The Professor’s 2021 NFL Preview: NFC East – Washington Football Team

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Washington Football Team

Team Projection

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While owner Daniel Snyder has by no means slowed the off-field circus around his life, it seems that in head coach Ron Rivera, he finally has a football leader capable of successfully running the team despite Snyder’s presence.

The current quarterback position makes it difficult to imagine life in Washington beyond 2021, but by acquiring Ryan Fitzpatrick coming off the signal-caller’s strong two-year stretch in Miami, Rivera and company have assembled a roster that will be competitive for the NFC East title and could be a dark horse to get out of the NFC if the chips fall their way.

It all starts with the defense, but as the W-L splits for Washington’s various quarterbacks showed last season, the Chase Young-led crew will still need some help from the offense. Plenty of folks passed definitive judgment on what Fitzpatrick “is” somewhat early in his career, but the vet has noted in interviews that his perspective on offensive football changed dramatically during his time in Houston midway through his career, and the film evaluation backs that up. He hasn’t gotten “over the hump”, so to speak, but Fitz brings an aggressive mindset, mobility, and plenty of arm strength, not to mention a brain that has seen every look defensive coordinators have to offer. Fitz is an excellent processor, which shows up in his ability to make quick, decisive decisions, and now that he’s surrounded by more talent than he had in Miami, he’s got a chance to lead his team to the playoffs.

Wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who went from rookie deep threat to a well-rounded, clear-cut number one receiver in his sophomore season, will greatly benefit from Fitz’s presence. McLaurin has posted good numbers in his career, but frankly, the talent he shows on tape hasn’t actually matched his production. With a quarterback who will be more aggressive targeting him, and a more talented offense around him, McLaurin has an excellent opportunity to enter the discussion as a top-10 receiver.

Around him, the Football Team now has a proven running back in Antonio Gibson, a good tight end in Logan Thomas, and a dynamic “offensive weapon” in receiver Curtis Samuel. Young receivers such as Cam Sims and Steven Sims could still develop, and Adam Humphries could regain his standing as a quality slot. Throw in the addition of potential deep threat Dyami Brown in the third round of the draft, and Fitz could be working with one of the league’s deeper cast of weapons.

Even better is the fact that Washington has aggressively remade their offensive line, and reached a point where they felt comfortable releasing right tackle Morgan Moses, a move that would have been unfathomable a year ago. Star right guard Brandon Scherff is back in the fold on the franchise tag, center Chase Roullier is a solid presence at the pivot, and left guard Ereck Flowers, who originally got his career back on track in 2019 with Washington, was re-acquired after a solid season for the Miami Dolphins. On the edges, Washington signed an adequate left tackle in Charles Leno after the Bears moved on from the veteran, and drafted Texas product Samuel Cosmi in the second round. They also have players such as tackles Cornelius Lucas and Saahdiq Charles, along with guard Wes Schweitzer, who played a significant number of snaps last season. That trio may be overmatched as starters (though Lucas grew on me as the season progressed), but they would be strong points on the roster in backup roles.

All that said, this team’s foundation is on defense, and there’s every reason to expect this unit to take a step forward in 2020. It starts up front, where Chase Young looks to be a perennial candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award as a physical freak who plays with relentless effort and shows an appreciation for the technical aspects of the pass rush game. Next to him, defensive tackles Da’Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen were able to showcase their full ability in the shift to a four-man front under Rivera, and are arguably the best interior tandem in the league against both the run and the pass. Don’t let their modest sack numbers fool you; Payne and Allen both had games where they absolutely took over as pass rushers. They’ll be supported by the return of Matt Ioannidis, who had been the best player on the line in 2019 and will return from the injury that cost him almost all of 2020, and Montez Sweat, another athletic freak who paid off Washington’s decision to trade back into the first round of the 2019 draft in a big way last season.

Last year’s unit featured several career journeymen as the starting linebackers, and behind this defensive line, they played fine, but the addition of Jamin Davis with their first-round pick could move this unit from adequate to dynamic. Jon Bostic and Cole Holcomb are still in place, and the Football Team added David Mayo from the Giants, so there’s no rush to get Davis on the field if he’s not ready, but if the Kentucky product lives up to his draft profile, he’ll have the opportunity to make a run at Defensive Rookie of the Year.

It only gets better in the back end, where the Football Team let Ronald Darby depart for Denver and replaced him with William Jackson, who has been a markedly superior player to Darby over the course of their respective careers. Given the excellent year Kendall Fuller turned in at one outside corner spot, the tandem of Jackson and Fuller could be one of the best corner duos in the league, particularly as they’ll operate in a highly favorable situation behind this defensive line. Jimmy Moreland is a solid enough slot, and the team added Benjamin St-Juste in the draft to add to their depth. At safety, they will get Landon Collins back from his season-ending injury, though it’s no sure thing he’ll be able to beat out Kameron Curl, who did a great job at strong safety in his absence. Washington also added free safety Bobby McCain after the Dolphins moved on from him. McCain could bring upgraded range over what Deshazor Everett provided as the free safety, and this depth will also allow Washington to be creative with their personnel in sub-packages.

All in all, the only real criticism of what this organization has done since Rivera took over is the lack of a “future” option at the quarterback position, but in a league where things change so rapidly, that can be overvalued. Fitz is plenty good enough to win with, and as Rivera himself pointed out in an offseason interview, there are only a handful of true dudes at that position in the NFL, and teams can get caught in a trap of relentlessly pursuing that elite quarterback at the cost of building the rest of the roster. This Washington team has everything they need to compete this season and can worry about 2022 and beyond when the time comes.

QB Passing Projections

Ryan Fitzpatrick1317402593.90.687.574494.626.718.318.03

QB Rushing Projections

Ryan Fitzpatrick131756.14.59257.75.113.427.718.03

Skill Projections, Rushing

Antonio GibsonRB4617208.84.791000.49.350.050.311.12
Curtis SamuelWR671746.14.70216.61.411.07.49.93
J.D. McKissicRB1101788.44.13364.
Peyton BarberRB3391718.13.3059.

Skill Projections, Receiving

Terry McLaurinWR201766.791.114.381309.48.423.031.713.35
Antonio GibsonRB461778.630.75.87180.
Curtis SamuelWR671766.863.011.50724.35.915.922.09.93
Logan ThomasTE1021765.266.79.83655.55.417.220.37.72
J.D. McKissicRB1101775.251.67.86406.01.811.66.77.40
Dyami BrownWR1641750.131.215.84494.62.510.59.24.69
Adam HumphriesWR2361771.920.510.85222.
Cam SimsWR2501777.818.515.75291.
Steven Sims Jr.WR2961775.413.98.67120.
Isaiah WrightWR3221773.414.86.1391.
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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.