This offseason we’ll take a look at all 32 NFL teams’ most pressing needs heading into the 2018-19 season. Our next team traded for a former No. 1 overall pick at quarterback in an attempt to snap their two-year playoff drought: The Washington Redskins.
The Kirk Cousins era in Washington is over, as the team flipped slot cornerback Kendall Fuller and the No. 78 pick in this year’s draft for Alex Smith. Jay Gruden and his coordinators are back, but patience in the front office could be wearing thin given Gruden’s 28-35-1 record since taking over in 2014. The team now has its quarterback, but there are still more than just a few questions that need answers.
The Redskins have the 13th-most cap space in the league to complement seven draft picks. Former Seahawks wide receiver Paul Richardson will take over for Terrelle Pryor and Ryan Grant at outside receiver, but the team will still need to replace numerous contributors across both the offensive and defensive lines. Gruden is Dan Snyder’s longest-tenured head coach since Snyder purchased the team in 1999, and the continued failure to play meaningful football in January could prove fatal this time around.
Need No. 1: Cornerback
The Redskins don’t let Josh Norman travel with the opposition’s No. 1 receiver on a week-to-week basis, so offenses can essentially line up their alphas against the Redskins’ Nos. 2-3 corners whenever they please. Although the strategy of quarantining Norman to a side of the field worked to an extent last season, as the Redskins boasted the league’s sixth-best pass defense in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), the cornerbacks who played alongside Norman are no longer on the team: Bashaud Breeland is a free agent and Fuller is now with the Chiefs. The loss of Fuller is especially problematic for the defense’s ability to handle slot receivers, as Fuller last season was Pro Football Focus’ No. 5 overall corner.
There’s also a case to be made that Norman’s best years are behind him. His performance in a variety of PFF metrics has slipped since joining the Redskins.
Replacing Fuller and Breeland will be former-Cowboys nickelback Orlando Scandrick and backups Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau. Dunbar and Moreau are capable replacements for Breeland, but Scandrick was one of just 17 corners among 124 qualified defensive backs to allow over 1.5 yards per cover snap last season. The secondary was arguably the Redskins’ most talented position group in 2017, but it now is in need of an upgrade on the inside with uncertainty everywhere.
Telling Stat: Washington signed Norman to win battles with Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant, but his trash talking and stationary positioning haven’t exactly shut the pair down. Beckham posted 7-121-0 and 5-44-0 lines on Norman in 2016, and Bryant has gone 7-102-0, 5-72-0, 4-39-0, and 5-61-1 against his Samsung rival.
Need No. 2: Defensive Line
The NFL’s stingiest defenses are often better against the pass than run due to the throw-first nature of the modern offense, but the Redskins proved in 2017 that some competency against the ground game is still required. The league’s 29th-ranked defense in rush DVOA allowed five backs to rack up 25-plus DraftKings points in a game — just one game less than the defense allowed in 2015-16 combined. The unit dealt with plenty of injuries, but its total inability to stop the rush in 2017 can’t be overstated.
The Redskins . . .
- Allowed a league-high 2,146 yards rushing
- Were a bottom-six defense in yards per rush, rushing first downs, and rushes allowed of 20-plus yards
- Tied for the fourth-most DraftKings points per game allowed to running backs
- Had no defensive linemen graded by PFF as top-50 players against the run
Last season the Redskins got a combined five games from 2017 first-round pick Jonathan Allen and Trent Murphy, who racked up nine sacks in 2016. Murphy signed with the Bills, and Allen’s return to health is even more vital with the potential losses of contributors Junior Galette, Chris Carter, and Arthur Jones. The front office has selected one defensive lineman per draft since 2013, but more attention needs to be paid to the interior linemen who control the opposing rushing attack. The Redskins are one of just 12 teams with fewer than $20M devoted to the defensive line.
Telling Stat: The Redskins allowed a league-high 4.91 adjusted line yards per rush — the highest mark by any defense since 2000.
Need No. 3: Wide Receiver
The Redskins’ efforts to replace Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson failed miserably in 2017. Pryor, Grant, and Josh Doctson all ranked outside of the top 50 receivers in yards per route run while combining for zero games with over 100 yards. Jamison Crowder has occasionally popped off from the slot with five games of 100-plus yards over the past two seasons, but he’s not an ideal No. 1 receiver given his status as one of just six full-time slot receivers with a drop rate over 10 percent last season. The team’s offseason solution to its receiving woes arrived in the form of Richardson, who demonstrated exceptional down-the-field ability during his time in Seattle.
37 seconds of ridiculous Paul Richardson catches pic.twitter.com/yS1NbzAz75
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 23, 2018
Smith was the league’s most accurate quarterback on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield last season, and Richardson ranked among the league’s 12 top receivers on deep balls in passer rating, catch rate, percentage of yards, and touchdowns (Next-Gen Stats). Jordan Reed is a game changer at tight end and the closest thing Smith will find to another Travis Kelce, but it’s impossible to trust Reed given that he’s played in just 52 of a possible 80 games throughout his career. Doctson’s six touchdowns last season demonstrated some of the natural ability that made him a first-round pick, but he’s yet to surpass 85 yards or five catches in his 18 career games.
Telling Stat: Among Smith, Kirk Cousins, Tyrod Taylor, and Case Keenum, Smith has the largest downgrade from old to new wide receiver units in average yards of separation.
- Running Back: Chris Thompson paced all running backs with 7.8 yards per touch last season, but the team has remained adamant that it won’t thrust a featured workload on the 5’7″ and 192-pound back. Samaje Perine is currently set up to work as the team’s early-down back, but that’s hardly a positive considering that he ranked among the league’s bottom-10 backs in Elusive Rating and breakaway percentage (runs of 15-plus yards). The Redskins have commonly been mocked some of the draft’s top-ranked running backs in the early rounds of the draft.
- Interior Offensive Line: Starting center Spencer Long is now a member of the Jets, while left guard Shawn Lauvao and backup center Tony Bergstrom are free agents. The Redskins could hardly get a push last year when they needed it, owning the league’s fifth-worst rushing offense in percentage of runs on third- or fourth-and-short that achieved a first down or touchdown. They seem likely to address the unit in the draft after selecting just one total offensive lineman since 2015.
Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
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