2019 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 4,395 (31st)
Offensive Touchdowns: 28 (R-31st)
Offensive Plays: 885 (32nd)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 529 (27th)
Rush Attempts: 356 (31st)
Unaccounted For Targets: 178 (4th)
Unaccounted For Rushes: 71 (16th) 19.9 percent
First-year Washington head coach Ron Rivera was apparently hired to create a team culture, whatever that means, and institute some semblance of discipline for a floundering franchise largely seen by players as a quick, lucrative stop on their way to something better. Winning around 55 percent of his games in nine seasons as Panthers head coach, including three winning seasons, Rivera was hired to bring legitimacy to a Washington team with none. Rivera’s Carolina teams cracked the top half of the league in total yards in five of his nine seasons. It was the Cam Newton-led rushing game that dominated in Rivera’s tenure -- the team finished as a top-10 running offense in all but one of his seasons at the helm. The Panthers established, and established hard. Rivera, by every indication, is a “run to win” kind of guy.
New Football Team offensive coordinator Scott Turner - one of many children of former NFL coaches who magically have play-calling DNA - doesn’t have much of a history to study. After various offensive coaching gigs in Minnesota and Cleveland, Turner spent the past couple seasons as the Panthers’ quarterbacks coach. It was hardly an enviable spot as Cam Newton struggled to throw anything downfield before shutting it down after two games. Enter Kyle Allen, whose hot start fizzled into utter disaster (he tossed 16 interceptions in his final nine starts). Someone named Will Grier also made two starts at QB for Carolina last year. The team’s passing attack was abysmal in 2019, finishing second in pass attempts and 20th in passing yardage. It’s hard to blame Turner for any of this. He enters the 2020 campaign with a QB group among the league’s absolute worst. Lucky guy.
At the risk of giving Alex Smith’s miraculous recovery short shrift -- it’s a testament to the veteran’s determination and sheer force of will to have recently been cleared for full football activity -- fantasy managers should head into August assuming the team will give Dwayne Haskins every chance to be the guy under center. It would be quite the upset if Washington didn’t give plenty of leeway to the quarterback they took with the 15th overall pick just last year. Smith, meanwhile, will start on the active/PUP list while the team evaluates his readiness for the 2020 season. I suppose Smith would wind up being a solid waiver add if he gets the green light and if Haskins struggles enough to lose his gig.
Speaking of struggles: Haskins did a fair bit of struggling during his nine 2019 games (seven starts) for Washington, completing a lowly 58.6 percent of his throws while throwing seven touchdowns and seven picks. Haskins showed some improvement after his apocalyptic debut appearance in which he threw three interceptions on 17 attempts in a blowout loss to the Giants. Week 15 was his best effort, throwing for 261 yards and two scores against a beatable Philadelphia secondary. Haskins doesn’t add much in the way of rushing production, as was the expectation. He recorded 20 rushing attempts in his nine games as a rookie. It’s still to be seen how Rivera and Turner treat the second-year signal caller, but last year’s Washington coaching staff asked Haskins to do the absolute bare minimum when game script was on their side: he threw for 156 and 147 scoreless yards, respectively, in the two Washington victories he played in.
Maybe Haskins -- who averaged fewer fantasy points per game last season than David Blough -- will be useful for fantasy purposes if the Football Team is constantly chasing points and forced into a pass-heavy script. But I doubt it. A quarterback who doesn’t run and has serious accuracy issues doesn’t profile as a garbage time producer. He should certainly be drafted as one of the last QBs off the board in superflex and 2-QB leagues. Beyond that -- unless something drastic changes for Haskins -- he’s a fantasy non-factor in 2020.
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Washington, even with disastrous prospects in the passing game, has a pass catcher going in the fifth round of 12-team drafts. Terry McLaurin found a way to produce in 2019 despite everything working against him, and now finds himself coming off the draft board as the WR23, alongside a handful of receivers with a not-insignificant track record of fantasy production. McLaurin, who played with Haskins at Ohio State for the narrative truthers out there, was consistently targeted throughout his rookie year, seeing fewer than seven targets just five times. He took in 20 percent of the team’s targets as a rookie -- not exactly common in the NFL. Of course, 20 percent of the targets in an offense that ranked 27th in pass attempts isn’t the same as a 20 percent target share on a pass happy team. Probably that’s why McLaurin is going in the fifth round, not the third. While McLaurin’s 12.1 percent touchdown rate is certainly on the high side, a decrease might be countered by the truckload of vacated targets for Washington. A mere three teams have more unaccounted for targets headed into 2020, with 38.4 percent of last year’s Football Team targets out the door. This should easily catapult McLaurin over the 100-target mark, perhaps by a lot. And if Turner can develop Haskins -- or Smith takes the starting job at some point -- McLaurin could prove a solid value at his current ADP. If his touchdown rate takes a nosedive, he’s likely being drafted near his fantasy ceiling as the 23rd wideout off the board.
