2021 Football Team Offseason Preview – Yahoo Sports

My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top — cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures — and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).

Washington 2020 Recap



Stuck in a rebuild without a franchise quarterback, Washington outperformed 2020 expectations largely because of their well-coached and talent-filled defense. The Football Team, headlined by a plethora of first-round defensive lineman, was 4th in points allowed, 4th in passing EPA, 10th in rushing EPA, and 7th in adjusted sack rate. But that was only good enough to sneak into the playoffs in the worst division of my lifetime (I’m 13 so take that with a grain of salt) thanks to offense. Ever heard of it? The Dwayne Haskins experiment ended at a strip club, and Terry McLaurin was contained with all eyes on him. Washington’s inability to win vertically (32nd in aDOT) made OC Scott Turner dial back the playbook, leaving them 26th in points scored despite the seventh-easiest strength of schedule. That laxed SOS isn’t going anywhere, nor is the defense, so Washington could be a sneaky good team in 2021 if they luck into decent quarterback play.

Washington 2021 Offseason


Washington Cap Space

$38.3 million (5th)

Washington Draft Picks

1.19, 2.51, 3.74, 3.83, 4th, 5th, 7th, 7th, plus compensatory picks

Washington Departures

RG Brandon Scherff, EDGE Ryan Kerrigan, CB Ronald Darby, LB Thomas Davis, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Reuben Foster, QB Kyle Allen, WR Cam Sims

Washington Cut Candidates

QB Alex Smith ($14.7M cap savings)

Washington Depth Chart

Offensive Coordinator: The offense was a disaster in 2020, but that was mostly a talent issue, not an OC Scott Turner issue. They played with reasonable neutral offensive pace (15th) and with a reasonable neutral pass rate (15th) for a team quarterbacked by Alex Smith (6 starts), Dwayne Haskins (6), Kyle Allen (4), and Taylor Heinickie (1). If they weren’t third in percentage of plays trailing, they likely would’ve been higher than 18th in play action rate, too. Hopefully Turner gets a better quarterback and No. 2 receiver because his offense can be fantasy friendly using spread concepts, pre-snap motion, and RPOs. Here’s where Turner’s offense ranked in 2019 with Carolina when he had more talent around him: 4th Down Aggressiveness (4th), Pass Rate on Early Downs (11th), Play-Action Rate (9th), Pre-Snap Motion Percentage (6th), and Offensive Pace (5th).

Passing Offense: The 2021 starting quarterback likely isn’t on the roster because Alex Smith can be released with $14.7 million in cap savings. That makes this an impossible paragraph to write right now. For now, I can highlight how important of a need receiver is for Washington, both slot and outside receiver. 79% of Washington’s passes came from 11-personnel, so upgrading Steven Sims and Antonio Gandy-Golden are absolute musts. Any reasonable receiver upgrade will arguably be a positive for Terry McLaurin, who had much better tape on the perimeter than his WR75 ranking in PPR Points Over Expected Per Game (-0.2) would suggest. Essentially any archetype of receiver will fit into this shotgun-based, RPO-heavy passing offense. They were 28th in passing EPA and had the lowest average depth of target in 2021.

Rushing Offense: Washington’s offensive line was legit in 2020, finishing third in PFF’s pass-blocking and 10th in run-blocking grade. Their best lineman, All-Pro RG Brandon Scherff, is a free agent, but the remaining four starters are returning: LT Cornelius Lucas, LG “Sheck” Wes Schweitzer, C Chase Roullier, and RT Morgan Moses. That’s a very experienced group, the youngest turning 28 years old during the 2021 season. This unit helps Antonio Gibson look really good. The third-rounder earned a bellcow role down the stretch — Gibson averaged 20.2 PPR points on 16.7 expected PPR points per game after the bye (full splits) — and will enter 2021 as a 300-touch candidate with a receiving-game ceiling. Meanwhile, J.D. McKissic’s role likely scales back with Gibson established and more receiving weapons coming.

Defensive Coordinator: Under DC Jack Del Rio, the Football Team almost exclusively was a zone defense in 2020, specifically using Cover 3 (33%, 4th) and Cover 4 (20%, 1st) at top-five rates. Because of that and their elite pass rush, Washington was 13th in blitz rate (33%). That beautiful formula led to the No. 4 scoring defense last year. It was the strength and identity of the team, and that won’t change with most members of the defense coming back. It’s a young and talented group that should be considered one of the league’s best in 2021. It doesn’t hurt to be playing that NFC East schedule either.

