In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.
In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.
Who on the Redskins’ offense is ready to take the next step in 2016?
El-Bashir: I’m going with wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who proved he's got the potential to establish himself as one of the game’s top slot receivers.
There was a lot to like about the Duke product’s rookie season. His 59 receptions were second among rookie (behind Amari Cooper), while his 604 receiving yards were fourth (behind Cooper, Stefon Diggs and Tyler Lockett).
Crowder’s best performance came in the regular season finale in Dallas, where he hauled in five passes (on seven targets) for 109 yards and a touchdown.
The only area where Crowder looked like a rookie was on special teams, where he ranked last among qualified punt returners with an average of 5.3 yards per attempt. To be fair, though, it’s not like Crowder consistently missed available lanes. Indeed, there’s a lot that will need to be addressed this offseason in regards to the Redskins’ punt return game.
I got the sense that Crowder, who is generously listed at 5 foot 8, 185-pounds, wore down late in the season before catching a second wind against the Cowboys. It’s not all that surprising for first-year players to hit the rookie wall, particularly those who didn’t get much of a break between college and the pros due to a bowl game, the Senior Bowl, the combine, rookie minicamp, etc.
I expect that Crowder will come back to Ashburn rested, but also stronger and in better shape. In addition, he’ll get more reps this offseason and start the 2016 campaign as the primary slot receiver this time around.
With more consistency, I think Crowder has the potential to end up with 70-plus catches, 800-plus yards and 4-6 touchdowns. Whether he realizes that potential will largely be determined by how much work he puts in this offseason. And given his work ethic and eagerness to improve, that shouldn't be much of concern.
Tandler: I can see Crowder playing well next year and certainly top draft pick Brandon Scherff will continue to progress. But I’m looking for a big leap out of running back Matt Jones.
He’s big enough and fast enough to be one of the better running backs in the NFL. He showed his speed when he pulled away from the Rams defense in the process of tearing off a 39-yard touchdown. Jones is 235 pounds and he has the physique to add more if he needs to.
But the physical attributes did not translate into production on the field last year, at least not on a consistent basis. But the good thing here is that you can teach Jones how to be patient and hit the hole instead of trying to run over defenders. You can’t teach the size and speed part.
As the season went on Jones seemed to become more of a willing student. He seemed to be finding his stride in Week 14 against the Bears, rushing for 62 yards, the most he had had since gaining 123 in that Week 2 game against the Rams. But he sustained a hip pointer the next week against the Bills and he didn’t play at all in the last three games.
Running backs coach Randy Jordan and Bill Callahan, who coordinates the running game, will be working Jones hard during OTAs and training camp. I think they could get him to where he can rush for 800 yards or so and pick up another 500 receiving. If things really click for him and the offensive line gets it, a bigger season could be in the cards.
25 Questions series
- Is McCoy the answer at backup QB for the Redskins?
- Should the Redskins try to keep Alfred Morris?
- Should the Redskins cut Andre Roberts?
- Will there be a surprise cap casualty?
- Will DeAngelo Hall return?
- Should the Redskins draft a quarterback?
- Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?
- Should the Redskins make changes on the offensive line?
- Should Pierre Garçon return?
- What should the Redskins do at tight end?
- Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job?
- Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?
- Who will start at inside linebacker?
- Who on defense will take the next step?
- How can the Redskins make it to the Super Bowl?
- Today: Who on offense will take the next step?
- Tomorrow: Should DeSean Jackson return?