Well, it’s been a rough week for the Cowboys, and a very embarrassing one for the Redskins. Welcome to the NFC East:
Dallas Cowboys 10-6
Philadelphia Eagles 10-6
New York Giants 7-9
Washington Redskins 6-10
Expected Wins: 9.27
Scouting Wins: 10.14
DVOA Wins: 8.4
2014 Record: 12-4 (10.8 Pythagorean)
That is a pretty wide range of views. The Cowboys look like one of the most talented teams in the NFL, so why is DVOA so down on them? It comes down to skepticism that Tony Romo will be able to maintain the level he reached last season. The defense wasn’t very good, so I can see the projection, but I don’t agree with it.
Last season, Romo was the second-most-efficient quarterback in the NFL (27.6% DVOA), trailing only Aaron Rodgers. He’s 35 years old, and his backup is Brandon Wheeden, so keeping Romo healthy is a primary concern. To that end, the Cowboys have built one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Romo might not be the second-best quarterback in the NFL, but he is elite (h/t Joe Flacco). If you give an elite quarterback time, and surround him with talent, you’ll get excellent results. That’s what the Cowboys are expecting again this season. Let’s look at the talent around Romo.
Dez Bryant signed a new contract before this season. He earned it (27.0% DVOA, 430 DYAR). He’s one of the best deep threats in the NFL and should open up holes for the rest of the receiver corps. He’s currently dealing with a minor hamstring issue, but should be fine to start the season. 2013 third-round pick Terrance Williams made his bones last season (30.6% DVOA, 220 DYAR). Like Bryant, he stretches the defense, which is one of the reasons I expect the Cowboys’ offense to be so tough to stop. Cole Beasley emerged as the Cowboys’ #3WR last season (16.7% DVOA, 117 DYAR). It might be tough for him to keep that up, as he’s currently dealing with an Achilles injury. The 5-8 Beasley has made his living with excellent athleticism. If that is compromised, his stock will fall fast. 2014 fifth-round pick Devin Street is currently leading A.J. Jenkins in the battle for the #4WR job. Jenkins is a known mediocrity, so I’d be more interested in what Street can do. Jason Witten has seen his targets drop from 149 in 2012, to 111 in 2013, to 90 in 2014. His DVOA has increased each year, from 10.0% to 11.2% to 17.9%, so it’s likely just a matter of Romo finding other open targets. 2013 second-round pick Gavin Escobar hasn’t been able to convince the Cowboys that he’s more than a red zone option. If Beasley is slowed, the Cowboys will look for a fourth option after Bryant, Williams, and Witten. Escobar should have first dibs to show what he can do.
The entire Cowboys’ running back corps is dinged up. Darren McFadden is dealing with a hamstring injury. Joseph Randle has re-injured his oblique. Lance Dunbar is dealing with a sprained ankle. If everyone can return to health, look for McFadden to split carries with Dunbar. Losing DeMarco Murray isn’t a big deal. He wasn’t going to be able to repeat his performance from last season (392 carries, 1,854 yards, 14.8% DVOA, 382 DYAR), but it’s still a lot of yardage to replace. A lot of the credit for Murray’s success should go to the offensive line, and Randle ran for 343 yards on 51 carries (26.3% DVOA, 68 DYAR) last season. As for McFadden, I’m a little concerned owner Jerry Jones let his Arkansas roots influence his judgment. Over the past three seasons in Oakland, McFadden has rushed 485 times for 1,620 yards. I’m not sure the accumulated -214 DYAR tells the story, as McFadden has Trent Richardson-level vision. Health has been a concern for McFadden, but frankly I’d be more concerned about talent at this point. As for Dunbar, most of his value comes in the passing game, so he may see some playing time on third down.
