Washington Redskins 2019 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

Kirk Cousins made all 48 starts at quarterback for the Redskins from 2015-2017, but they didn’t want to get into a bidding war for his services or franchise tag him a 3rd time last off-season, so they preemptively sent a 3rd round pick and promising young cornerback Kendall Fuller to the Chiefs for Alex Smith, who they signed to a 4-year, 94 million dollar extension. Smith is 4 years older than Cousins, but he gave them a similar player under center for 4.5 million less per year than Cousins got from the Vikings.

The plan was going fine until Alex Smith suffered a brutal broken leg injury week 11 against the Texans that has required multiple surgeries and left his career in jeopardy. The Redskins then turned to backup Colt McCoy, who suffered a leg injury of his own, forcing them to turn to street free agents Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson to close out the year. The Redskins’ 6-3 record at the time of Smith’s injury was misleading because they had just a +1 point differential, despite a +11 turnover margin, and ranked just 26th in first down rate differential, but their offense got so much worse when Smith went down that his injury effectively ended the Redskins’ playoff chances immediately. The Redskins ranked 23rd in first down rate at 33.86% at the time Smith went down and had a 28.97% first down rate in the final 7 games of the season.

Smith’s contract guarantees him 71 million over 3 years for injury, so if even Smith doesn’t ever play again the Redskins are going to be stuck playing him like a starting caliber quarterback for another two years. Perhaps knowing that’s more likely, the Redskins used their first round pick on Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Because Haskins is on a cheap rookie deal, it kind of offsets having to pay starter’s money to a quarterback who can’t play.

Teams don’t use a first round pick on a quarterback unless they see him as a quarterback of the future, so if Smith ever can return it likely won’t be as the starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins unless Haskins’ development goes south fast. As a rookie, Haskins will compete with McCoy and fellow off-season addition Case Keenum, who comes over from Denver via trade. McCoy is going into his 6th season in head coach Jay Gruden’s offense, but that’s about all he brings to the table, as he has a career QB rating of 78.9 in 27 starts in 9 seasons in the league and is now going into his age 33 season. He’s the least likely to win the week 1 starting job.

Keenum has made 57 career starts, including 30 in the past 2 seasons, but aside from a 2017 season in which he had a 98.3 QB rating and finished 7th among quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus, he hasn’t been anything more than a borderline starter throughout his career. He completed 62.3% of his passes for an average of 6.64 YPA, 18 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions with the Broncos last season, while finishing 26th out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks on PFF.

Now in his age 31 season, Keenum had take a pay cut down to 7.5 million to get traded and the Broncos are paying 4 million of that because they owed him guaranteed money, so the Redskins really aren’t financially invested in him. Dwayne Haskins was just a one year starter in college, so it could benefit him to sit on the bench and learn for a little bit, but he’ll almost definitely make rookie year starts at some point. Haskins was very impressive in his one season as a starter, but his inexperience makes him somewhat of a boom or bust prospect. The Redskins should definitely get better quarterback play than they did down the stretch last season, but this is far from an ideal situation.

Grade: C+

Running Backs

The Redskins didn’t just have injury problems at quarterback. In fact, they had the most offensive adjusted games lost to injury in the NFL. Starting injury replacements at multiple spots across this offense by the end of the season, the street free agent quarterbacks the Redskins were forced into using didn’t stand a chance. At running back, the Redskins lost 2nd round rookie and expected starter Derrius Guice before the season even started to a torn ACL.

The Redskins signed veteran free agent Adrian Peterson to replace him and were fortunate that Peterson still had something left in the tank, rushing for 1,042 yards and 7 touchdowns on 251 carries (4.15 YPC) and finishing as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked running back in his age 33 season. Peterson looked done in 2017, when he averaged just 3.39 yards per carry on 156 carries between the Saints and Cardinals, which is why he was still available in August when Guice got hurt, but he proved to still have something left in the tank. Now going into his age 34 season with 3,097 career touches, Peterson’s durability and effectiveness are constant question, but the future Hall of Famer could defy the odds once again. He currently ranks 8th all-time in rushing yards.

Guice’s injury recovery was not as smooth as you’d like, as it required multiple clean up surgeries, but he’s still expected to be ready to go week 1, over 12 months removed from the injury. Assuming he’s healthy, Guice provides valuable insurance in case Peterson declines and will likely see a heavy rotational role even if Peterson continues performing well. Limiting Peterson’s carries could keep him fresh and effective and Guice showed a lot of potential last off-season before the injury.

