2016 season preview: Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins made a couple of big moves in the offseason to upgrade their roster. They brought in the league’s top cornerback on the market to help shore up the secondary, while using their first-round draft pick one of the top receivers in the draft class to give QB Kirk Cousins another target in the passing game. By using the franchise tag on Cousins, they pushed the decision of giving him a long-term deal to next offseason, giving the franchise another season of evaluation.
Here’s a look at Washington’s position groups and where each stacks up in the league as they try to defend their NFC East division title.
[More: Be sure to check out PFF’s ranking of all 32 NFL QB situations, offensive lines, running back units, receiving corps, secondaries, and defensive front-sevens. Catch up on all the team previews here.]
Cousins must improve consistency in 2016 to earn big contract
Kirk Cousins was handed the reigns to the offense before the start of last season, and performed much better than he had in limited playing time the previous two seasons. He finished the year as our 16th-ranked quarterback, earning above-average and below-average grades in five games each. He showed improvement in his efficiency, leading the league in completion percentage and ranking second in adjusted completion percentage. Playing on the franchise tag this season, Cousins still has question marks that make one uncertain if he is the long-term guy going forward—or worth a potential nine-figure contract. But he has improved enough to show that he can be a capable NFL quarterback, and has a good opportunity to take another step forward in 2016.
Redskins own league-worst RB unit heading into season
Washington moved on from Alfred Morris (Cowboys) this offseason, whose rushing and overall grades had decreased each season since a stellar rookie year. That leaves the team with Matt Jones as the starter and Chris Thompson as the second-string back. Jones was less than impressive as a rookie, as he earned below-average grades as a rusher, receiver, and blocker to rank 66th out of 69 qualifying running backs in overall grade. In addition to often not gaining more than what his offensive line provided, he fumbled five times on 163 touches for one of the highest fumble rates in the league. Thompson actually fared better as a runner, gaining more than a whole extra yard after contact compared to Jones. However, he’s not more than a spell back. Washington did little to address the position this offseason, only using a seventh-round pick on former Georgia running back Keith Marshall, who had a bunch of potential coming out of high school, but was derailed by injuries and played just 155 snaps in college the past two seasons.
(PFF Fantasy Insight: Matt Jones is going to get every chance to succeed, if only because there isn’t much else to fall back on. He’s the No. 23 running back right now in our staff consensus rankings.)
Receiving corps by far Redskins’ best unit
Without question, the best position group for Washington is their combination of wide receivers and tight ends. DeSean Jackson missed part of last season with a hamstring injury, but when he was on the field, he was still as effective as he’s been the last few seasons. On what amounted to half of a regular season, Jackson still ranked 12th among wide receivers in total receiving yards on deep passes of 20+ yards downfield. He also recorded the third-highest catch rate on deep passes, hauling in 58.8 percent of such throws. Jamison Crowder had a solid rookie season by catching 79.7 percent of his 74 targets, the third-highest catch rate among wide receivers. Not only will Washington still have top wideout Pierre Garçon, but they also brought in Josh Doctson (TCU) with their first-round draft pick, who had the highest receiving grade out the of the 2016 draft class.
At tight end, the Redskins have arguably their best receiver in Jordan Reed. Staying relatively healthy last year, Reed earned the third-highest receiving grade for tight ends behind Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olson. Including Washington’s playoff game, Reed eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season, came up just shy of 100 receptions with 96, and led all tight ends with 19 missed tackles forced.
Center position must rebound in 2016
The offensive line should return pretty much intact from last season. Trent Williams remains one of the top pass-blocking tackles in the league and an above-average run-blocker. Last year’s first-round pick Brandon Scherff was pretty much what we expected as a rookie—a solid run-blocker who would have a few issues in pass protection. He improved as the season progressed and had the 10th-highest overall grade during the second half of the season. Center is a significant concern heading into the season, though. Kory Lichtensteiger had been a slightly above-average player for most of his career, but struggled massively in the five regular season games prior to his injury, finishing the season as the lowest-graded center in the league. His replacement, Josh LeRibeus, didn’t fare much better, earning below-average grades as both a pass and run-blocker. In all, Washington should have an above-average line, and could be even better if Lichtensteiger can bounce back in 2016.
Trent Murphy’s transition to interior likely a major factor in 2016
Washington made several changes to the defensive line last offseason, most of which turned out for the better. Chris Baker had a surprisingly-good 2015 season, posting career-highs in total pressures and defensive stops. A major change will be Trent Murphy switching from outside linebacker to defensive end. He played well on the edge last season, even if he hasn’t produced as much as some have hoped after being a second-round pick. How Murphy will handle the transition, as well as the necessary bulking up to play on the interior line, will be an important factor for the defense. Still, the biggest question remains at inside linebacker, where most of the returning players performed poorly last season, and some longer. Will Compton had below-average grades in nine games last year. Mason Foster played better than he did when with Tampa Bay, but still was an average linebacker at best.
Josh Norman provides major boost to secondary
The Washington secondary didn’t have a great 2015 season, but there were still improvements made after a poor 2014. Breshaud Breeland cut his penalties from 13 as a rookie to just three last season, while improving from the 100th-ranked cornerback to 14th in terms of overall grade. Bringing in Josh Norman (Panthers) is a huge boost for this unit, and gives them a true No. 1 cornerback that they haven’t had since DeAngelo Hall’s first seasons with the team. Washington also brought in David Bruton (Broncos) to replace Dashon Goldson, with the former grading positively each of the past three years in limited playing time, while Goldson has been among the six-worst-graded safeties (out of 80+ qualifying players) over the same time period. With the changes made, the secondary should be set up for its most successful season in recent years.