The Cowboys were the best run-blocking line in the NFL last season (which is something my numbers only partially pick up). Even so, every starting Dallas offensive lineman graded out well in my rankings. Left tackle Tyron Smith, left guard Ronald Leary, and center Travis Frederick were all solid performers. Right tackle Doug Free was very good, although he missed five games. 2014 first-round pick Zach Martin started 16 games at right guard and made the Pro Bowl. He graded out third overall in my rankings and looks to be a star in the making. Leary is dealing with a nagging back injury, so we may see rookie undrafted free agent La’el Collins a bit earlier than expected. His story is a tragic one. He would have gone in the first round if not for a police investigation into the murder of a pregnant women connected to Collins. He was later cleared of any wrongdoing, and the Cowboys won the bidding war for his services. He played left tackle in college, but is versatile enough to move inside or play right tackle if needed. Barring injuries, this is the best offensive line in the NFL, and by a decent margin.
I can’t say the same about the defensive line. The projected week 1 starters combined for eight sacks last season. Six of those came from Jeremy Mincey. He also had 31.5 hits+hurries, so I’ll cut him some slack. He’ll start across from 2014 second-round pick Demarcus Lawrence (for the first four games, until Greg Hardy returns for his suspension). Lawrence accumulated all of zero sacks last season. He played well in the playoffs, and there is hope he’ll be much more effective this year. As for Hardy, his presence is one of the many examples of how full of shit the NFL is:
Nice words. Greg Hardy will be starting for the Cowboys in week five, and the Seahawks took Frank Clarke in the second round. More on him in the Seahawks team coverage. Hardy had 15 sacks in his last full season and is a premier pass rush threat. Rookie second-round pick Randy Gregory is a premier pass-rush specialist. On talent alone, I had him as the eighth-best prospect in the draft, but his off-field issues hurt him. He struggles with anxiety, so the Cowboys will need to be careful. Anxiety derailed Royce White, and the accompanying depression should be taken seriously:
SackSEER has him as the #2 prospect, behind Vic Beasley. He’s a bit undersized, but that’s not a big deal on third-and-long. If he can stay healthy and focused, he’s a great addition. Inside, the Cowboys will have to deal with the loss of Henry Melton. His five sacks (and 12 hits+hurries) were a pleasant surprise, and he’ll be missed, as he signed with Tampa Bay. 2012 third-round pick Tyrone Crawford’s development should help take away some of the sting of Melton’s departure. Crawford has become a very good player, dominating against the run and producing three sacks and 29 hits+hurries. He can play tackle or end. For now, he’ll play alongside Nick Hayden. Hayden is a traditional space-eating nose tackle who’ll help against the run. There is a decent amount of depth here, but few proven options.
Sean Lee is coming back after missing last season with an ACL tear. He’s moving to the weak side and there will be a lot of people watching to see if he can handle the job. Rolando McClain will patrol the middle after he serves a four-game substance abuse suspension to start the season. He’s had a terrible offseason, and there are concerns as to his ability to maintain his focus on football. He also struggled badly last season, so he may lose his job to Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley will start in McClain’s absence. Brinkley has excellent power, and the Cowboys might be willing to live with his lack of range. 2014 fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens is versatile enough to play any of the linebacker positions. He’ll start the season on the strong side, but may be moved around as needed. He struggled in coverage last season, which would make a pairing with Brinkley a bit awkward. Rookie fourth-round pick Damien Wilson might be thrown onto the field if Lee struggles. Wilson is probably best suited to play inside, but he’ll have to go wherever he’s needed.
