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Washington Commanders Writers
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Scott Turner got a pass for offensive ineptitude in 2020 as Washington was forced to start four different quarterbacks while trying to implement a new offensive playbook during the pandemic. But 2021 proved no better as the team went from scoring 20.9 points per game to 19.7 points. To be fair, Washington again was saddled with frustrating quarterbacking as four players - Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Allen, Garrett Gilbert, and Taylor Heinicke - took the field. Fitzpatrick was supposed to be the steadying hand but was lost for the season early in Week 1. Heinicke played most of the season (15 starts) and, if we're being generous, was a league-average passer. Despite two years of uninspiring results, Turner returns as offensive coordinator. At least he'll have Carson Wentz under center. Wentz may be controversial, but he's unquestionably the best passer Turner has had at his disposal.
In a league constantly starving for high-end quarterbacks, it's hard to wrap your head around Carson Wentz being traded away in back-to-back seasons. His departure from Philadelphia was well covered, but he lasted just one season in Indianapolis and now finds himself suiting up for a team deeply entrenched in controversy from ownership to the front office. Whether Wentz has leadership issues or locker room problems remains to be seen, but it's important to acknowledge he's the best quarterback the Commanders have had since Kirk Cousins. When things are going well, Wentz is capable of high-end play; he was an MVP candidate in 2017. His strong arm and above-average mobility allow him to exploit vertical targets. Although he has a reputation for throwing interceptions at inopportune moments, his career interception ratio (1.9%) isn't bad. Wentz gets into trouble when plays go off-script, so it'll be incumbent on Scott Turner to craft a playbook perfectly suited to what Wentz does best.
Taylor Heinicke was famously out of football when he got a call from Washington late in the 2020 season, leading to an improbably heroic playoff game against the Buccaneers. He re-signed as Ryan Fitzpatrick's backup last season, but injuries opened the door for Heinicke to start 15 games. Although his touchdown rate (4.0%) and accuracy (65.0%) were acceptable, his interception rate (3.0%) and fumbles (7) were not. This season, Heinicke steps back into a more natural role - the backup - but has more experience running the offense than most team's backups will. Sam Howell was considered a top-10 prospect in an admittedly weak draft class, but has shown promise in his first training camp.
After touching the ball just 71 times in his final season at Memphis, most questioned whether Antonio Gibson could handle a significant role. As a rookie, he proved doubters wrong, rushing 170 times for 795 yards, catching 36 balls for another 247 yards, and scoring 11 touchdowns. The coaches insisted Gibson was just getting started, as he was still learning the nuances of the position. In 2021, Gibson not only handled a bigger role but was also one of the NFL's few true workhorses. Gibson touched the ball 300 times (258 rushes and 48 receptions), ranking fourth in the league behind Najee Harris, Jonathan Taylor, and Joe Mixon. Despite his achievements, a propensity to fumble- had Gibson's role in question, until rookie Brian Robinson was tragically shot in a robbery attempt in late August.
Robinson wasn't the heralded prospect of his Alabama predecessors, but that may be short-sighted by NFL scouts. At issue was Robinson being a backup for four seasons before last year's 1,343-yard star turn. He's been excellent during mini-camps and training camp and had started getting run with the starting offense. If healthy, Robinson gives the team a bruising, power back who thrives on inside contact. The promising rookie was placed on the non-football injury list and will miss at least the first four games, although he could be out significantly longer. That likely gives Gibson a reprieve and one final chance at rebuilding the coaches' trust. It could also signal the front office to bring in a veteran free agent. J.D. McKissic missed six games last year, but his per-game role remained intact from his breakout 2020 campaign. The veteran third-down specialist opted to sign with the Buffalo Bills in free agency before changing his mind and staying with Washington. He'll continue to play on obvious passing downs.
Terry McLaurin has averaged 74 receptions, 1,030 yards, and 5 touchdowns over his three-year career. Those numbers are impressive in a vacuum but stellar in the context of the quarterback situation he's endured. McLaurin has lived through a revolving door of Alex Smith, Kyle Allen, Dwayne Haskins, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Taylor Heinicke, and Garrett Gilbert. The veteran is the total 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 2022 with Carson Wentz under center. Rookie Jahan Dotson will join McLaurin in the starting lineup, while Samuel will play the slot and in 3-receiver sets. The Commanders selected Dotson in the first round out of Penn State, where he finished his career with 183 receptions, 2,757 yards, and 25 touchdowns. While he's undersized (5-foot-11, 184 pounds), he has special speed, tracks the ball well, and has fantastic hands. Curtis Samuel's first season in D.C. was a whiff, as he appeared in five games and caught six passes. Both Ron Rivera and Scott Turner believe in Samuel, which is why they brought him over from Carolina, but he needs to stay healthy to sustain a role.
Cam Sims started 14 games over the last three seasons but has 49 career receptions. He's a limited route runner but has exceptional size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and works well into jumbo packages at the goal line. Dyami Brown's rookie season moved in the wrong direction. He played 93% of snaps in Week 1 but ended the season playing sparingly (10%-20% of snaps). If Samuel doesn't return to form, Dax Milne could get an opportunity in the slot.
Logan Thomas had an improbable Year 7 breakout, but the 6-foot-6, 248-pounder tore his ACL last season, derailing his follow-up. He started camp on the PUP list, but is on track for an early season return. He could thrive with Carson Wentz, who was at his best when he had a big tight end he could trust in Philadelphia. The front office has invested in young depth beyond Thomas. John Bates occasionally flashed as a rookie starter and should be much better with a year of experience. Cole Turner is a fifth-round rookie who brings nothing as a blocker but led FCS tight ends with 19 touchdowns over the last two seasons. He makes an intriguing option in spread sets, acting more as a fourth receiver than an in-line tight end.