Neither Peterson (20 catches in 2018) nor Guice (32 catches in 35 games at LSU) are much of a receiver, so the Redskins need Chris Thompson to stay healthy. The 5-8 195 pound speedster has missed 15 games with injury in the past 4 seasons and has been an injury risk dating back to his collegiate days, but he’s averaged 4.96 yards per carry on 213 carries as a change of pace back in his 6-year career and he has averaged 71.5 catches per 16 games over the past 4 seasons.

Thompson could push for 60+ catches if he can stay healthy in 2019, though he likely won’t have a huge role as a runner. The Redskins also used a 4th round pick on Stanford’s Bryce Love who is also coming off of a torn ACL that he suffered in January. He may effectively be a rookie redshirt and would be no higher than 4th on the depth chart even if healthy. This is a pretty deep group, but Guice, Love, and Thompson have injury concerns and Peterson is very much over the hill in running back years.

Grade: B

Receiving Corps

The Redskins also had significant injury issues in the receiving corps, with supposed top receivers Paul Richardson and Jamison Crowder playing 7 games and 9 games respectively. Crowder is no longer with the team, but Richardson returns to a starting role, after his 2018 season was ended prematurely by a shoulder injury. Richardson was only on pace for a 46/599/5 slash line through 7 games when he went down though and was averaging 1.11 yards per route run (92nd out of 107 qualifying receivers). He’s also had injury problems throughout his career, missing 26 of 80 games with injury in 5 seasons in the league. His 44/703/6 slash line from 2017 shows his upside and as a deep threat he’s a better fit with Haskins or Keenum under center than Smith, who is a conservative decision maker and doesn’t like to throw deep.

The Redskins need Richardson to step up. They didn’t have a single pass catcher top 600 yards receiving in 2018 and all they did to replace Jamison Crowder was use a 3rd round pick on Terry McLaurin. McLaurin will compete for playing time with Josh Doctson, who led Redskin receivers with 846 snaps played in 2018, and Trey Quinn, who is expected to get the first shot at replacing Crowder on the slot.

Doctson has been very underwhelming in 3 seasons in the league, since being drafted in the first round by the Redskins in 2016. Despite plenty of opportunity in a thin receiving corps, Doctson finished with a 44/532/2 slash line in 2018 and averaged just 1.04 yards per route run (96th out of 107 qualifying receivers). He theoretically still has untapped upside, but he hasn’t shown it yet and his 2018 receiving total was actually a career best. Quinn, meanwhile, is a 2018 7th round pick who played just 107 snaps as a rookie, so he’s incredibly unproven. There’s opportunity here for McLaurin to earn a role as a rookie, even though he was just a 3rd round pick. They lack a clear #1 target.

Tight end Jordan Reed also had injury problems last season, but he still led the team with a 54/558/2 slash line in 13 games. That was actually the 2nd most games Reed has played in a season in his 6 years in the league. He’s missed 31 of 96 games and has never played more than 14 games. Even when in the lineup in 2018, Reed didn’t look his old self, averaging just 42.9 yards per game. He’s averaged just 40.5 yards per game over the past 2 seasons, after averaging 63.0 yards per game in 2015 and 2016, as the injuries seem to have taken their toll. Only going into his age 29 season, Reed had a 66/686/6 slash line in 12 games as recently as 2016, but his best days look behind him at this point. He’ll likely miss time with injury again as well.

#2 tight end Vernon Davis will again be counted on for a significant role and as valuable insurance behind Reed. Davis is going into his age 35 season though. He still had a 25/367/2 slash line on 193 routes run in 2018 (1.90 yards per route run, 6th among qualifying tight ends), but he’s not the blocker he was once and could see his receiving abilities fall off at any point at his age. The Redskins need him to continue contributing and Reed to stay relatively healthy because #3 tight end Jeremy Sprinkle is a blocking tight end with 7 career catches in 2 seasons in the league. This is a very underwhelming pass catching group.

Grade: C+

Offensive Line

The Redskins also had injury problems on the offensive line. Two of their five starters made all 16 starts, but the other 3 missed a combined 22 games. Not only did left tackle Trent Williams miss 3 games, but he was limited in several others with a knee injury that eventually needed surgery. A top-15 offensive tackle on Pro Football Focus in 7 straight seasons prior to last season, Williams finished “just” 21st in 2018 as a result of his injury. He has some bounce back potential if he can stay healthy in 2019, but he’s going into his age 31 season and has missed 9 games with injury over the past 2 seasons.

Right guard Brandon Scherff’s injury was also a significant one, as he was PFF’s 15th ranked guard before a torn pectoral ended his season after 8 games. The 2015 5th overall pick, Scherff also finished 6th among guards on PFF in 2017 and has earned an above average grade in all 4 seasons in the league. Despite his injury in 2018, the Redskins are still fully expected to give Scherff an extension before the final year of his rookie deal in 2019. Scherff is expected to be among the highest paid guards in the NFL (Zack Martin is the highest currently at 14 million annually), but he’s already set to make 12.525 million in 2019 and even a large extension could lower his cap hit, so there’s plenty of incentive for both sides to get a big deal done. Scherff missed just 2 games in his first 3 seasons in the league, so it’s a relatively safe move.

