Ron Rivera’s first year as the Head Coach of the Washington Football Team was a success from pretty much every aspect you can think of. The team without question still has a lot to figure out, but there is no debate that for the first time in recent memory they are moving in the right direction.
After the season concluded, I went position by position and evaluated their overall performance based on production. Production isn’t always measured via statistics and analytics. It’s sometimes measured in the bottom line, which in this case means "did the on-field product improve as the year went on”. Overall, the answer to that question is yes. Despite the slow start, the team finished the last portion of the regular season schedule 5-2 and won the NFC East.
Let’s take a look at the final grades for the offensive position groups.
Quarterback Grade: C
Grading this group was tough considering all the moving parts. The team played the first four games of the season and went 1-3 with a guy that did not finish the season as a member of the team. They then started Kyle Allen, who suffered a dislocated ankle and missed the remainder of the season. They were then forced to start Alex Smith coming off a devastating leg injury and hadn’t taken a snap in a live football game in two years. They then signed a kid off the street in Taylor Heinicke to start at quarterback in their first playoff game since 2015. That’s a lot for a team to overcome during the course of a season. Although his numbers were underwhelming, the team went 5-1 with Alex Smith as the starting quarterback. His intangibles can’t be ignored and his leadership was a factor in Washington winning the division. All that said, the team will desperately need to seek a long-term solution at the position during the off season and upgrade to build off of their success this year. The offense was a liability too many times largely because of limitations at the quarterback position.
Running Back Grade: B-
The running backs as a unit were fairly solid the majority of the season. When Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner made the conscious effort to stick to the run (which was virtually never), they were successful and ran off large chunks of yardage between rookie Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic. Peyton Barber was also serviceable in spot duty and showed the ability to get those tough yards in short yardage situations. As the starter, Gibson began to get stronger and more consistent before he suffered a turf toe injury that forced him to miss time during their playoff push. Running back should not be an area of concern, but they may want to take a look at acquiring a more explosive back if available via the draft or free agency. Bryce Love is still on the roster, but not sure they can count on him to ever take a snap as he has missed two consecutive seasons since being selected in the 4th round in 2019.
Wide Receiver Grade: C-
The Washington wide receiver core featured second year baller Terry McLaurin. After McLaurin, the receiver group just featured a bunch of "guys" none of which ever emerged as a viable number two to compliment McLaurin. Cam Sims made some plays in spots especially in the Pittsburgh game. He also was inconsistent catching the football and made some drops in crucial situations. Steven Sims Jr. was a disappointment throughout the year, whether in the passing game or in the return game. Many expected a breakout year from Sims Jr. and we didn't see anything remotely close to that. I don't completely blame Sims Jr.'s ineffectiveness solely on him as Scott Turner did not utilize him completely to his strengths. He also suffered a turf toe injury that seemed to linger as the season went on. Dontrelle Inman began the season as a starter, but was cut by the end of it. Isaiah Wright finished the season with 27 receptions for 197 yards...FOR THE SEASON. Antonio Gandy-Golden was drafted with the expectation that he would be able to contribute immediately, but he fought through an injury and never found his niche. The team desperately needs to add speed, and a reliable, veteran receiver they can throw to in 3rd down situations. They have to find players that can stretch the field and get separation from the corners in this league, and they didn't get much of that this season outside of McLaurin.
Tight Ends Grade: C-
Logan Thomas had a breakout season. At 6'6, Thomas was able to use his size and agility to get open and make players miss once the football was in his hands. Thomas did have a number of drops early on in the season, but he continued to grow and make defenses respect him as a target. If this grade was based on him alone, it would be elevated, but because this is a "group grade", nobody else made an impact worth noting. There were some situations where Jeremy Sprinkle made key blocks on the edge, but outside of that, his name wasn't heard over the course of the season for anything as he finished the year with 1 reception for 6 yards. The team will desperately need to find a compliment for Logan Thomas to open things up and provide another option in short yardage. Look for a tight end in the middle to late rounds of the draft or attempt to acquire one via trade or free agency.
Offensive Line Grade: B-
I know some are looking at this grade and saying to themselves "this is way too high". I will be honest and say I am a little biased because I thought that this line was going to get Alex Smith killed when he entered the Rams game. Not only did they not get him killed, this offensive line blocked their way to a 5-1 record with Smith as the starter, and produced an All-Pro in Brandon Scherff. The WFT will need to resign him and continue to upgrade around him. They extended center Chase Roullier and will need to find a left tackle and left guard pending Saadiq Charles' health. Starting left tackle Cornelius Lucas was solid at times, but also struggled in some spots. The team should upgrade there but retain Lucas for depth as he is still under contract until 2022. A lot of the offensive line mistakes were communicative in pass protection versus guys just getting beat one on one. They will have to clean that up during the off season as they become more comfortable within the blocking scheme. I want to see Morgan Moses be more dominant at the point of attack. However, Moses has been a pillar of consistency as he has started every game since 2015. Moses even had to step in and play left tackle due to injuries across the line and did a more than serviceable job. The run blocking will need to improve as we rarely saw this unit just moving people out of their way to get yardage. There were way too many situations where the line was unable to create running lanes on first down, or on downs where the defense knew they were running the football. They also will need to figure out what they are going to do with Wes Martin as he under-performed this season, and was supplanted by free agent acquisition Wes Schweitzer, who proved to be a solid signing last off season.
Look for the defensive final grades in the coming days. As you were...
Photo Credit: Elijah Walter Griffin Sr/Washington Football Team