Prior to the unexpected emergency of rookie Terry McLaurin in 2019, the Redskins had longed for a No. 1 wide receiver.
McLaurin's rookie season finished just eight yards short of breaking the franchise's rookie receiving yards record, finishing with 919 yards and seven scores for the Burgundy and Gold. But outside of the Ohio State product, the Redskins lacked any sort of receiving weapons (running back Chris Thompson finished with the second-most receiving yards on the team with 378).
So while McLaurin was great in 2019, the team still needs more weapons around him. As that search continues, we can't help but think how different the team would be had they gone a different direction in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Redskins had lost their top two receivers from the season prior in free agency, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, and despite the need at wideout, the Burgundy and Gold drafted defensive lineman Jonathan Allen 17th overall.
In a 2017 re-draft done by the folks at NBC Sports Chicago, the Redskins opted to address their need at wide receiver by taking USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
"The Redskins have been lacking a true No. 1 receiver for what feels like forever, and in this re-draft, grabbing a player like Smith-Schuster feels like a no-brainer," NBC Sports Chicago's Bryan Perez wrote. "He struggled to stay healthy in 2019 but enjoyed a season of 111-catches, 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018."
Wooooooah. This changes things.
Even as a rookie, Smith-Schuster would have been the Redskins' most talented wideout from the get-go. The Redskins signed Terrelle Pryor to a one-year, $8 million deal in free agency, hoping his career-year in Cleveland would translate down to Washington. Josh Doctson, the Redskins first-round pick from 2016, missed almost all of his rookie season with an Achilles injury. Jamison Crowder was entrenched as the team's slot wideout but had yet to prove he was capable of being a team's No. 2 wide receiver.
Here are three ways the Redskins would be different today had they selected Smith-Schuster over Allen.
1. Drafting Jon Allen in 2017
Of course, if the Redskins took Smith-Schuster at No. 17, there would be no Jonathan Allen in Washington.
In his three years with the Burgundy and Gold, Allen has become a leader of the defense and a team captain. But as a rookie, he suffered a foot injury in Week 6 that cost him the remainder of his rookie season.
While Allen has been a solid contributor for the Redskins, he has still yet to make the jump many expected him to. The Redskins would probably have been better off in the immediate future if they took Smith-Schuster here instead of the Alabama defensive lineman.
Washington used the No. 13 overall pick a year later on Daron Payne, the team's second consecutive draft investing a first-rounder on an interior defensive lineman. By the Redskins selecting Smith-Schuster in the re-draft, this almost assures that they still would have taken Payne in 2018.
2. Would Kirk Cousins have stayed after 2017?
The 2017 season was Kirk Cousins' final year with the Redskins, and he played with a receiving corps that did not have a No. 1 option at all. Still, Cousins threw for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns.
After playing two years on the franchise tag, Cousins departed for Minnesota in 2018, joining a devastating wide receiver duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Sure, much of Cousins' departure had to do with his contract, but there was also a major lack of offensive talent around him.
The Redskins finished 7-9 in Cousins' final season with the team, but there were multiple winnable games they let slip through the cracks. In Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Doctson dropped what would have been the game-winning touchdown with under a minute remaining. Or in New Orleans in Week 11, where the Redskins had a two-touchdown lead with less than five minutes to play and still found a way to lose in overtime. Washington also went 1-5 in the division.
It's hard to say that one player, especially a rookie wide receiver like Smith-Schuster, could have translated to three more victories and a playoff berth. It's certainly worth wondering that if Cousins had a young wide receiver like Smith-Schuster to his disposal if he would have considered staying in Washington.
3. The signing of Paul Richardson in 2018
The Redskins splurged in free agency of 2018 on former Seattle Seahawk Paul Richardson, inking the wideout to a five-year, $40 million deal.
By signing Richardson, the Redskins thought they'd be getting a speedy wide receiver who could take the top off any defense, something the team lacked in 2017 after Jackson left in free agency. Richardson failed to live up to even the most modest expectations in Washington and was released after two relatively unproductive and injury-ridden seasons.
But the Redskins would never have had to sign Richardson if they selected Smith-Schuster the year prior. JuJu isn't the fastest receiver, but he's a home run threat every time he touches the ball. In his three year career, Smith-Schuster has four touchdowns that have come on receptions 75-yards or longer, including a pair of 97-yard touchdown receptions.
In comparison, Richardson had just four touchdowns total with the Redskins, with his longest from 46 yards out. That's not what the Redskins were expecting when they signed Richardson to that large contract.
There's no guarantee JuJu would be the wideout he is today had he landed with the Redskins. When Pittsburgh drafted the wideout in 2017, there arguably was no better situation for a rookie receiver. Smith-Schuster enjoyed two seasons playing alongside Antonio Brown and with future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Smith-Schuster's incredible 2018 campaign had a lot to do with his improvement as a receiver, but also Brown constantly commanding double teams on the other side of the field. With both Brown and Roethlisberger out of the picture in 2019, Smith-Schuster struggled (albeit he dealt with multiple injuries).
Sure, it's fun to think how much different the Redskins would be today had they taken Smith-Schuster over Allen. But then again, he and McLaurin would make one incredible duo.
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