Washington Football Team 2021 Team Previewby Mike Fanelli July 15, 2021 0 comments
Entering the 2020 season, the newly named Washington Football Team was at a crossroads. Dwayne Haskins started Week 1 but didn’t finish the year on the roster. However, between a weak NFC East division and a dominant defense led by Chase Young, Washington was able to win the division and make the playoffs with a 7-9 record. Unfortunately, injuries forced the team to use four quarterbacks during the season. In their lone playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington fought their hardest but lost 31-23. Between last season’s success and their moves this offseason, Washington will be a team to contend with in 2021.
Make sure to check out all of our other 2021 NFL Team Previews.
Washington was very active in free agency. The first player they added was former Miami Dolphin quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. With Washington picking 19th overall in the first round of the draft, their odds of landing one of the top quarterback prospects were slim. By adding Fitzpatrick, Washington got a clear starter at quarterback and a veteran to replace Alex Smith. While adding Fitzpatrick was critical, the top addition this offseason was at wide receiver. Coming off a career year in Carolina, Curtis Samuel signed a three-year contract worth $34.5 million with Washington. Now Samuel reunites with former Ohio State teammate Terry McLaurin. More importantly, Washington now has a dependable No. 2 wide receiver to pair with McLaurin.
During the 2021 NFL Draft, Washington used their first-round pick to add former Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis to their defense. Washington then spent two of their next three picks on the offensive side of the ball, adding offensive tackle Samuel Cosmi and wide receiver Dyami Brown. While adding Davis was the most talked about addition to the defense, Washington also added two cornerbacks in the offseason. They signed former Cincinnati Bengal William Jackson III in free agency, then used a third-round pick on Benjamin St-Juste. Both cornerbacks should play critical roles this season as the team lost Ronald Darby to Denver in free agency.
After the NFL draft, Washington made a pair of moves along the offensive line. First, they signed former Chicago Bear Charles Leno Jr. to take over at left tackle. Then, a few weeks later, Washington released Morgan Moses in a salary-cap saving move. With Moses now a member of the New York Jets, Cornelius Lucas and Cosmi will compete to replace him as the starting right tackle.
Last season, Washington struggled to consistently put up points, averaging 20.9 per game, ranking 25th in the NFL. They scored fewer than 21 points in 63 percent of their games last season. However, at times, Washington could score at will, scoring 25 or more points in a quarter of their games. With the new additions on offense, Washington should have no trouble averaging over 25 points per game this season. The trio of McLaurin, Samuel, and Brown is one of the fastest in the league. With Fitzpatrick under center, Washington will throw downfield more often this season. As defenses have to defend the pass more this season, Antonio Gibson should have more room to run. Furthermore, reports are Washington has high expectations for Gibson this upcoming season.
The biggest reason why Washington was able to make the playoffs last season was their defense. The additions of Young and Kendall Fuller took the unit to another level. After giving up an average of 27.2 points per game in 2019, Washington held their opponents to only 20.6 per game in 2020. Furthermore, Washington held their opponents to 17 or fewer points in just under half of their games. A part of their success was their ability to rush the pass. Last season, Washington finished sixth in the NFL with 47 sacks. Leading the way was second-year breakout star Monte Sweat with nine sacks. Following him was Young with 7.5, Ryan Kerrigan with 5.5, and Tim Settle with five. Washington should finish top-10 in sacks again this season.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
While some fans think Heinicke will take over as the starter, he’s more likely to be released than replace Fitzpatrick as the Week 1 starter. Allen is a favorite of Ron Rivera’s and will likely start the year as the backup quarterback. Expect 2020 undrafted free agent Steven Montez to make the practice squad.
Gibson had an excellent rookie season, showing flashes of becoming a future superstar in the league. However, the depth behind him is concerning. McKissic had a career year last season with 80 catches but is limited as a runner. Barber and Patterson will have to earn their roster spots over veteran Lamar Miller and Jonathan Williams. Don’t be surprised if Washington adds a veteran to back up Gibson.
A year ago, the wide receiver position was very underwhelming. However, with the additions of Samuel and Brown, it has turned into a strength. They join McLaurin as the only locks to make the final roster. Gandy-Golden, Humphries, Milne, and Sims will have to earn their spots as Kelvin Harmon and Isaiah Wright are threats to make the final roster. Whichever of the young receivers don’t make the final roster, expect Washington to try and add them to the practice squad.
