A few days ago I looked at the 5 biggest concerns facing the Redskins heading into the season, now I will look at the 5 biggest positives as the Redskins get ready for their 3rd preseason game.
– The Redskins might lack an elite receiver in the Antonio Brown or DeAndre Hopkins mold, but they make up for that with their depth and versatility among their pass catchers. At receiver Jamison Crowder is the most reliable of the group and he has shown himself to be among the better primary slot receivers in the league. He’s a consistent chain mover, who finds a way to get open for his QB. Josh Doctson really started to develop last season and there is no reason why that shouldn’t continue this year. He’s a fast outside receiver, with good size and leaping ability. He’s probably not going to be a high volume receiver, but he will make splash plays and be a major threat in the Red Zone. Paul Richardson was brought in this year to add a pure speed element to this team. He’s a burner on the outside, but he can contribute on a variety of routes.
Among their tight ends and backs the Redskins have three other weapons they can count on to attack opposing defenses. Third down back Chris Thompson had a break-out year last season before getting injured and is a major weapon out of the backfield. He is nearly impossible for LBs to match-up with, and when he gets into open space he can get big chunk gains. When healthy TE Jordan Reed is among the 5-7 best pass catching TEs in the league and another player who is almost impossible to cover for most linebackers and safeties. Behind him the Redskins have Vernon Davis who continues to produce well into his 30’s. He’s not as fast and dynamic as he once was, but he’s among the best number 2 tight ends in the league.
What really is impressive about this group is the lack of a true weakness when any combination of the 6 are on the field together. Defenses may have the ability to match-up for 2 or 3 of these players, but to try to match-up vs four or five of them is going to be very tough. Trying to stop this group play-in-play-out will be close to impossible for most defenses. This should give the Redskins a big advantage on offense assuming this group stays relatively healthy and the offensive line holds up.
-Just two years ago the Redskins had one of the weakest defensive lines lines in the league. Even among base 3-4 teams, there was a noticeable lack of talent and not a single player who would be claissfied as an “impact” guy. Now two years later, back-to-back first round picks Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne give the Redskins potentially not one, but two impact talents along that defensive line. Allen especially has the upside to become an elite interior defensive line player. Payne is still a bit of a raw player, as he’s yet to show the consistency to dominate week-in-week out. When the light did turn on for him though he was nearly unblockable and completely disrupted opposing offenses.
Though he doesn’t have the 1st round pedigree of Allen and Payne, the third starter of the line, Matt Ioannidis is also making a case that he can be a very good defensive lineman. Ioannidis had a breakout year as a sophomore last season, showing himself to be a very good pass rusher from an interior defensive lineman. He was pretty solid versus the run, and gives the Redskins a strong third piece among their starting unit. He’s currently dealing with an injury, but the expectation is that he will be healthy for the start of the season.
If all three starters play up to their potential this season, this unit could be a dominant force this year. They are all capable of impacting both the run and passing games, and should give opposing offensive line headaches all season.
– To go along with the talented defensive line starting unit mentioned above, the Redskins have a pair of bookend quality EDGE rushers. Ryan Kerrigan is one of the more consistent EDGE players in the league. He’s never had that high teens or 20 sack season, but he has now topped 10 sacks in three of his last four seasons. Kerrigan also typically puts up very high quarterback pressure numbers which helps lead to other sacks, incomplete passes and turnovers. Preston Smith is coming off a very good year of 8 sacks to go along with a high number of pressures himself. Add in veteran EDGE rusher Pernell McPhee, who has excelled as a third pass rusher in his career, and this should be a very productive unit.
While the EDGE players will get most of the sacks, the strong defensive line should get their fair share as starters Ioannidis and Allen are both very good in his area. Payne will flash at times and won’t be a liability when he’s out there. Off the bench Anthony Lanier has done a nice job developing into a situational pass rusher, and is coming off a 5 sack season.
The Redskins pass rush should generate strong pressure and sack rates, which should have a domino effect on the rest of the Defense. Most turnovers are attributable to sacks and pressures (QB fumbles on sacks and interceptions on pressured passes), and both play a vital role in slowing down opposing offenses. Even the best QBs in the league will struggle when faced with pressure, and it leads to an uptick of negative plays. Though not as easy to quantify, but typically better pass rushes lead to more penalties by the opposing offense, which can also kill drives.
– If healthy this unit could dominate as they have three starters locked down as among the best at their respective positions. Trent Williams makes a strong case for being the best left tackle in the game and his athleticism and physicality make him a premier run and pass blocker. Brandon Scherff has now gone to back-to-back Pro Bowls and is very deserving of All-Pro consideration. Morgan Moses has found a place at right tackle and has really started to excel there. He’s easily among the top 10 right tackles in the game and continues to improve his consistency.
With three high level starters the Redskins just need above average play from their remaining two starters LG Shawn Lauvao and C Chase Roullier. Lauvao has dealt with a number of injuries in recent years, but when he’s been on the field and near full health he’s been solid. Roullier was a 6th round rookie a year ago, but he was forced into the starting line-up due to injuries and held his own. The coaching staff is clearly high on him and the belief is he can improve and get more consistent. It is a big if given how decimated with injuries this unit was a year ago, but if they can stay relatively healthy this unit should really help the offense succeed this season.
-There is no more important position in the NFL than the quarterback spot and the Redskins made sure this would not be a question mark for them, when they brought in veteran Alex Smith. Smith is coming off a career year and is a smart veteran signal caller, who should quickly be able to pick up Jay Gruden’s offense. While no one should expect Smith to challenge Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers for the top QB spot in the league, he reasonably should be among the top 15 or top 10 QBs in the league. Smith is probably the best quarterback in the division (depending on the health and progression of Carson Wentz), which gives the Redskins a nice advantage over their biggest rivals.
The Redskins offense is going to succeed or fail on how their passing game production this year, so adding a quality veteran was essential to handle Jay Gruden’s offense this season. With a bevy of talented weapons and a strong offensive line (see above), there is a lot of reasons to be optimistic on the Redskins offensive outlook this season.