons and Washington has used an early pick on Josh Doctson, and found a slot dynamo in Jamison Crowder. The critics were correct -- Garcon and Jackson have moved on, but not in the way we expected. Both veterans had 1,000-yard seasons and signed big free agent contracts elsewhere. Their departures no longer seem a sign of progress, but signal uncertainty. Washington signed Terrelle Pryor to a one-year deal and will give him the opportunity to be a number one receiver. Unfortunately, the converted quarterback has question marks. Pryor has a 55% catch rate and showed no ability after the catch in Cleveland (2.5 YAC/reception). The team's success comes down to Josh Doctson. Can the former TCU star shrug off a forgettable rookie season and produce at a level commensurate with the departed veterans?

Backup WRs: Jamison Crowder could catch 100+ receptions this year as a high volume, chain mover. Crowder worked his way into a prominent role through focus and a fierce after-the-catch ability. He doesn't have the speed or size to dominate against physical defensive backs, but his intelligence and rapport with Cousins allow him to find the spaces in short- and intermediate zones. Brian Quick is an experience veteran with limited upside. He'll contend with incumbent Ryan Grant for the final rotation spot.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jordan Reed
Backups: Vernon Davis, Niles Paul, Jeremy Sprinkle [R]

Jordan Reed may be the most talented tight end in the league outside of Rob Gronkowski. Unfortunately, the similarities between the two don't end there -- both have seen their careers hindered by injury. When healthy, Reed is a matchup nightmare because he has the size to dominate defensive backs but the speed and route-running prowess to dominate linebackers. When he's on the field, Reed is Kirk Cousins most dangerous weapon, particularly in the red zone. Vernon Davis resurrected his career filling in for Reed, and earned a handsome new contract in the process. Rookie Jeremy Sprinkle will attempt to dislodge Niles Paul from the final rotation spot.

Place Kicker

Dustin Hopkins: Dustin Hopkins had a great fantasy season, finishing third in points scored and well inside of the top ten in most scoring formats. It wasn't quite as promising in real NFL terms, as he missed eight of his 42 field goal attempts and three of his 39 extra point attempts. One of his misses was from only 34 yards and denied the team a chance to avoid a tie and notch a win over Cincinnati, and he missed another kick from under 40 yards. Hopkins seemed to come out of his slump by the end of the season, and Washington didn't bring in any competition in free agency or the draft. He should be considered an entrenched starter and one with a high enough demonstrated ceiling to be worth a pick in the last round of drafts despite the fantasy community not always placing him among the top ten kickers off of the board.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Chris Thompson, Will Blackmon

Thompson isn't a flashy returner, but he's a do-everything veteran with a history of chipping in where necessary on offense and special teams. Blackmon backed him up in 2016, but he's an aging defensive back whose best days on special teams came back in 2008.

Punt Returners: Jamison Crowder, Will Blackmon

2016 breakout star Jamison Crowder was a revelation in his second year with Washington, where he ranked in the top five in punt return yards and yards per return. The biggest threat to his chances of reprising his punt returner role is that he continues his growth on offense enough to make himself too indispensable to play special teams.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Trent Williams, LG Shawn Lauvao, C Spencer Long, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses
Key Backups: Arie Kouandijo, Ty Nsekhe, Vinston Painter

Washington's offensive line is led by left tackle Trent Williams. Williams is coming off his fifth career Pro Bowl appearance and continues to dominate pass rushers from that spot. Left guard Shawn Lavuao had a bounce back season last year and he is a tough customer. Right tackle Morgan Moses signed a huge deal in the offseason, making him one of the highest at his position in the league. Morgan deserved the cash as he has been very good since his selection in the third round out of Virginia. The coaches are huge fans of Spencer Long at the center spot, and Long could be moved to guard in the future if sixth round pick Chas Rouller pans out. Brandon Scherff has been decent at right guard but he has the talent to take another step forward in his third season. Ty Nsekhe is one of the league's best swing tackles and Arie Kouandijo can start at either guard spot or right tackle if needed. Overall, this offensive line is a clear top tier unit, as long as their bookend tackles stay healthy. The line as a whole will contribute positively to this offense.

