The Washington Redskins will go into the new season with legitimate hopes of making the playoffs. Our regular Skins writer Christian Burt goes Skin Deep once again in his preview of the Redskins chances in 2018.
What to expect?
Reasoning for an improved season for the Washington Redskins can be based on a talented roster that was further enhanced with key positional/need picks via the 2018 Draft. Of equal importance is a generally harmonious off-season, blissfully bereft of drama as Jay Gruden enters his fourth year as Head Coach.
Fans of the burgundy & gold can feel assurance with the solid decisions made by the Front Office and the all-round merciful act of finality that allowed Washington to finally move on from dogged issues around the QB position.
What had proved to be an agonising labour of love was finally annulled when Kirk Cousins and the Redskins parted ways with no long-term deal in place. Instead, the dollars at QB are now bestowed upon ex-Kansas City Chief Alex Smith.
Alex has, for the majority of his career, been viewed as a steady above-average quarterback. The head honchos in D.C will be hoping that Smith continues the 2017 form he showed in Kansas City when he chalked up a breakout (even for a seasoned veteran) year with a career-high 4042 yards, together with 26 TDs and just 5 INTs.
In training camp, the consensus buzz is that Alex is supremely focused and picking up the QB-friendly Gruden playbook at a rapid rate. I share the coaches and players view that is emanating out of Richmond: the viewpoint that Washington has upgraded the hardest position in sports by opting for Smith over Cousins.
I’ll take that a step further and state here that I feel this change at QB could be more significant than many realise. Alex Smith and Jay Gruden is a nice match and I’d fully expect Smith to both improve on his 2017 yard stats in the air plus give the Redskins an extended play threat with his legs too.
Are there still weaknesses?
Washington has attempted to revolutionise the run on both sides of the ball. On the offensive side the draft pick of the wonderfully effervescent Derrius Guice has the potential to elevate the Redskins at first and second down with the football in his hands.
The rookie will also be running with added attitude given the spurious rumours of character issues that led to the second most revered running back in the 2018 draft slip to 59. Guice is a superstar in the making in D.C and I’d expect Derrius shall be regularly expressing himself by bulldozing through many an opponent in the NFL for years to come.
Games are often won in the trenches and in Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne, Washington has two Defensive Linemen from Alabama with first round talent. Stopping the rush has been a major migraine inducer for the Redskins, but both these products of the Crimson Tide can ease those run stuffing headaches.
However, within reason, does any franchise in the NFL absolutely meet all their roster needs? You may get fortunate with an outstanding cap friendly QB for 3-4 seasons, but in general, rosters will usually have one or two areas of concern, and for the burgundy & gold Left Guard will again be firmly in the JAG category with Shawn Lauvao holding the reins.
Part of the Alex Smith deal saw the outstanding young ball hawk Kendall Fuller depart from D.C. This together with the exit of Bashaud Breeland to free agency leaves the Cornerback 2 position with question marks. There is, however, plenty of potential upside in both Fabian Moreau and Quinton Dunbar for the CB position.
Back in 2017, the former was expected to be a late first round/early second round pick, but a pectoral tear led to Fabian falling to pick 81. There’ll be high hopes that Fabian will deliver an NFL career to match the talent.
The Dunbar story is a nice one – a convert to the position after a WR college career, Quinton’s tough playing led to a three year $10.5 million dollar deal. Both guys will expect to see plenty of action on their side of the field, as NFL QBs will tend to avoid the near lockdown Josh Norman.
Any injuries to Montae Nicholson and vocal leader DJ Swearinger would also expose a backfield lacking in quality depth at those safety positions.
Who should Redskins fans feel most excited about?
The undeniable potential of the roster is a reason for excitement. There are a number of guys on the Redskins squad who are just bubbling under the breakout surface and others who are already proven blue chip in the NFL.
If health can be maintained for the likes of Josh Doctson, Jon Allen and the talented CBs Dunbar & Moreau, then career-high stats are an expectation. If this can be complemented with durable seasons for Jordan Reed, Trent Williams, Chris Thompson and other star names, Washington could go deep into the post season.
Alex Smith and Derrius Guice have a balance of experience and exuberance that offers a QB and RB threat to result in many a sleepless night for Defensive Coaches heading to FedEx Field. Under Jay Gruden, Washington won’t hit the Alfred Morris/RG3 rushing heights of 2012, but expect the Redskins to keep the opposition guessing with a genuine pass & rush duel attack.
Were there any surprise departures?
As previously mentioned, the “Cousins out and Smith in” deal was always going to be costly, but despite losing the very talented slot corner Kendall Fuller, it still didn’t feel like a reach. Fuller will almost certainly have a long and distinguished NFL career, but Washington have solidified the number one position on any roster for a minimum of three years.
There are some guys who you would vouch for as being more than just JAGs – Ryan Grant, Trent Murphy and Breeland – but none of that trio is either a surprise to be heading elsewhere nor will they be viewed as a particularly great loss to the Redskins.
What will the Washington record be?
Ok, so you’ve established a general positive feel with this preview.
Caution must also be exercised, however, when you take a look at the Redskins schedule. The NFC East is a tough division featuring the current Superbowl Champions the Philadelphia Eagles. Throw in a still ridiculous Cowboys O-Line and a surely improved Giants offense featuring the #2 pick Saquon Barkley and Washington will have to fight for ol’ D.C. to get a regular season in the positive column.
In his first three seasons, Gruden has lost the opening game all three times and it’s a trend that needs to stop in 2018.
My prediction is that they don’t lose a fourth straight opener, but instead beat Arizona on the road and register an eventual 10-6 season record.
After that – anything goes, right?