Steve Sims, Jr. is interesting in a vacuum. Outside the vacuum, he’s a No. 2 wideout on what is likely going to be a conservative, run-heavy offense. Second in receivers targets last year (56), Sims enters 2020 requiring an injury to McLaurin to have some sort of fantasy relevance. Though he was targeted heavily (for Football Team standards) in 2019’s final three weeks, racking up 29 targets, he’ll be a waiver wire name to monitor until further notice. A note about Sims’ gaudy Week 16 line against the Giants (six catches, 64 yards, two touchdowns): Case Keenum relieved Haskins in that one, throwing for 158 yards and a touchdown in the second half.
Rookie Antonio Gandy-Golden (6’4/223), who had back-to-back seasons of 1,000 receiving yards in two highly productive years since Liberty University joined FBS competition, could become something of a red zone threat on a team without a prototypical big pass catcher. In college, Gandy-Golden simply overpowered opponents in 2019, finishing with the FBS' fourth-most receiving yards (1,396, 17.7 yards per catch). The No. 142 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft has a ways to go before fantasy players should monitor him in redraft.
Neither of the Football Team’s top-2 tight ends are going to be much more than desperation waiver wire fodder for the most deranged streaming truther in 2020. Washington coaches seem sufficiently excited about the 6’6”, 250 pound Logan Thomas, who posted a 91st percentile speed score and a 94th percentile catch radius at the NFL combine in 2014. Until the ultra-athletic quarterback-turned-tight-end doesn’t have to compete for snaps in Washington, he’s safe on your local waiver wire. He could end up as the missing red zone threat the Football Team lacks.
Finally healthy and ready to seize the Football Team’s lead back role, Guice is being drafted in a veritable no man’s land for running backs. He’s available in the seventh round, along with other backs with a bevy of questions circling their 2020 prospects (Jordan Howard, Cam Akers, Tevin Coleman, among others). Guice wasn’t exactly force fed the ball in his five 2019 contests, maxing out at 10 carries, which he did thrice. Game script was an issue in some of those games, to be sure, but it was abundantly clear Washington was easing their franchise running back into the fold. We might not see such caution to start the 2020 campaign after Guice was cleared for full activity. Rivera’s lengthy history of run-addicted teams could mean lots of opportunity for Guice, or whoever locks down the early-down role in Washington.
Don’t forget Guice’s pedigree: he piled up 2,638 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns in his final two years at LSU. And he was a second round selection. Similar to Haskins, the Football Team will probably do anything and everything it can for Guice to succeed in 2020 (and beyond).
Peterson, entering his age-35 season, is being drafted at the very end of seasonal leagues in hopes (I suppose) he’ll be the early-down guy should anything happen to Guice. Peterson somehow led the team in rushing last season, hogging 59.2 percent of the rush attempts on his way to nearly 900 yards. It doesn’t qualify as analysis but Peterson is the kind of high-T runner to whom Rivera might gravitate. It could be a match made in high-testosterone heaven. Peterson just might be a viable late-round pick for a Zero RB kind of fantasy team in a 14-team league.
Fantasy players who draft Guice might suffer a little acid reflux if rookie Antonio Gibson flashes in the early season. Backs who weigh in at 228 pounds don’t usually run 4.39 40 yard dashes. Gibson’s athletic profile is the only thing freakier than his college production. At Memphis, the receiver-turned-running-back averaged a fat 11.2 yards per carry (though the sample size of 33 carries leaves something to be desired) and a yards per reception of 19. At worst, the 2020 third round selection would seem to fit in as a passing down running back for Washington. Who knows -- if the Football Team gets crazy and tries to score a bunch of points this season, Gibson might be worked into the game plan in a variety of ways. He’s being drafted in the 10th round for that very scenario, though I doubt he’ll be startable outside of deep leagues to start the year. An August injury setback for Guice and we could see Gibson surge into the fourth or fifth round.
The Football Team has an over/under of 5.5 wins this season, the lowest total outside of Jacksonville. We’re waiting to see if Vegas takes into account the team’s cool new jerseys. I’ve tried every which way to find a reason to take the over here and I have failed. I’m going under 5.5 wins for Washington mostly because of their putrid quarterback situation. While a healthy Guice and consistent involvement of explosive guys like McLaurin, Sims, and Gibson could push Washington to six or seven wins, the presence of Haskins is a wet blanket on the whole thing. A completely healthy, pre-leg break Alex Smith would probably be able to get this team to .500 in 2020. I doubt he’ll get that chance.