The 2018 season was a frustrating and disappointing one for Washington Redskins fans. After splitting their first 4 games of the season the Skins ran off wins in 4 of their next 5 games and sat in the driver’s seat of the NFC East entering mid-November. Then came the final 7 games and an ever-growing list of injuries. The Redskins won just 1 of those remaining 7 contests to finish up 7-9 for the year.
So what is this Redskins team? The group which started the season 6-3 or the one which finished up 1-6? A glass half full view would point to the strengths of this team and determine the early start as an accurate barometer of the Skin’s potential before the mounting injuries took their toll. A less optimistic opinion of the Redskins would suggest that last year’s unfortunate injury luck merely masked larger issues such as a lack of skill position talent, the question marks at quarterback, and poor management by the front office.
So which is it? Are the Skins only a healthy season away from competing for a playoff spot in ‘19 or should fans expect their decades-long suffering to continue? The answer to this question will be difficult to fully assess without a relatively injury-free year yet the future of the head coach and front office will ultimately be determined by wins and losses regardless of who ends up on the injury report.
Super Bowl Odds: +10000
Odds to win the NFC: +5000
Odds to win the NFC East: +1000
Season Win Total: 6 (O -120 / U +100)
(Lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
(Personal NFL model lines based on expected starting Week 1 lineup as of June 19, 2019)
|Week||Opponent||CG Tech. Line||Expected Wins||NFL Model Line||Expected Wins|
|3||Chicago (Monday Night)||+2.5||.45||+2.5||.45|
|4||@ New York Giants||+3||.41||+1||.49|
|8||@ Minnesota (Thursday Night)||+7.5||.22||+7.5||.22|
|11||New York Jets||-2.5||.55||-1.5||.53|
|14||@ Green Bay||+9||.19||+10||.16|
|16||New York Giants||-3||.59||pk||.5|
Expected Wins (CG Technologies): 6.25
Expected Wins (Personal NFL Model): 6.04
Due to Alex Smith’s horrific November leg injury and post-surgery complications, it is unlikely that he will play this upcoming season or potentially ever again. 2 weeks later, backup quarterback Colt McCoy then broke his leg and Josh Johnson, who was somewhat effective in finishing up the season, required ankle surgery after he was injured in the now-defunct AAF. This series of unfortunate quarterback events had a ripple effect as it not only correlated closely with the demise of the Redskins 2018 season but it also threw a monkey wrench into their expected approach to the offseason as they now had to carry Smith’s 20 million dollar cap hit and find a serviceable player to fill the most important position on the team.
With this backdrop, the Redskins began free agency by signing S Landon Collins away from the division rival Giants. The move made sense as the December release of DJ Swearinger and the decision to allow Ha Ha Clinton Dix to sign elsewhere left a huge hole at what was a position of strength last season. Collins will bring consistent high-level play and stability to the Skins secondary. After releasing LB Zach Brown and DL Stacey McGee, the quarterback position was addressed by way of a trade for Denver QB Case Keenum in exchange for a 6th round pick. The trade was a cost-effective move as Keenum is only owed 3.5 million this season and will provide a professional arm that was lacking on the roster. Washington filled out their free agency by signing/resigning a few veterans who will likely contribute this season in RB Adrian Peterson, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and OL Ereck Flowers.
Also of note is the season-ending injury suffered by LB Reuben Foster in spring mini-camp. You may recall that Foster was released by the 49ers in November after domestic violence charges surfaced. Foster was expected to start the season for the Skins as the NFL decided not to suspend him after an investigation however like many of Washington’s recent plans they needed to be changed on the fly due to unforeseen injuries. Journeyman LB Jon Bostic was signed for depth at the position.
Washington addressed its long term need at quarterback with its 1st round selection of Ohio St QB Dwayne Haskins. Haskins has been lauded for his big arm, risk-taking, and confidence and went about where he was expected to go in draft projections. His experience and athletic abilities are somewhat limited in comparison to others in his draft class however it seems as though the Skins got their man and did not have to surrender additional draft capital in order to lock up their quarterback of the future.
The Redskins perhaps used some of those saved resources by trading back into the 1st round by sending their 2019 and 2020 2nd round picks to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for the 26th overall pick. This pick was then used to select DE Montez Sweat. Sweat should be a Week 1 plug-and-play type who apparently dropped a bit due to some concerns regarding a heart condition. Sweat looks to be an eventual difference making disruptive force along an already stout Redskins defensive line.
