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For NFL fans born after the 1991 season, when Washington last won the Super Bowl, this franchise has been the embodiment of mediocrity. Washington has made five playoff appearances over the past 25 years, never advancing beyond the divisional round. The team has gone 28-35-1 under head coach Jay Gruden with a point differential of -161. Washington’s win totals have slipped from 9 to 8 to 7 over the past three seasons. Gruden’s offense ranked No. 16 in both scoring and yardage last year.
During the offseason, this team replaced its perfectly fine quarterback with another perfectly fine quarterback and called it progress.
“We got better,” said Gruden, commenting on the position.
It’s possible he’s right. Washington isn’t obviously worse at QB or any other critical spot, so there’s that.
Alex Smith just delivered a career year at age 33
Smith was fantastic for the Chiefs last season, setting new career highs in everything that matters. Take a look at his 2017 numbers compared to the average stats from his prior four years in KC:
Smith, 2013-16 – 222.4 YPG, 64.5 Comp%, 3.9 TD%, 1.5 INT%, 7.0 Y/A, 92.2 rating
Smith, 2017 – 269.5 YPG, 67.5 Comp%, 5.1 TD%, 1.0 INT%, 8.0 Y/A, 104.7 rating
The man led the NFL in interception rate, passer rating and adjusted yards per attempt (8.6). Smith delivered five 300-yard passing performances in 2017 after never producing more than one in any other season. His deep attempts per game jumped from 3.1 to 4.5 according to Player Profiler. In fact, Smith was taking deep shots more frequently than Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff, Cam Newton and … well, most of the league’s quarterbacks. Crazy. Just when you think you know a guy in this league, he starts gunslinging.
Replacing a quarterback of Cousins’ caliber is no small task, clearly. Cousins passed for 4917 yards two seasons ago and he led the league in completion percentage the prior year (69.8). He’s good. But if Washington is getting the 2017 version of Smith, it’s not really a substantial downgrade. The team can also add rushing/RPO concepts to the offense, which is fun.
Smith has a dirt-cheap ADP at the moment (145.6, QB21), nowhere near Cousins (77.1). It’s a reflection of our collective lack of enthusiasm for this team’s receiving corps. Washington doesn’t have anyone quite like Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill on the roster, complicating Smith’s outlook.
If Jamison Crowder is ever going to have a breakout year, it’s now
Crowder is the most interesting name on a relatively uninteresting receiver depth chart. Of course his setup seemed terrific last season, too, but early injuries made him a non-factor in September. His numbers from Week 8 to 16 were outstanding, however. During that eight-game stretch, he hauled in 44 passes for 615 yards and three TDs on 66 targets. That’s the sort of production a healthy Crowder is capable of delivering, and it makes him a terrific draft value (ADP 111.4, WR44). He’s on the approved list, no question. At 5-foot-9, he’s not the prototypical red-zone threat, but reports from OTAs suggest he and Smith have clicked.
Josh Doctson enters his third pro season with everything to prove and little competition for targets. His catch rate was dreadful last year (44.9 percent), though he managed to finish with 502 yards and six spikes. Doctson was an exciting player at the collegiate level, a guy who delivered back-to-back 1000-yard seasons at TCU with double-digit TDs and plenty of highlights. It kinda feels like he’s been around since the Norv Turner era, but this is only year three. He’s still just 25. If you like Doctson as a late flier, it’s hard to argue with the price (ADP 156.4).
Washington gave speedy vertical threat Paul Richardson a large pile of money ($40M/5Y) following his solid year for Seattle (44-703-6). If Smith continues to take deep shots at last season’s rate, Richardson is going to produce a few field-flipping plays. Richardson doesn’t project as a volume receiver, however, so he’s a better option in best-ball. Brian Quick and Maurice Harris will fight for scraps behind Crowder, Doctson, Richardson and this dude…
Jordan Reed returns to tease us
Reed has missed 28 games over five NFL seasons and he appeared in only six last year. He had toe surgery in the offseason, plus he has a long, complicated history of concussions and hamstring issues. He’s a terrible bet to play 16 games … or 14, or maybe even 12.
But here’s the thing: When you combine Reed’s contributions with the stats you can get from a placeholder tight end, you’re going to end up with decent numbers from the position. Two seasons ago, Reed gave us a 66-686-6 line in just a dozen games, ranking ninth overall among TEs in standard fantasy scoring. And it’s not as if you took a zero in the weeks he didn’t play.
So yeah, Reed is tricky. He’s backed up again by Vernon Davis, a player with whom Smith has an excellent history. Davis rarely misses a game and he performed well enough in Reed’s absence last season, finishing with 43 catches, 648 yards and three TDs. Handcuffing a tight end is not officially recommended as a fantasy play, but the Reed/Davis combo is likely to produce 900-1100 yards and 6-10 scores. Reed is going outside the top-80 picks in early drafts, so there’s profit potential here. If you whiff on the early-round tight ends, consider him.
Derrius Guice isn’t quite Saquon, but he’s pretty great
OK, at last we’ve come to the one skill spot at which this team has obviously, inarguably improved. Guice is a badass. He destroyed several would-be tacklers over his three seasons at LSU. Guice was at his best in 2016, when he rushed for 1387 yards and 15 TDs on only 183 carries (7.6 YPC). He played through injuries last season and still delivered 1251 rushing yards and 11 scores against a punishing SEC schedule. If you like quick feet, great reads and vicious stiff-arms, you’re gonna like Guice. He wasn’t used as a high-volume receiver in college, but that’s not to say he struggled when targeted — check the highlights of his Citrus Bowl performance against Notre Dame for details. (He erases a helpless DB at the 0:25 mark. Cruel and unfair.)
Please don’t let anyone tell you that Samaje Perine or Rob Kelley is a legit threat to Guice. Washington was incredibly fortunate he fell all the way to Pick No. 59. He’s a steal in the third round of fantasy drafts.
Guice’s new left tackle knows what’s up…
Chris Thompson is an ideal receiving complement to Guice, assuming he’s fully recovered from last November’s fractured leg. Thompson provides Smith a nice source of cheap and easy yards; he has a realistic chance to reach 60 receptions if he can play 16 games.
Washington’s defense ranked in the bottom-third of the league in both total yards and scoring last season, and it finished last against the run (134.1 YPG). The team keeps throwing Alabama defensive linemen at its problems, which should eventually help. Still, it’s a stretch to think this D/ST will be anything special in fantasy terms. Washington’s schedule is loaded with upper-tier QBs: Rodgers, Brees, Cam, Ryan, Luck, Watson, Wentz (X2). That’s gonna be a problem.
But if this team’s oft-injured players can remain healthy and the young guys all excel, maybe there’s a path to something better than the usual eight wins. We can’t rule it out. The new quarterback can play, the O-line is a quality group and the rookie RB runs like an assault vehicle. Gruden presumably won’t get a sixth year if he can’t return to the postseason, so when he says “we have got to win right away,” he’s not wrong.
2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 21.4 (16th in NFL)
Pass YPG – 234.4 (12)
Rush YPG – 90.5 (28)
Yards per play – 5.3 (14)
Plays per game – 61.4 (26)