At 7-9, The Washington Football Team made the playoffs in 2020 on the heels of their strong defense and weak strength of schedule. Washington’s 2020 passing offense was abysmal – they ranked 31st in expected points added. Furthermore, their defense, though much improved, was susceptible to the big play.
In his 2nd offseason as the head decision-maker for the Washington Football Team, Ron Rivera had a vision, solid draft capital, and a lot of cap space available. Washington, though big spenders in free agency, were not reckless. Signing William Jackson to a three-year, $40.5 million deal and Curtis Samuel to a similar three-year, $34.5 million deal instantly makes the Football Team better. Add in first-round LB Jaymin Davis and second-round T Sam Cosmi, Washington’s roster has the makings to be one of the most improved teams from last season.
But when it comes to the National Football League, the most important question will always be who is under center. Rivera, proving patient once again, elected to sign journeyman gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year, $10 million contract. Make no mistake about it, Fitzpatrick will be tasked with trying to elevate Washington to playing high-stakes football in January, as there is no long-term answer anywhere near DC. Here are my top four Washington additions set to make an impact in 2021 and beyond.
Instant Impact Washington Additions: Defense
William Jackson Jr. | CB
While Washington won games behind the strength of their pass rush last season, if the rushers did not get home, Washington’s secondary frequently struggled. Washington signed Kendall Fuller to a four-year $40 million contract during the 2020 free agency period, and he had a great first year in Washington. Rivera elected to let Ronald Darby move on to Denver and instead signed William Jackson from Cincinnati – and I think this was an easy call.
Jackson, going into his 5th year in the NFL, is known for his man-to-man coverage abilities. After missing most of his rookie season with an injury, Jackson has bounced back to play in 16, 13, and 14 games over the next 3 years. Though his interception numbers aren’t high with only three career picks, Jackson only allowed a 51% completion percentage as the primary defender this past season.
Besides bringing a major improvement in the secondary, Jackson’s biggest impact will be on his teammates. If Fuller, Jackson, and nickelback Jimmy Moreland can lock down coverage for one more second per play, Washington’s pass rush can tee off on opponents. Jackson is certainly the top instant impact player Washington added and one of the best signings overall in free agency.
Jamin Davis | LB
During the 2021 NFL draft, there was a lot of speculation about what Washington would do with the 19th overall pick. While a trade-up for a quarterback was certainly on the table, River, a former LB, elected to strengthen a weak spot on defense. With just Cole Holcomb and Jon Bostic as the ILBs, the Davis pick makes a ton of sense and he should have an instant impact on Washington’s defense.
Davis, a 6 foot 3, 238-pound wrecking ball, comes into Washington with a legitimate chance of securing over 80 tackles and potentially a DROY candidate. As a redshirt junior starting for the first time this past season for the Wildcats, he compiled 102 tackles four tackles for loss and three interceptions. Davis ran a 4.47 on his pro day and is a freak in terms of size, speed, and stature.
I believe Davis can impact this defense because he will be in a see-ball, hit-ball role. If Washington’s coverage improves as I project it will, Washington’s defensive line will be able to cause havoc for Davis to clean up. In the run game, Washington’s line should get enough of a push where Davis will have to be responsible for his gap and that’s it. Finally, in coverage, Davis needs work but he has the size, speed, and length to disrupt tight ends and race to tackle ball carriers.
Instant Impact Washington Additions: Offense
Ryan Fitzpatrick | QB
Last season, under a myriad of subpar quarterbacks, Washington pushed the ball down the field past 7 yards on a laughable 14.27% of all throws. Smith, Allen, and Haskins dinked and dumped their way down the field, and it is clear that this is not a recipe for success in the NFL in 2021. While I questioned Scott Turner’s play-calling at times last season, he did not have much to work with in terms of creating chunk plays down the field.
Though it may not be the ideal scenario (3 firsts, 3 seconds, and Ionnidas for Aaron Rodgers, who says no?), 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick has the ability to add a whole new dynamic to this offense. Last year in Miami, Fitzpatrick averaged 7.8 yards per attempt and, he now has arguably better skill players at his disposal. Also, unlike in Miami last season, there is no young quarterback that Fitz is grooming to take over the franchise – winning football games is his only goal.
For better and for worse, the 2021 Washington Football Team will live and die by Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Barring an injury or a blockbuster trade, Fitzpatrick is the best player in Washington’s QB room. While I am optimistic that Fitz can do good things for Washington, I am also realistic. Fitzpatrick is prone to turnovers, never passed for more than 4000 yards, and is a bridge quarterback. If Fitz can move the ball down the field, avoid turnovers, and our defense plays to potential, Washington is looking at back-to-back division titles. If Fitz is throwing late-game turnovers and taking bad sacks, we will have a rough season.
Curtis Samuel | WR
It’s no secret that Terry McLaurin is a monster. The second-year pro had 87 catches last season for 1118 yards with Kyle Allen, Dwayne Haskins, and Alex Smith throwing him the rock. If that itself does not deserve pro bowl consideration I’m not sure what should. While Logan Thomas and Antonio Gibson are emerging as playmakers, Terry still desperately needed another WR on the outside to prevent defenses from doubling him.
Fresh off a career year, Samuel joins his old roommate and teammate from The Ohio State University in Washington’s WR room. Washington’s offense now has 3 players that not only run sub 4.5 but also amassed over 1000 scrimmage yards last season. (Gibson, McLaurin) The addition of Samuel, a gadget-type weapon, allows Washington to interchange its pieces; Samuel and Gibson can switch off in the slot and in the backfield while also taking snaps on the outside.
It also helps that Samuel is familiar with Rivera and OC Scott Turner from their time together in Carolina. While I do think Samuel has the potential to bring another element to this offense, I preferred Washington to bring in another dynamic pure WR like Kenny Golladay. However, with price tags in mind, Samuel, McLaurin, Gibson, Thomas, and 3rd round pick Dyami Brown should take Washington out of the basement in terms of offensive explosiveness.
Instant Impact Washington Additions: Special Teams
Cameron Cheeseman | LS
A fun one to end it, how can Cheeseman not be on this list? Washington let go of long-time long snapper Nick Sundberg and Cheeseman is the hand-picked man for the job. Washington selected Cheeseman in the 6th round and he projects to fill out the special teams for Washington.