Talent was added to the skill positions with the selections of Ohio St WR Terry McLaurin in the 3rd round and Stanford RB Bryce Love in the 4th. McLaurin is a deep ball threat who’s already familiar with Haskins as well as a very good special teams players. Love was a highly rated Heisman candidate in 2017 who returned for his senior season but durability issues and a late-season ACL tear severely affected his draft position in 2019. He’ll be part of a crowded backfield to begin the season.
The Washington offense did, in fact, lead the NFL in a statistical category of sorts in 2018, just not a category they’d have preferred. Of their 99.3 Adjusted Games Lost due to injury last season (24th overall), a statistically unlikely 88.9 of them came on the offensive side of the ball. Due to the league-leading number of offensive injuries, the Washington offense was unsurprisingly bad. Ranking near the bottom of a number of offensive categories such as Offensive DVOA (29th), Points Scored (29th), Yards per Play (28th), and Yards Gained per Passing Play (29th) the Hogs need a dramatic improvement to their offense as well as their injury luck in order to be competitive this season.
It is a bit difficult to assess the Washington offense this upcoming season given the number of moving parts as well as the aforementioned injuries last season. At quarterback, it’s currently unknown who will begin the year. To illustrate, the Redskins team website still lists Alex Smith as the starter, ESPN lists Colt McCoy, Ourlads and Pro Football Focus list Dwayne Haskins and, finally CBS Sports tags Case Keenum the starter. We can likely eliminate options “1” and “2” as it appears either Keenum or Haskins will be the Week 1 starter depending on preseason performance as well as how quickly Haskins acclimates to Jay Gruden’s playbook. As for my NFL model, I’m currently listing Kennum as the starter to begin the season but, if and when Haskins takes over, it will cause a slight downgrade to the Redskins overall grade until more game data is collected on the rookie QB.
The Skins have lacked a duo of homegrown, reliable offensive threats since RG3 and Alfred Morris formed a solid 1-2 punch a few seasons back. The current group of skill position players is an odd mix of young unproven talent, mid-level free agents, a potentially elite TE who’s consistently (you guessed it) injured and, a future Hall of Fame RB on the back end of his career. Like the quarterback position, it is currently unknown how things will shake out in the backfield but it will certainly be some sort of committee approach. RBs Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Darius Guice, and Brice Love have a variety of abilities and talents which will need to get sorted out in camp however there is a fair amount of potential for a solid run game given the mix here. As for the receiving core, there is plenty of room for growth. Of the likely starting wideouts, only one, former 1st round pick, Josh Doctson, had more than 400 snaps last season. Jamison Crowder departed in the offseason and likely Week 1 starters Paul Richardson and Trey Quinn ended up on IR last year. No one in this group graded out higher than a 68.0 according to PFF. At the TE position, talent certainly exists in Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis however one is constantly injured (surprise, surprise) and the other began his career 13 years ago in San Francisco catching balls from…Alex Smith. With a mix of mediocre and oft-injured pieces, the Redskins skills position talent ranks 28th overall entering 2019 according to the NFL model.
Despite the unlikely string of injuries to the quarterbacks and skill position players last season, the weekly injury status of the offensive line was truly epic. By the midpoint of last season, it was a week to week “Odyssey” to determine who was actually available to play the upcoming game as starting lineups were constantly being shuffled and players signed off the street were thrown into starting roles. Injuries aside, a fully healthy and intact Redskins offensive line has the potential to be a decent group in 2019. Currently ranked 15th overall in the model, the o-line boasts high-level players in LT Trent Williams and RG Brandon Scherff. Solid RT Mogan Moses was a warrior last season playing through multiple nagging injuries and C Chase Roullier is serviceable. Question marks remain regarding the other guard position as the former 1st round bust Ereck Flowers is currently listed as the starter. The role of Flowers in the offensive line, as well as the potential holdout of Trent Williams, will be something to keep an eye on during train camp as they both could potentially have a negative effect on this important positional group.
The other side of the coin with regard to injuries was the case with the Washington defense last season. Yet while the Redskins had the least number of Adjusted Games Lost in 2018 (10.3), it merely translated into a mediocre defense in terms of statistics. Ranking 20th in Defensive DVOA, 15th in Points Allowed, and 19th in Yards per Play Allowed, one would have expected a better return on these fortunate circumstances for the defense.
