In anticipation of the upcoming NFL season, Head & Heart Sports will feature one division each week until the season begins and preview each team’s 2016 outlook. This week we take a look at the NFC East, continuing with the Washington Redskins today.
Recap of 2015: YOU LIKE THAT?!?!? The Washington Redskins entered last year as the consensus prediction to be the last place finisher in the NFC East. Through the first six and a half games of the year, that seemed pretty accurate as they stumbled to a 2-4 start and were down 24-7 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at halftime. The entire trajectory of the season changed in the second half of that game, as the Redskins mounted a huge comeback to win 31-30 during Kirk Cousin’s coming out party. Cousins threw three touchdowns in that second half, including the eventual game winner to Jordan Reed with 24 seconds left in the game. The rest was history. Cousins carried the team to a 9-7 record (including four straight wins to end the regular season) and the NFC East division title. Over the season, Cousins threw for over 4,100 yards and 29 touchdowns, leading the offense to a very respectable 12th place finish in DVOA. Washington got to host their first playoff game since the RGIII debacle against Seattle. Unfortunately, the Redskins struggled mightily in that game and lost to the Green Bay Packers 35-18 in a matchup that was never really in doubt. Despite the loss, there is plenty of optimism in the Nation’s Capital about their professional football team going into this season.
Significant Additions: CB Josh Norman, TE Vernon Davis, DE Kendall Reyes, S David Bruton
Significant Subtractions: QB Robert Griffin III, RB Alfred Morris, DT Terrance Knighton, WR Andre Roberts, DE Jason Hatcher, CB Chris Culliver, CB Cary Williams, S Dashon Goldson
Potential Impact Rookies: WR Josh Doctson, S Su’a Cravens, CB Kendall Fuller, RB Keith Marshall
Team Strengths: I am a big fan of the weapons Washington has given to Kirk Cousins. At wide receiver, DeSean Jackson (when healthy) is one of the best deep threats in the entire NFL, averaging an astonishing 17.7 yards per catch over his career. He stretches a defense and opens the field for the rest of the team. Opposite Jackson, Pierre Garcon is a consistent and much more durable possession receiver that compliments Jackson’s boom or bust style well. One thing to note is that both players are in the last year of their contracts, so I think this will be at least one (if not both) of their final season’s in DC. This will pave the way for first round pick Josh Doctson. Doctson was considered by some experts as the top wideout in the class of 2016 and projects to be a top flight receiver with comparisons to AJ Green. According to head coach Jay Gruden, Doctson has “the same type of body control and the ability to high-point” as Green and also has the “most dominant trait a receiver should have, and that’s catching the football”. Doctson may not make a huge impact in 2016, but he surely plays into their future plans. While Doctson develops, expect Jamison Crowder, who quietly had over 600 yards receiving as a rookie, to be the #3 wideout for Cousins. Even with this great group of wideouts, the Redskins’ best pass catcher might be tight end Jordan Reed. Reed put it all together in 2015 and finished with 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns, which tied him for second among all tight ends in the NFL. Veteran Vernon Davis is also now in town, but I expect him to be more of a mentor for Reed and injury insurance for the team.
Team Weaknesses: The running back position stands out on offense. After letting go of local fan favorite Alfred Morris this offseason, Matt Jones steps in as the presumptive starter, but Washington fans should be weary if they think he will be the next John Riggins, Stephen Davis, or Clinton Portis. Jones ranked 65th out of 68 qualified running backs last year according to Pro Football Focus and aside from one big game against the Rams in Week 2, was pretty bad for all of his rookie year. He averaged 3.4 yards per carry and only scored three touchdowns. He also had a big ball security issue (five fumbles) and was below average in pass blocking. So basically Matt Jones was poor at just about everything a running back is asked to do. Outside of Jones, the Redskins only have Chris Thompson and oft injured rookie 7th round pick Keith Marshall. I would expect Washington to be at the bottom of the league in rushing in 2016.
Fantasy Players to Watch: I would advise caution on Kirk Cousins this season. Obviously if you project out his second half numbers after the infamous YOU LIKE THAT?!?!? Game, he is a no brainer QB1 this year. However, I think he will regress a bit and be right on that fringe QB1/QB2 line this season. The Redskins will still have to throw, throw, throw this season, so he should still have big passing yardage numbers, but look for his turnover stats to be high as well. Fellow H&H writer Randy Haines has a lot of Matt Jones stock in fantasy this year, but as you can see from the Team Weaknesses section, I am very low on him. I would still give him FLEX consideration at this point in your drafts, simply because of his potential high usage. DeSean Jackson is one of those boom or bust players that will give you two catches one week, then three 40 yard touchdowns the next week. If you are feeling confident in your start/sit ability, DJax can you win some weeks by himself. As far as rookie Josh Doctson, I would not expect a huge rookie year for him, but he should be a solid pick in keeper and dynasty leagues. Jordan Reed is the only tight end in the NFL with a chance to battle Rob Gronkowski for the top end spot in fantasy. Injuries have always been the risk with Reed, but if he can play all 16 games, he will finish in the top tier of tight ends this year.
2016 Outlook: Washington was having a quiet offseason, but of course Dan Snyder could not contain himself and they ended up making the biggest splash in Free Agency by signing All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman. Norman was specifically brought in to shut down NFC East rivals including Dez Bryant and sworn enemy Odell Beckham Jr. They also franchised Kirk Cousins this offseason, hedging their bet on him becoming their long term solution after quarterback post-RGIII. With these moves, the Redskins have set themselves up well to defend their division title. Their passing offense has the potential to be dynamic and if they can find some semblance of balance with their running attack, Washington should have one of the better offenses in the NFL. On defense, Norman should help improve their secondary. The secondary will need to be very strong, as Washington’s front seven has many question marks entering 2016. If their defense can be near league average, and the offense can be in the top ten, that should be enough for the Redskins to win the division again in a down NFC East. The Eagles should not be good this year after the upheaval of Chip Kelly and all of his players, the Cowboys are one injury away from having deja vu to last season, and the Giants have major questions across their roster and have yet to prove they can win close games in crunch time. Somehow the LOLRedskins have become the most stable franchise in the NFC East the past 12 months. If the Redskins can become the example of stability, maybe there is hope for my beloved Wizards to become relevant too?
Record Prediction: Washington has a pretty favorable first half schedule this season. They only have to face two 2015 playoff teams (Pittsburgh in Week 1 and Cincinnati in Week 8), while the rest of their game are against sub .500 teams. Watch out for for Week 4 against Cleveland though, when RGIII comes to town with revenge on his mind against the team that ruined his athleticism and reputation. The second half will be much tougher though, as the Redskins have games against four fellow NFC playoff teams from last year: Arizona, Carolina, Green Bay, and Minnesota. If everything falls into place, this team can muster up 9-10 wins out of this schedule and win the division again in 2016. Who are we kidding though? Knowing the Redskins, they are just as likely to crash and burn this season as the Wizards were to get Kevin Durant. I predict they finish 5-11 and are back to last place in the NFC East. You like that prediction?
Photo Credit: The Associated Press