Passing Defense: Washington’s secondary is tough to figure out because Landon Collins (Achilles) and 2020 seventh-round breakout Kamren Curl are both free safeties that deserve full-time snaps when healthy. Curl, who is quicker, could move into the slot as he did to open his rookie season and let Collins creep into the box as a more traditional strong safety. They are set there, but need a true free safety unless Curl transitions there. At corner, Washington has Kendall Fuller and little else with quality starter Ronald Darby and fringe starter Fabian Moreau heading to free agency. A starting outside corner is needed. Up front, Washington is as good as it gets with all four starters on rookie contracts as first rounders: DE Chase Young, DE Montez Sweat, DT Da’Ron Payne, and DT Jonathan Allen. Because of them, Washington’s top-8 rankings in passing EPA defense (4th) and adjusted sack rate (7th) are somewhat repeatable even if defenses are less stable than offenses year to year.

Rushing Defense: Given the scheme and how willing the defensive backs are to pitch in against the run, Washington already is a leg up over other teams in potentially repeating a top-10 finish in run defense, and we haven’t mentioned that the front four lineman are all first-rounders. Not bad. At linebacker, Washington has thumping 30-year-old MLB Jon Bostic and 2019 fifth-round WLB Cole Holcomb now with Thomas Davis, Kevin Pierre-Louis, and Reuben Foster (knee) heading to free agency. Both players are low-end starters, so upgrades would be welcomed.



Washington Team Needs

1. Quarterback – Washington is highly unlikely to go into the year with Alex Smith, who can be released for $14.7 million in cap savings this offseason. Cam Newton has a connection to the coaching staff, but other veterans will be in the mix. If Washington wants a top-five rookie quarterback, they’ll likely have to trade up from No. 19 overall.

2. Outside Receiver – Terry McLaurin would be more effective if he had a running mate, and it’s nearly impossible to evaluate whoever the quarterback is with no-namers at WR2. The No. 28 passing offense obviously needs a day one starter. Can I suggest a Scott Turner/Curtis Samuel reunion?

3. Slot Receiver – 79% of Washington’s pass attempts came in 11-personnel last year. The coaching staff wants to use a slot receiver, and there’s not a starting-caliber one on the roster. Steven Sims was an undrafted free agent in 2019.

4. Free Safety – It’s possible 2020 seventh-round breakout SS Kamren Curl plays free safety, but he didn’t take many snaps there last year, at least in single-high looks. If Del Rio wants to play Cover 3 again, he needs to find a true free safety. 29-year-old former UDFA Deshazor Everett is a depth option, not long-term starter.

5. Linebacker – Two of the four off-ball linebackers in last year’s rotation are free agents (Thomas Davis, Kevin Pierre-Louis), and former first-rounder Reuben Foster hasn’t played in two years due to a serious knee injury. Washington’s current starters (Jon Bostic, Cole Holcomb) aren’t long-term options and coverage liabilities.

2021 Fantasy Football Rankings

Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.

Antonio Gibson (RB1/2) – Losing All-Pro RG Brandon Scherff would hurt, but the rest of the offensive line is in good shape and are all returning. Gibson will be a 250-carry candidate in year two and has a chance to carve out a bigger passing-down role after going from 13.1 to 16.7 expected PPR points per game following Washington’s Week 8 bye last year. Everything about his profile suggests he can handle a true bellcow workload. If Washington can find consistency at quarterback, Gibson could be in the top-12 mix.

Terry McLaurin (WR2) – Despite 2020 chaos, McLaurin finished as the WR20 in PPR points per game (14.9) on WR10 fantasy usage. Whatever target competition the front office adds should be offset by whatever quarterback upgrade they can find this offseason. McLaurin enters his prime (26 in September) with a high floor and ceiling. OC Scott Turner’s offense can be fun if quarterback play cooperates.

Logan Thomas (TE1/2) – A late-career breakout, Thomas looked the part on tape but limped to a top-10 finish in fantasy because of bad quarterback play. With more target competition coming, Thomas could go from No. 2 target to No. 3. Already 30 in July, Thomas is someone to tread lightly with.

J.D. McKissic (RB6) – The PPR cheat code is unlikely to get the Alex Smith bump in 2021, especially with Gibson likely earning more work on passing downs. McKissic has only averaged 5.5 yards per target throughout his quiet career. He’ll be one of the easiest fades of the year.

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