Mike Fanelli | July 22nd, 2019
The 2018 NFL season for the Washington Redskins was a roller coaster of highs and lows. The team ended up starting four different quarterbacks because of injury and poor play. The rest of the team couldn’t avoid the injury bug either, as the Redskins were signing free agent offensive linemen during the season and starting them that Sunday. The team finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs by two games. Alex Smith broke his leg in a gruesome injury in week 11 verse the Houston Texans. The Redskins were 6-3 entering that game but went on to struggle on offense to close out the season, only picking up one win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 15, winning 16-13.
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Entering the offseason, many believed head coach Jay Gruden could be fired. Given the number of injuries the Redskins have suffered over the past three seasons, he was given another year to lead the team. However, if the Redskins don’t play well this season, the team will likely have a new head coach in 2020. What could save Gruden’s job is first-round rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who will have a good shot at winning the starting quarterback job.
With Smith unofficially, but really ruled out for at least the 2019 season, the Redskins targeted Haskins in the draft and considered moving up for him. However, they got lucky and he slid to them at pick 15 overall. Earlier in the offseason, the Redskins re-signed Colt McCoy and traded for Case Keenum. The two veterans and Haskins will compete for the starting job in camp. Aside from signing former New York Giants’ safety Landon Collins, the Redskins spent the majority of free agency losing players instead of adding them.
The one big move the Redskins made this offseason was trading their second-round pick in 2019 and 2020 to the Indianapolis Colts to jump back into the first round of the draft to select sliding Mississippi State pass rusher Montez Sweat at pick 26 overall. Sweat was viewed by some as a top-10 pick but a heart scare forced some teams to take him off their draft boards. With Preston Smith leaving in free agency, Sweat is expected to start from day one opposite of Ryan Kerrigan.
This side of the ball wasn’t pretty last year for the Redskins. Projected starting running back Derrius Guice suffered a torn ACL in the first preseason game and had to have three more surgeries after the ACL repair due to complications. The team signed 33-year old Adrian Peterson, who went on to have 1,042 rushing yards behind an injury-plagued offensive line; his best season since 2015. Both Guice and Peterson are expected to share the workload this season with Chris Thompson earning snaps in passing situations.
Depending on who wins the starting quarterback job (and for how long) will play a large role in how the offense looks. With Haskins under center, the team might be more conservative in their play-calling to protect the rookie. Meanwhile, if McCoy or Keenum win the job, the team will more aggressive in its play-calling. After drafting two rookie wide receivers and letting veteran Jamison Crowder leave in free agency, whoever is playing quarterback will have to lean on Jordan Reed a lot this season; assuming he can stay healthy for once.
Last year this unit played really well during the 6-3 start, giving up more than 21 points in a game just twice (both loses). However, after the Smith injury, the defense was also bitten by the injury bug and struggled, giving up 24 or more points in five of their last seven games. The injury bug has already struck this offseason as starting inside linebacker Reuben Foster tore his ACL in May and will miss the season. However, with the additions of Collins and Sweat, the defense could play very similar to how they did in the first half of last season.
The key to the defense will be if the offense can stay on the field long enough. The unit isn’t very deep and will need to rely on the starters for a lot of snaps. With veterans like Josh Norman, Collins, and Kerrigan, this side of the ball should be disciplined and focused this year. However, the one unit on this defense that doesn’t get talked about enough is their front line. Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, and Matt Ioannidis is one of better and yet least talked about groups upfront in the league. Last year’s fifth-round pick Tim Settle is in the best shape of his career and should have a breakout season.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
Keenum likely opens the season as the starter while Haskins is given a few weeks on the bench. McCoy is Jay Gruden‘s guy so his roster spot is secure, whether as the starter or as a backup. Alex Smith will spend the season on injured reserve.
The top three names are all locks. Bryce Love likely starts the season on the NFI list as he recovers from a torn ACL he suffered at Stanford. Marshall makes the final cut over Samaje Perine because he provides more in the passing game and on special teams.
Doctson is on the cutting block and will have to fight to make the final roster. The only four receivers guaranteed to make the roster is Richardson. McLaurin, Harmon, and Quinn. The last two spots are up for grabs.
This group is pretty simple. These three made the roster last year and it should be the same this year.
The starting five is pretty much set in stone aside from left guard where Flowers will have to fight off the rookies Martin and Pierschbacher for that spot. The depth behind the starters is very poor and the team should look to add a veteran somehow.
Allen, Payne, Ioannidis is one of the most underrated trios in the league. The coaching staff has big expectations for Settle this year and he should push all three starters for snaps.
The loss of Foster is a big blow to the Redskins’ linebacker group. A combination of these five guys will need to step up their games as this is arguably the Redskins’ weakest position on the team.
There isn’t much depth at this position but Kerrigan is one of the most underrated players in the league. If Sweat can step in day one as an impact player the Redskins will be fine. Brailford will have to fight off veteran Marquise Flowers for a roster spot but I believe his speed gives him the advantage.
After a strong offseason, Moreland seems like a lock to make the roster along with Norman, Dunbar, and Moreau. The remaining three spots will come down to a four man race. Given their versatility to play cornerback and safety, I expect Rodgers-Cromartie and Alexander to make the roster over undrafted Danny Johnson, who could be stashed on the practice squad.
Collins is the only safety with his starting spot locked down. Nicholson could be facing a suspension for some offseason issues but if he is available week one, he is my favorite to start opposite of Collins. Apke could end up on the roster bubble but could also end up a starter.
The punter, kicker, and long snapper position is locked down and there shouldn’t be any surprises for this group at the end of the preseason.
While many Redskin fans are optimistic given the team’s success to start last season, the 6-3 record was a fluke at best. The team won games against the Packers, Panthers, and Cowboys during that span, all of which are expected to better this season. With Haskins starting at some point, maybe even week one, and rookie wide receivers, the offense will struggle to consistently put up points. The defense will do it’s best to keep games slow and low scoring, but when the injuries start to hit and depth is tested, the Redskins will struggle.
As a Redskins fan myself, I hope I’m wrong and would happily be criticized for being wrong if it means the team wins games and makes the playoffs. However, I think that’s a long shot at best. Realistic hopes for the team in 2019 is to see flashes that Haskins is the long term answer at quarterback and big steps taken forward by young players like Allen, Guice, Payne, and others. The team should be able to beat out the Giants for last place in the division but have almost no chance of challenging the Eagles or Cowboys for the NFC East title.
Season Prediction: 5-11 and miss the playoffs, it’s going to be a rebuilding year.
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