Many thought Washington would add a big-name tight end in free agency. Instead, they showed faith in Thomas and didn’t add anyone who could threaten his starting job. Washington did add several veterans to the tight end room, including Yelder. However, he will have to earn the No. 3 tight end role from others like Ricky Seals-Jones. 2021 fourth-round pick Bates is a name to keep an eye on during training camp.
Three of the five starters are locked in stone, with Leno at left tackle, Roullier at center, and Scherff at right guard. However, both left guard and right tackle spots are up for grabs. After a year in Miami, Flowers is back with Washington and is the favorite to take back his left guard spot. Lucas and Cosmi will battle for the right tackle spot, with the other taking the swing tackle role.
This unit is the most set in stone on the roster. Allen is Payne make the best defensive tackle duo in the division, maybe the league. Meanwhile, Ioannidis and Settle play critical roles rotating in. The biggest question from this unit comes from off the field: will Allen get his long-term extension before the season starts?
After 10 years with the franchise, Kerrigan signed with the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. His 95.5 career sacks rank first in franchise history. The loss of Kerrigan is more impactful than it seems. While Young and Sweat are one of the best pass rush duos in the league, the depth behind them is very inexperienced. Washington should look to the free-agent market to sign a veteran to spell Young and Sweat.
The first-round pick Davis will lead a linebacker core that was inconsistent last season. However, alongside Bostic and Holcomb, Davis forms a solid trio of starting linebackers. Hudson enters his second year in the league and should have a critical role in 2021. Mayo and Toohill will have to fight off veteran Joe Walker and others for the final backup spots.
This time last season, the cornerback spot had a few question marks. However, with the additions of Jackson and St-Juste, the cornerback unit is one of the best in the league. The top four cornerbacks are locks to make the roster, while Stroman and Johnson will have to fend off others like Darryl Roberts for the final cornerback spots on the roster.
Despite reports that Collins’ roster spot is at risk, expect him to make the final roster. After his impressive rookie season, Curl is a star in the making. Meanwhile, Forrest will compete for a starting role at free safety. Washington signed McCain two months ago. He should make the roster over Jeremy Reaves. If Reaves doesn’t make the team, expect Washington to sign him to the practice squad.
Way enters his seventh year in the league, all with Washington. Last season, Way averaged 48 yards per punt. Meanwhile, Hopkins made only 79.4 percent of his field goals last season, the lowest of his career. However, his roster spot is safe unless he struggles in the preseason. Washington spent a sixth-round pick on Cheeseman, making his roster spot a lock.
One Player to Add
The roster looks very different than it did a year ago. Washington has added starters where they needed to and bolstered their depth as well. However, the loss of Kerrigan is critical for Washington. If Young or Sweat miss time with an injury, the other will see consistent double and triple teams as their opponents won’t have to worry about the other side. Washington needs to add a veteran to replace Kerrigan. A couple of free-agent options include Everson Griffen, Justin Houston, and Melvin Ingram. Any of the three would provide experience and veteran leadership to a young defensive end unit.
2021 Outlook & Odds
Despite making the playoffs in 2020, Washington has the second-best odds of winning the NFC East this season. Furthermore, most odd books have Washington’s win total at over/under 8.5 games. However, this team could end up with a bottom-five record or win the division. If the defense plays like they did last season and the offense can average over 25 points per game, Washington will win the division. However, if the defense struggles with injuries and the lack of depth becomes a problem, the team will struggle to win games. Furthermore, if Fitzpatrick turns into Fitztragic, Washington’s offense could fall apart, putting too much pressure on the defense.
The key this season will be how Fitzpatrick plays and the development of young players, especially Gibson. If Fitzpatrick can play like Fitzmagic and limit the turnovers, Washington could turn into one of the best teams in the NFL. Furthermore, if Gibson takes the next step in his development, defenses will struggle to stop him and the passing attack. Don’t be surprised to see Fitzpatrick among the top-10 in several passing categories and Gibson make the pro bowl this season.
Season Prediction: 10-7 and Win the NFC East Division
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