Team Defense

2016 had a lot of promise for the Washington defense with the addition of shutdown corner Josh Norman, and the unit did improve. They were good enough to finish around D/ST20 in most formats and they were in the middle in most relevant stats in fantasy leagues. This year, free agency saw Chris Baker leave and Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain arrive to help offset his absence. Washington saw strong interior pass rusher Jonathan Allen fall to them in the mid-first to bolster the group even further. The team has a good set of edge rushers in Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith, and second-round pick Ryan Anderson will help soothe the pain of Trent Murphy's four-game suspension. Norman will be joined by heat-seeking missile DJ Swearinger in the secondary. This year will also see a new defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky, who has a lot of experience coordinating 3-4 defenses. He wants to focus on better communication and stopping the run. All of these developments point to Washington having some matchup value for streamers even though they have been going outside of the top 20 in early drafts.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Terrell McClain, DE Jonathan Allen [R], NT Ziggy Hood
Backups: DE Stacy McGee, NT Philip Taylor, NT Matt Ioannidis, DE Anthony Lanier, DE A.J. Francis, NT Joey Mbu

Starting DL: The Redskins lost their top defensive lineman Chris Baker to the Buccaneers in free agency, so they were thrilled when Jonathan Allen fell to them at pick #17 in this year's draft. Allen was considered by many to be a top five selection; however, he slid in the draft due to health concerns about his shoulders. As long as he's truly healthy, Allen projects as a high-floor lineman with immediate-impact potential and serves as a much-needed upgrade to one of the league's least-talented defensive lines. Terrell McClain, who spent the last three years in Dallas, will serve as the teams other starting defensive end. He's a serviceable option at the position but isn't the impact-type player his 4-year, $21 million contract suggests. Ziggy Hood rounds out the starting defensive front but graded out as one of the league's worst run defenders last year and will likely see a reduced role in 2017.

Backup DL: In a somewhat puzzling move, the Redskins signed career backup Stacy McGee to a five-year, $25 million dollar contract this off-season. Although he received solid marks against the run and pass last year, he played in just 242 snaps and will have an uphill battle to gain a starting role ahead of Terrell McClain and rookie Jonathan Allen. Phil Taylor has the size to be the run-plugging presence Washington is looking for at nose tackle, but he's missed the last two years with chronic knee issues and remains a long shot to see significant playing time. Matt Ioannidis was the team's fifth round draft choice back in 2016 but was cut last September and later re-signed to the practice squad. The addition of Jonathan Allen to the defensive front may make it hard for the former Temple standout to make the 53-man roster.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Zach Brown, ILB Will Compton, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, OLB Preston Smith
Backups: OLB Junior Galette, OLB Trent Murphy (suspended), ILB Mason Foster, OLB Ryan Anderson [R], ILB Martrell Spaight, ILB Zach Vigil, OLB Chris Carter, OLB Houston Bates, ILB Peter Robertson, ILB Lynden Trail

Starting LBs: The 'Skins signed Zach Brown this off-season to a one-year deal worth up to $4.65 million. Brown had the best statistical year of his career in Buffalo last season piling up 149 total tackles and forcing two fumbles. He is the odds on favorite to secure the starting LILB spot for Washington and could be in for another big year tackle-wise given Washington's many opportunities for tackles on defense and their generous home stat crew. Veterans Will Compton and Mason Foster will battle it out for the other starting inside linebacker spot. Foster was the team's most effective linebacker last season and produced career-high tackle numbers. Given how poorly Compton graded out last year, one would assume that Foster has the edge on the starting role. However, Compton is a better fit for the strong side and was the defensive captain last year; so many people close to the organization are actually giving Compton the leg up in starting next to Brown. This will be one of the primary defensive position battles to watch during the pre-season. Ryan Kerrigan continues to be Washington's major pass-rushing threat, registering at least 7.5 sacks every season since entering the league in 2011 and leading the team in the category last year with 10.5. After a strong rookie season in which he racked up eight sacks in just over 500 snaps, Preston Smith took a step backward in his sophomore campaign with only 5.5 sacks in a full-time role. The team has depth behind Smith with Junior Galette, Trent Murphy, and Ryan Anderson, so he will need to have a bounce back season to garner 750+ snaps again.