- LT Charles Leno
- LG Andrew Norwell
- C Chase Roullier
- RG Trai Turner
- RT Sam Cosmi
- T Cornelius Lucas, G Wes Schweitzer, T Saahdiq Charles, G Chris Paul
At least the left side of the Commanders' line should be pretty good. Charles Leno is an above-average pass protector and Andrew Norwell (FA from Jacksonville) should step in at left guard and play well. Norwell's arrival allows Wes Schweitzer -- last year's starter -- to compete on the right side with free agent Trai Turner. Whoever wins that battle has huge shoes to fill in replacing Brandon Scherff. Center Chase Roullier returns from a major injury while right tackle Sam Cosmi is a young player with upside to improve.
Slye helped stop the bleeding in an unstable kicker situation last year, making all 12 field goal attempts and 9-of-10 extra point attempts for Washington. They rewarded him with a two-year, $4.1 million deal after offering him a restricted free agent tender around $2.4 million to make sure they retained his rights. Slye has a good distance leg and he was on the edge of fantasy-relevant kickers last year during his stint with Washington, so keep him on your waiver wire kicker list.
DeAndre Carter was the only player last season to field 100% of a team's punt and kickoff return opportunities. Unfortunately for Washington, DeAndre Carter is gone and that leaves a gaping void on special teams. Antonio Gibson has the lead but the situation is fluid.
DeAndre Carter was the only player last season to field 100% of a team's punt and kickoff return opportunities. Unfortunately for Washington, DeAndre Carter is gone and that leaves a gaping void on special teams. Dax Milne will get the first crack at the job.
Things went terribly wrong last season. Washington entered the 2021 season as a team with massive questions on offense but a playoff-caliber defense. Most pundits expected the defense would carry the team into playoff contention after finishing 4th in points allowed under Jack Del Rio in 2020. Instead, the unit plummeted to 25th in points allowed and the blame falls squarely on the secondary. In 2020, the pass defense ranked 2nd in touchdowns allowed, passing yards allowed, and yards per pass. In 2021, the secondary ranked dead last in touchdowns allowed, 29th in passing yards, and 28th in yards per attempt. Getting Del Rio's zone coverages fixed will be the difference between respectability and Ron Rivera's staff looking for new jobs in 2023. They lost Chase Young in November and ended up finishing 17th in sacks despite having a defensive line stocked with first-round picks. Young should be ready to go for Week 1, and the team will need the pass rush to ramp up to cover up for a poor performing secondary. Washington lost their two best depth defensive linemen (Tim Settle and Matt Ioannidis) in free agency, so that could be a tall order for a potentially stretched thin starting four. Jacksonville is the opening opponent, so there are worse desperation streamers to open the season, but Washington won't be back in the draftable D/ST category until they prove they belong.
- DE James Smith-Williams, DT Phidarian Mathis [R], DT Daniel Wise, DE Efe Obada, DE Casey Toohill, DE Shaka Toney
Washington has invested an immense amount of draft capital in the defensive line, and all four starters are capable of Pro Bowl-caliber play. Chase Young (1st round 2020) and Montez Sweat (1st round 2019) are disruptive, two-way edge defenders. Sweat doesn't put up gigantic sack totals (21 in three seasons) but is an excellent run defender and pressures quarterbacks consistently, even if he doesn't always get home for the sack. He would be the best defensive end on many teams, but that honor goes to Young in Washington. Young had a dominant rookie season but struggled last year (1.5 sacks in nine games) before tearing his ACL. When he's back to 100%, Young has the ability and physical tools to vie for Defensive Player of the Year. Da'Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen - both former first-rounders after dominant college careers at Alabama - are dominant two-way interior defenders who stuff the run but not at the expense of pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
While the starting four are as good as it gets, depth is concerning, particularly with Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle moving on this offseason. James Smith-Williams played 35% of snaps last year and has potential because he's versatile enough to line up inside or outside. Rookie Mathis will be counted on for important rotational snaps immediately.
- LB David Mayo, LB Milo Eifler, LB Jon Bostic
Cole Holcomb played more than 1,000 snaps last year and logged 142 tackles, but he's not an explosive playmaker and graded out as a below-average contributor, particularly among full-time linebackers. A first-rounder last season, Jamin Davis struggled as a rookie and needs a strong preseason to brush off the bust label. Neither Mayo nor Eifler are assets when pressed into playing time, but Washington will rarely have three linebackers on the field at the same time. Jon Bostic returns to provide a veteran insurance policy.
- CB Christian Holmes [R], S Percy Butler [R], S Darrick Forrest, S Jeremy Reaves, CB Tarik Castro-Fields, CB Rachad Wildgoose
Kendall Fuller was a top-5 cornerback last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He was a bright spot in a secondary that played abysmally for much of the season. Last year, William Jackson III was a high-priced free-agent acquisition but failed to justify the contract. He was a big reason the pass defense fell off a cliff. Hopefully, Jackson bounces back in his second season in Jack Del Rio's complicated zone scheme. Don't forget Fuller was terrible in 2020 in his first year with the team, so maybe Jackson follows in Fuller's footsteps and returns to elite status in Year 2. Benjamin St-Juste looked the part last year but missed half the season with concussion symptoms. Kamren Curl and Bobby McCain were competent last year and got better as the season wore on, but neither has the upside Landon Collins brought to the unit in his prime.