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2021 Team Report: Washington Football Team

Last updated: Fri, May 21

Offensive Philosophy

The first season for offensive coordinator Scott Turner 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, Steven Montez

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. Depending on what the team does in the draft, one may not make the final roster.

Running Backs

Starter: Antonio Gibson
Backup(s): J.D. McKissic, Peyton Barber, Lamar Miller, Jonathan Williams, 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.

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. Peyton Barber likely retains the No. 3 role, unless Lamar Miller -- once a Pro Bowl-caliber back in Miami -- can act like a Phoenix and rise from the ashes. Rookie free agent Jaret Patterson was dynamic for Buffalo in 2020, but his size belies NFL success given his hard-charging run style.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel
Backups: Dyami Brown [R], Dax Milne [R], Kelvin Harmon, Cam Sims, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Adam Humphries, Isaiah Wright, Steven Sims, DeAndre Carter, Jeff Badet, Tony Brown, Trevor Davis, Dylan Cantrell

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 with a strong preseason. 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 earn regular playing time. Adam Humphries could earn the slot receiver role with a strong preseason, or Samuel could play inside, and Kelvin Harmon and Antonio Gandy-Golden could vie for the other starting spot. Cam Sims caught 32 receptions for 477 yards last year but has a low ceiling.

Tight Ends

Starters: Logan Thomas
Backups: Temarrick Hemingway, John Bates [R], Marcus Baugh, Tyrone Swoopes, Sammis Reyes [R]

Very few players enjoy a break out 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, as all four tight ends have a combined five career receptions. International development signee Sammis Reyes is intriguing. Reyes 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: Danny Johnson, DeAndre Carter

Johnson had a few flashes as a kick returner last year, but he'll have to make the team on his core special teams contributions to assure himself of a roster spot. Carter could stick if the team isn't happy with their options at kick and punt returner, especially Steven Sims, as he and Sims are both capable of filling both roles.

Punt Returners: Steven Sims, DeAndre Carter, Adam Humphries

Sims gave the team very little as their primary punt returner last year, and was barely used as a kick returner despite breaking one for a score in 2019. Humphries could spell him if he can stay healthy, but either way this probably won't be a position of strength for Washington. DeAndre Carter has some experience as a returner and could be kept over Sims if Sims doesn't have a strong summer and the team doesn't keep Danny Johnson

Offensive Line

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

Right guard Brandon Scherff made his first All-Pro team in 2020, but was tagged twice. Ereck Flowers arrived via trade and he will compete with Wes Schweitzer for left guard reps, with an eye on one of these replacing Scherff long term. There are new bookends, as Charles Leno arrives from Chicago at left tackle, with second-round pick Sam Cosmi on the right. This group carries a middle of the road grade.

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 defense but turned the same group of players into one of the league's staunchest units. 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, DT Daniel Wise, DT Devaroe Lawrence, DE Jalen Jelks, DE William Bradley-King [R], DE Shaka Toney [R]

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 have 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 and who to let walk in free agency in a season or two.

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 Casey Toohill, LB David Mayo, LB Jordan Kunaszyk, LB Justin Phillips, LB Jared Norris

Starting LBs: If the team has a defensive liability, it's the linebacking corps. Cole Holcomb missed five games last year 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, should 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 in the preseason. The team also re-signed Jared Norris, but he has a combined 14 tackles in four seasons. 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, NB Jimmy Moreland
Backups: CB Darrick Forrest [R], CB Benjamin St-Juste [R], CB Danny Johnson, S Jeremy Reaves, S Troy Apke, CB Deshazor Everett, CB Greg Stroman, CB Jordan Brown, CB Darryl Roberts, CB Torry McTyer, CB Cole Luke, DB Booby McCain

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 has four interceptions, 11 passes defensed, and 50 tackles. This season he'll be paired with William Jackson, 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. Jimmy Moreland plays the nickel and is adequate but could lose his job in favor of a promising rookie.

Backup DBs: Washington has at least nine veteran defensive backs vying for backup spots this year, with incumbents Troy Apke, Deshazor Everett, and Greg Stroman having the upper hand. Ultimately, they may lose out to a pair of rookies -- Benjamin St-Juste and Darrick Forrest. Both are aggressive, lengthy cover corners with an attacking style.