Center Chase Rouiller and right tackle Morgan Moses both made all 16 starts. Rouiller was solid in his first full season as a starter, after flashing in limited action as a 6th round rookie in 2017. Moses, meanwhile, had his 4th straight season with an above average grade from PFF. He’s made all 64 starts over those 4 seasons and is still in the prime of his career in his age 28 season. Both should continue their solid play in 2019.

The one weak point upfront is left guard, where the Redskins are hoping former Giants bust Ereck Flowers can be a late bloomer at a new position. Flowers was the 9th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and made 46 starts at left tackle in his first 3 seasons in the league, but he was very underwhelming. The Giants moved him to right tackle last off-season and subsequently cut Flowers after 2 starts after he didn’t fare any better on the right side. As a free agent, Flowers got the call from a Jaguars team that was desperate for offensive line help and made another 7 starts at left tackle for them last season, but he wasn’t much better than he had been previously.

Now the Redskins are trying him as a left guard, taking a flyer on him for 3.25 million over 1 year. Only in his age 25 season, Flowers could be worth the risk. The Redskins’ other options at left guard are 2018 3rd round pick Geron Christian, who played just 43 snaps as a rookie despite plenty of opportunity to play, and 2019 4th round pick Wes Martin. Left guard is the one position of weakness on an overall solid offensive line.

Grade: B+

Edge Defenders

The Redskins had the most adjusted games lost to injury on offense, but remarkably they had the fewest adjusted games lost to injury on defense. Their defense was solid in 2018, finishing 17th in first down rate allowed, but they might not be as good in 2019 if they have a normal amount of injuries. The Redskins also lost some players this off-season, most notably edge defender Preston Smith. Smith had just 4 sacks in 2018, but he added 11 hits and 38 hurries on 468 pass rush snaps (11.3% pressure rate) and was Pro Football Focus’ 20th ranked edge defender on 834 snaps. The Redskins also lost reserve edge defender Pernell McPhee, who played 203 snaps in 2018.

The Redskins traded up from the 2nd round to take Mississippi edge defender Montez Sweat 26th overall at the end of the first round (giving up a 2020 2nd round pick in the process). Sweat could have been a top-10 pick if not for concerns about his heart condition and he could prove to be a steal if he stays healthy and develops. He’ll have an immediate role and the Redskins will also be giving more playing time to 2017 2nd round pick Ryan Anderson. He’s played just 358 snaps in 2 seasons in the league and is a projection to a large role, but he has plenty of upside and flashed on 164 snaps in 2018.

Ryan Kerrigan remains as an every down player. Kerrigan has been an iron man since entering the league as the 16th overall pick in 2011, making 128 of 128 starts and averaging 57.5 snaps per game in 8 seasons in the league. He’s also played at a high level, with 84.5 sacks, a 13.1% pressure rate, and solid play against the run as well. He’s going into his age 31 season, but shows no signs of slowing down, finishing as PFF’s 25th ranked edge defender in 2018. The Redskins’ depth at edge defender is suspect (7th round rookie Jordan Brailford might be 4th in the rotation), but they have a solid top trio.

Grade: B

Interior Defenders

The Redskins also lack depth at interior defender. Da’Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen, and Matt Ioannidis are a solid starting 3-man defensive line in the Redskins’ 3-4 defense, but they didn’t have a single reserve play more than 137 snaps in 2018. Tim Settle, a 2018 5th round pick who played 135 snaps as a rookie, is probably their top reserve in 2019 and he’s highly unproven. Da’Ron Payne plays nose tackle in this defense in base packages, but he’s not a pure nose tackle, actually leading this defensive line in snaps played with 797 in 2018. The 13th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Payne moves well for his size and added 5 sacks, 3 hits, and 19 hurries on 473 pass rush snaps (5.8% pressure rate). He earned an above average grade from Pro Football Focus in 2018 and could easily take another step forward in his 2nd season in the league in 2019.

The Redskins also used a first round pick on a defensive lineman in 2017, taking Jonathan Allen 17th overall. Allen flashed on 159 snaps in an injury plagued rookie season and then took a step forward in his 2nd season in the league, playing 780 snaps and earning an above average grade from PFF. Now going into his 3rd season in the league, Allen could easily continue improving. Like his former college teammate Da’Ron Payne, he has a huge upside.