Brandon Carr is coming off of a terrible season. The fact that he wasn’t benched is a reflection on the lack of cornerback depth. The Cowboys addressed that by grabbing Byron Jones in the first round. The plan is to start him at nickel and see how soon he can challenge Carr. Orlando Scandrick put together a solid season across from Carr. He’s probably the Cowboys’ most underrated player. Safeties J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church have a fairly similar skill set. Both are solid close to the line, yet their responsibility in the Tampa-2 system is to keep the offense from escaping the umbrella. Church had better numbers last season, but that may be due to the fact that he played strong safety, while Wilcox covered more territory. Wilcox would be fine if they switched roles, but Church might struggle with the increased responsibility. Overall this is not an exciting secondary, despite the good work of Scandrick. Rookie cornerbacks usually struggle, although Jones was considered exceptionally “NFL-ready.” (Update: And now Scandrick is gone for the season. Very rough blow for the Cowboys, who are now starting 2012 first-round pick Morris Claiborne across from Carr. Claiborne has been a bust, and the Cowboys declined to pick up his fifth year option. It would be an incredible turn of events if Claiborne were to suddenly live up to his potential and save the Cowboys secondary.)
The Cowboys have solid special teams units, headlined by kicker Dan Bailey. Bailey wasn’t great in the playoffs, but that’s a small sample and he’s very good overall. Punter Chris Jones struggled with distance but was effective pinning opponents inside the 20. I’d be a little concerned about who is going to return punts if Cole Beasley isn’t 100%, but that’s the only issue I can see here.
The Cowboys may be controversial, but they’ve added a lot of talent at a reasonable cost. La’el Collins, Greg Hardy, and Randy Gregory all had issues that depressed their stock. Hardy’s addition is a black mark on the organization, but one Jerry Jones is willing to take in exchange for a chance at another Super Bowl. I am less than impressed with the Cowboys’ schedule, especially if they avoid facing Tom Brady. If they played in the AFC, I’d make them the favorite. As is, they’ll have to deal with Green Bay and Seattle. 10-6. (Update: I’m less confident in them sans Scandrick, and now Brady will be available against them. The job just got a little harder.)
New York Giants
Expected Wins: 7.76
Scouting Wins: 8.93
DVOA Wins: 7.7
2014 Record: 6-10 (7.5 Pythagorean)
With the help of Odell Beckham Jr., Eli Manning put up one heck of a rebound season. Let’s compare:
2013: 3,818 yards, 18 touchdowns, 27 interceptions, -20.2% DVOA, -335 DYAR. Bloody awful.
2014: 4,410 yards, 30 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 14.6% DVOA, 642 DYAR. Not bad.
A full season of Beckham should help those numbers, but the rest of the targets are up in the air. As for Eli, he’s the same quarterback he’s always been: Talented, somewhat inconsistent, but capable of great things.
Before we review the amazing rookie season of Odell Beckham Jr., we’re going to need to talk about Victor Cruz. He’s still hurt. He’s not 100% and might not be at any point this season. The rise of Beckham has put a lot of pressure on Cruz, but I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the Cruz of old. That would be less of a problem if 2012 second-round pick Rueben Randle started living up to his draft status. While his usage has gone up every year, his DVOA has gone down, (-9.3% last season). Perhaps he’ll turn things around given that this is a contract year, although he’ll have to get on the field first. Randle is currently sidelined with knee tendinitis. As for Beckham, his numbers were absurd: 91 receptions, 1,305 yards, 12 touchdowns, +11.1 +/-, 25.8% DVOA, 396 DYAR. This was in 12 games, as he missed the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury. Expectations are probably a bit too high, especially if defenses don’t fear any of the Giants other options. Also, his other hamstring has been acting up. Oy vay! Free agent pickup James Jones is the fourth option. To get a feel for how well regarded Jones is:
Ouch. Three years ago he was great in Green Bay (22.6% DVOA, 318 DYAR). Last season he was awful in Oakland (-14.7% DVOA, -18 DYAR). I really hope Cruz and Randle are healthy.
Larry Donnell is one of the worst starting tight ends in the NFL. He’s coming off of a poor season (-10.2% DVOA, -18 DYAR) and is a poor blocker. Daniel Fells played well in limited usage (16 receptions for 188 yards, 75 DYAR). He’s a much better blocker than Donnell, and may steal playing time from him.
