The Comeback is previewing all 32 NFL teams from worst to first leading up to the start of the 2017 regular season on Sept. 7. As we move into the top 10, No. 9 on our preseason rankings are the under-the-radar Washington Redskins.
2016 in a nutshell: After an 0-2 start, the Redskins lost just five games the rest of the season and finished with a winning record for the second year in a row under head coach Jay Gruden and gunslinger quarterback Kirk Cousins, who made the Pro Bowl with the league’s third-highest yards-per-attempt average. But the league’s 28th-ranked defense was too much of an obstacle and Washington just missed the playoffs.
What’s different: Cousins is back once again via the franchise tag, but his top two receivers from last season — veteran 1,000-yard wideouts DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon — are gone.
— Darius Cole (@DColeSports) November 13, 2016
Why they could be awesome: Cousins completed more deep passes than anyone in football last season, and he should continue to get better. Remember, he’s only entering his third year as a full-time starter. His receiving corps shouldn’t take much of a hit with young talents Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder stepping into larger roles and promising converted quarterback Terrelle Pryor joining the fray in free agency. And the offensive line is one of the best in football.
Why they could suck: The defense might still be a bit of a liability. Washington lost solid veteran defensive lineman Chris Baker in free agency. And while I like newbies D.J. Swearinger, Zach Brown and first-round pick Jonathan Allen in the secondary, at linebacker and on the line, respectively, those guys probably won’t transform the unit in one season.
Major additions: Allen, Pryor, Swearinger, Brown and potential Baker replacements Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain.
Major losses: Jackson, Garcon, Baker and general manager Scot McCloughan, who was fired just as free agency was getting underway. (Boy, it was a weird year for belated GM firings.)
Breakout watch: With Jackson and Garcon gone, they’re hoping that entire young and talented receiving corps breaks out. Doctson caught just two passes while battling an Achilles’ injury as a rookie, but was a first-round pick a year ago, Crowder had a really encouraging sophomore campaign in the slot and Pryor is coming off a 1,000-yard season in a bad Browns offense.
Position to watch: The offensive line is jacked in three spots — Trent Williams and Morgan Moses make up one of the best bookend tackle duos in the league and right guard Brandon Scherff is a star in the making — but faces questions at center (starter Spencer Long is dealing with a knee injury) and left guard (the mediocre Shawn Lauvao is battling the inexperienced Arie Kouandjio).
Prediction: Cousins is a top-10 quarterback protected by a top-10 offensive line and they have high-quality options in the receiving corps (I didn’t even mention stud tight end Jordan Reed) and the running game (Rob Kelley, Matt Jones, Chris Thompson and the rookie Samaje Perine). With an average defense, that could be enough to win the NFC East for the third time in six years.
10-6, 1st place in the NFC East