Declaring victory in March for a sport that plays its first game in September seems at best premature and at worst foolish, and yet, it’s undeniable that the Washington Football Team made significant improvement over the last three days.
Ron Rivera’s club went into the beginning of the 2021 offseason flush with spending money and in need of help, and after a short period of time, Washington can show noticeable gains in key spots.
The receiver position got the biggest boost with the addition of free agent Curtis Samuel from the Panthers.
Much of this is obvious -- Rivera drafted Samuel in Carolina and he played in Scott Turner’s offense. That doesn’t even mention that Samuel and Terry McLaurin played college football together and have been dreaming about teaming up in the pros since they were living in a dorm in Columbus, Ohio.
Samuel brings toughness, size, versatility and speed to an offense that thrives on pre-snap motion and creating mismatches at the line of scrimmage. Partnered up with McLaurin and weapons like J.D. McKissic, Antonio Gibson and Logan Thomas, the Washington offense has grown much more multifaceted with the signing.
But the root of the improvement is much more simple.
Beyond McLaurin, Washington just didn’t have enough at wide receiver in 2020.
Cam Sims is a useful player, but he’s not a second receiver. He needs to be more consistent.
The rest of the 2020 WR group? Dontrelle Inman was an undrafted journeyman. Steven Sims took a big step back. Isaiah Wright is best suited as a special teams ace. Antonio Gandy-Golden was a hurt rookie trying to make the leap from Liberty University to the NFL. Kelvin Harmon was just hurt.
There was not enough there, plain and simple. Not enough to support McLaurin and not enough to help mostly subpar quarterback play.
Now, that changes.
McLaurin and Samuel at the top of the list makes Cam Sims better. If Gandy-Golden and/or Harmon show up, they can be useful tools. More draft picks could join the group too.
Samuel not only provides a deep threat that can get the ball from any place on the field and take it for a house call, he makes the entire WR position group deeper and better.
That in turn should make the QB better -- and Washington also worked to improve that position.
Ryan Fitzpatrick won’t be confused with Tom Brady anytime soon -- and there could be an argument that Washington fans need to subside too much FitzMagic excitement -- but he’s a legit NFL starter. It’s unclear if the same can be said for Kyle Allen or Taylor Heinicke.
Last year, the Washington offense stalled early in the season because Dwayne Haskins couldn’t run the basics effectively. It stalled later in the season because Alex Smith could barely move.
That won’t happen with Fitzpatrick. He’s a professional QB with above average mobility.
That means more plays, more pass attempts, and with Fitz, that means more deep shots.
McLaurin can get deep on anybody. And Samuel is even faster.
Signing William Jackson III at cornerback makes the Washington defense even better than it was in 2020, but the defense was already good. Bringing Jackson in was needed, but not in the way that the team needed Samuel.
Washington’s offense finished the year ranked 30th in total yards, 25th in pass yards and 25th in points scored.
It wasn’t the coaching staff -- the team just lacked horses.
The Green Bay Packers finished with the top rated offense in 2020. Nine times last season the Pack went over 400 total yards of offense in a single game.
That’s the NFL's best offense.
The Las Vegas Raiders finished the 2020 season with the 10th-best rated offense. Six times the Raiders went over 400 total yards of offense in a single game.
That’s the NFL's 10th best.
For Washington? Twice the football team went over 400 yards of total offense in 2020.
This year, that should change.
That doesn’t mean Washington fans should expect the Greatest Show on Turf, but even with just moderate improvement at QB combined with another all-around weapon like Samuel, things should pop.
Rivera knew his team needed more horses on offense, and in signing Curtis Samuel, he got one that steps in immediately ready to run.
For the team as a whole with a defense that should be improved too, that could lead to new places and spaces not seen in Washington for some time.