Matt Ioannidis plays about half the snaps as the 3rd defensive end. He had 7.5 sacks last season, despite playing just 439 snaps. While his peripheral pass rush stats weren’t as good, 3 hits and 25 hurries on 275 pass rush snaps, he still earned an above average pass rush grade from PFF. A 5th round pick in 2016, Ioannidis has earned an above average overall grade from PFF in each of the past 2 seasons as a part-time player. The Redskins need him, Allen, and Payne to all stay healthy, hardly a given.

Grade: B+

Linebackers

The Redskins also lost middle linebacker Zach Brown this off-season. Brown played just 68.0% of the snaps in 2018 and struggled in coverage, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked off ball linebacker in run grade. He was released because he had a 7.25 million dollar non-guaranteed salary and because the Redskins had Reuben Foster to take over for him, but Foster tore his ACL and Brown signed with the Eagles. That left the Redskins having to sign veteran Jon Bostic, who is an obvious downgrade from both Brown and Foster. Injuries have already started on a defense that had almost done last season.

Bostic is experienced, with 46 career starts in 5 seasons in the league, and he’s a capable run stuffer, but he struggled in coverage. He’s similar to fellow starter Mason Foster, who has made 92 starts in 8 seasons in the league. The one difference is Foster is a little older, going into his age 30 season. Young linebackers Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaun Dion Hamilton may have to see roles. Harvey-Clemons is a 2017 7th round pick who has struggled in 289 career snaps, while Hamilton went in the 6th round in 2018 and struggled on 129 snaps as a rookie. This is a weak position group.

Grade: C-

Secondary

The Redskins also have two new starters at safety. DJ Swearinger and HaHa Clinton-Dix were an impressive starting duo after the Redskins acquired the latter from the Packers at the trade deadline to start the final 9 games of the season, but Swearinger was kicked off the team before week 17 last year, due to issues with the coaching staff, and Clinton-Dix signed with the Bears in free agency. The Redskins filled one of the starting jobs in a big way, signing Landon Collins, one of the best young safeties in the league in his age 25 season, to a 6-year, 84 million dollar deal that makes him the highest paid safety in the NFL in average annual salary. The other starting job is an open competition though.

Montae Nicholson has made 13 starts over the past 2 seasons since going in the 4th round in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he struggled in 2018 before getting benched for Clinton-Dix. He was also arrested for assault late in the season, though the charges were eventually dropped. He’ll compete with Deshazor Everett, who has played just 802 defensive snaps in 4 seasons in the league and is a complete projection to a larger role, and 2018 4th round pick Tony Apke, who didn’t play a defensive snap as a rookie. This figures to be a position of weakness in 2019, regardless of who starts.

The Redskins did not have many injuries on defense in 2018, but they did lose cornerback Quinton Dunbar for 9 games with a variety of injuries. Dunbar played pretty well when in the lineup and replacement Fabian Moreau, who ended up playing 840 snaps, was a downgrade. Dunbar has just 14 starts in 4 seasons in the league since going undrafted in 2015 though, so he’s relatively unproven, while Moreau is a 2017 3rd round pick with a high upside. They’ll compete for roles in 2019.

The Redskins also signed veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in free agency and he’ll be in the mix for a role as well. Rodgers-Cromartie hasn’t nearly been the same player in recent years, now going into his age 33 season, and he retired in the middle of a 2018 season in which he barely played in Oakland (147 snaps in 6 games), but he could provide valuable veteran depth in Washington if his heart is back in it.

Josh Norman is the only cornerback locked into a role, as he remains as the #1 cornerback. He’s more name than game at this point though, falling from 3rd among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus in 2015, to 26th, 49th, and 50th in 3 seasons in Washington. Now going into his age 32 season, Norman seems to be on the downswing. Owed a non-guaranteed 12.5 million in 2020, this could be Norman’s final season in Washington. He should have another couple solid seasons left in the tank, but he’s not the shutdown cornerback he once was. This secondary is far from perfect, but there’s some things to like about it, including their cornerback depth and free agent acquisition Landon Collins.

Grade: B-

Conclusion

Even when the Redskins were 6-3 last season, they were not as good as their record and had serious issues on offense. Injuries were part of the problem last season, but their offensive issues aren’t all fixed from better health, especially with a rookie quarterback likely starting for most of the season. Not only is Dwayne Haskins less of a sure thing than Alex Smith, but the first round pick they had to use on him could have gone to address other needs. They need help on both sides of the ball. They have some impressive players on defense, but they are unlikely to stay as healthy as they were last season and they lost some talent this off-season. This looks like a team that is going to struggle.  

Prediction: 4-12, 4th in NFC East

Team Score: 71.14 (31st in NFL)

Offensive Score: 70.68

Defensive Score: 71.60

team score is based on a weighted average of individual player grades (certain positions valued higher than others, score out of 100)

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