There is certainly talent within the group, most especially along the defensive line and edge rushers. A significant amount of draft capital was recently spent on Alabama products DL Daron Payne and DL Jonathan Allen. Thus far both have performed well early on in their careers combining for 13 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, and 23 QB hits last season. Both players had above average grades according to PFF and when combined with the play of 3rd-year Skin, Matt Ioannidis, and his surprisingly high QB pressure rate (19.8%, 2nd in NFL according to PFF) the line has a bright future for years to come. The addition of 1st round pick Montez Sweat to reliable veteran Ryan Kerrigan forms a solid starting edge rusher unit in Washington’s 3-4 scheme. Ryan Anderson provides quality depth at the edge spot as he earned an elite grade of 86.8 from PFF albeit with a limited number of snaps (175) last season.
The injury to Reuben Foster was more unfortunate for the Redskin D then it may appear at 1st glance. While the loss of the former 2017 1st round pick and his high ceiling will negatively impact the defense, LB Zach Brown, who was a very solid player for the Skins, was released and signed by division rival Philly. These transgressions leave Washington with a significant hole at the LB position. Currently, none of the healthy linebackers on the roster have shown anything more than being league average at best.
While the Washington secondary has some recognizable, veteran names, they surprisingly rank lower on the NFL model than one may expect. Coming in at 28th overall, the Skins are lead by CB Josh Norman and newly signed S Landon Collins. Both players are former All-Pros however neither had their best season last year. A bounce-back year could certainly be in the works for this unit as both Collins and Norman as well as likely starters CB Quinton Dunbar, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and S Montae Nicholson all saw a decline in their PFF grade last season. While Norman and Rodgers-Cromartie’s best seasons may be behind them given their age, their veteran skills paired with some upside players and an ascendant defensive line may reduce their time in coverage and correlate to an improved secondary overall in 2019.
News and Nuggets
An under the radar name which could break out this season is WR Trey Quinn. Quinn was the Redskins 7th round “Mr. Irrelevant” pick in the 2018 draft out of SMU who impressed in training camp last year but was hampered by injuries and being buried behind Jamison Crowder on the depth chart. With Crowder signing with the Jets this offseason, the slot receiver role is Quinn’s to lose and thus far that seems unlikely. In his 2 appearances, last season Quinn was targeted ten times. Given Crowder’s high number of looks during his time in Jay Gruden’s offense as well as the optimism surrounding Quinn, he is a name to file away. He could bring a much-needed spark to the Redskin’s offense as well as your fantasy team this fall.
Due to a number of reasons, the Redskins are ironically flip-flopped in terms of their money allocation within the salary cap and where their team strengths appear to be. Currently, Washington has the 2nd most expensive offense in the NFL in terms of cap hit (60.14%). Given the lack of explosive players and more than 10% of the total space now being spent on a clipboard carrier (Alex Smith), that will likely equate to a poor return on investment in the near term. On the other end of the spectrum, the Redskin defense ranks 28th in overall spending compared with the rest of the league. In fact, a closer look shows that the defensive line, rich with young talent, is the 2nd cheapest in the NFL. Together with the linebackers, only one player in the very solid defensive front 7 (Ryan Kerrigan) will make over 5 million this season. That represents good planning, drafting, and a reason for optimism if new QB Dwayne Haskins can blossom into a player this year.
Ultimately, is the glass half full or half empty for DC this upcoming season? In the short term, there appears to be a lack of talent at the skill positions surrounding either a replacement level quarterback or a rookie one. While the offensive line should be fine this is not an offense which I would expect to put up a ton of points in 2019. The defense has a good young core that could dominate some of the weaker O-lines on their schedule. Yet, unfortunately for Washington, two of the league’s better offensive lines reside in the division and outside of the non-Massachusetts based AFC East teams they’ll be playing there doesn’t appear to be a lot of bottom third O-lines on the schedule at this point.
If Haskins quickly shows himself to be a capable NFL quarterback, I believe this team is set up nicely to rise in the power rankings within the next few years. Given Washington’s short term outlook, recent injury concerns, and their 2nd overall difference between their 2018 wins (7) and their 2018 Expected Pythagorean Wins (5.29) this will be a lean to the under 6 for me.