Backup LBs: Junior Galette has missed each of the last two seasons with consecutive Achilles tears and had a recent off-the-field incident that may cost him playing time. He compiled 22 total sacks during his last two healthy seasons however and is a nice low cost/high upside option for the Redskins. Trent Murphy registered a sack on 1.1% of his snaps last year, which was a similar rate to teammate Ryan Kerrigan. His four-game suspension for PEDs raises some concern that his breakout 2016 performance may have been an outlier and it wouldn't be altogether surprising to see his production return to 2014-2015 levels. Ryan Anderson was taken in the second round of this year's draft and is viewed by many as a high floor, low ceiling type of player. He could see immediate playing time given Preston Smith's recent struggles, Trent Murphy's suspension, and Junior Galette's injury history and off-the field issues. After missing all of his rookie season with a concussion, Martrell Spaight finally saw his first regular season NFL action in 2016, logging 147 defensive snaps over 14 games. He's firmly behind Zach Brown, Mason Foster, and Will Compton in the starting pecking order however, so he will likely only see playing time on special teams and during blowouts this season.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Josh Norman, CB Bashaud Breeland, SS Su′a Cravens, FS D.J. Swearinger
Backups: CB Quinton Dunbar, CB Fabian Moreau [R], FS DeAngelo Hall, CB Kendall Fuller, SS Montae Nicholson [R], FS Will Blackmon, FS Deshazor Everett, CB Dashaun Phillips, SS Earl Wolff, CB Joshua Holsey [R], SS Josh Harvey-Clemons [R], S Shakiel Randolph, S Josh Evans

Starting DBs: Josh Norman signed a massive 5-year, $75 million contract in the 2016 off-season and, although he played quite well, the rest of the team's cornerbacks failed to carry their weight as the team finished in the bottom third of the league in passing yards allowed. In particular, opposing quarterbacks picked on third-year player Bashaud Breeland relentlessly (especially early in the year). This makes Breeland a nice target for fantasy purposes but unless he proves he can handle the pressure of playing opposite Norman, Washington may give one of their other young cornerbacks a chance at that starting position. Su'a Cravens flexed between linebacker and safety in his rookie season, and although he has the size and athleticism to play both, the team has said they will keep him solely at strong safety this year. D.J. Swearinger struggled to live up to his second round draft pedigree during the first three years of his career, but finally broke out last year in the Cardinals' aggressive defensive scheme. He signed a three-year deal with Washington in the off-season and will slot in next to Cravens as a free roaming, bruiser-type safety.

Backup DBs: Despite his advanced age and detailed injury history, DeAngelo Hall remains one of the league's top play-making defensive backs when on the field. However, he has missed 31 of the past 48 games because of injury and Head Coach Jay Gruden recently stated that Hall might be forced to start this season on the reserve/PUP list as he struggles to return from a torn ACL. Given that he is set to count $5.1 million against the salary cap, Hall may be pushed to take a reduced salary or be cut altogether. He has an outside chance at snagging a starting job if he sticks around, but he is more likely going to be the team's third safety and come in during "big nickel" packages. The Redskins used their 81st pick to select cornerback Fabian Moreau out of UCLA. Moreau's college accomplishments don't stand out of the crowd but he had a great combine and scored in the 99th percentile in terms of athleticism. This said he's a player with a wide spectrum of potential outcomes ranging from elite corner to waiver wire fodder. He tore his pectoral before the draft, which will likely keep him out until the start of training camp. All this said, he's not likely to make much of an immediate impact and is someone to keep a closer tab on heading into the 2018 season. Quinton Dunbar and Kendall Fuller split slot duties last season and very well could end up in a similar timeshare in 2017.

Last modified: 2017-05-24 15:39:08