Rashad Jennings looks like the starting running back so long as he can stay healthy. He’s averaged 12 games a season over the past three years. He was only mediocre when healthy last season, with a combined DVOA of -0.2% and a combined DYAR of 77. Andre Williams looks to have the inside track to the #2RB job. His combined DYAR was -72 last season. It’s a good thing the Giants aren’t building their offense around a strong running game. The Giants’ running backs ended up with -99 DYAR receiving last season, so this might be due to poor scheming or playcalling.
Left tackle William Beatty is going to start the season on the PUP list after tearing a pectoral muscle in OTA’s. That means rookie Erick Flowers is going to get thrown into the fire. I like Flowers and expect him to eventually become a great right tackle, but this is going to be a very stiff test. The Giants are still deciding who to start at left guard and right tackle. Justin Pugh will hold down one of the jobs, but which one depends on Marshall Newhouse. If the Giants trust Newhouse at right tackle, Pugh can move inside. If not, look for John Jerry to start at left guard. For the record, Newhouse wasn’t good last season, but the upgrade from Jerry to Pugh might make it worth starting him. Weston Richburg was a mediocre left guard last season. He’ll be moving over to his natural center position, where he can hopefully upgrade to average. Geoff Schwartz is returning from a lost season where he only made two starts due to an ankle injury. If Beatty hadn’t gotten hurt I’d give this line a grade of “acceptable.” As is, I’m giving it a grade of “one Mississippi.”
I can’t even imagine what JPP has gone through this summer. I don’t want to mock him for his pain, or lecture anyone on fireworks safety, but he has cost himself and his team. He almost certainly lost a staggering amount of money and hurt the Giants’ defense. Last season, he had 12.5 sacks and 34 hits+hurries. We don’t know when he’ll be back on the field or how effective he will be. Just an awful situation. Right now I expect Robert Ayers to start across from Kerry Wynn. Ayers had five sacks and 33.5 hits+hurries in 12 games last season. He declined to have surgery on the pectoral muscle tear that cut his season short, so the Giants are a bit wary here. Damontre Moore was excellent in limited usage last season. He played one third the snaps of JPP, nabbing 5.5 sacks and 13.5 hits+hurries. Admittedly, he faced a higher percentage of passing plays, but that’s still an excellent job. Damontre Moore struggled against the run, however that was true for everyone in the Giants’ front-seven. Well, everyone but Johnathan Hankins. Hankins was excellent last season, grabbing seven sacks while controlling the line of scrimmage. Tackles like that are hard to find. Cullen Jenkins has a weak hold on the other starting job. Markus Kuhn and Kendrick Ellis will be part of the rotation, and one of them may end up starting. The Giants added JPP’s college teammate George Selvie to the defensive end rotation, but he’s not the pro JPP is. The man who may eventually replace JPP’s production is rookie third-round pick Owa Odighizuwa. Concerns about his injury history caused him to slip in the draft, but if he can stay healthy, he’s one of the steals of the draft.
The Giants’ linebacker corps is generally an afterthought. Jon Beason usually misses more games than he plays. If (when?) he goes down, look for Jameel McClain to step in. 2014 fifth-round pick Devon Kennard was the Giants’ best linebacker by the end of last season. Free agent pickup J.T. Thomas will likely start on the weak side, although the Giants are looking at McClain there as well. I’d say the Giants need to look at drafting a few linebackers next year, but that’s not what they do.
The 33rd overall pick in the draft is a bit special. It’s the first pick of the second round, which is important because it means teams have a day to reevaluate all the players who surprisingly fell out of the first round. One of those players was strong safety Landon Collins. Collins isn’t as fast as you might like, but he makes up for it with technique and physicality. He’s already injured with a sprained knee. Rookie fifth-round pick Mykkele Thompson was looking good before he tore his Achilles. He’ll miss the season. Right now we may see Bennett Jackson and Nat Berhe as the opening day starters. Prince Amukamara is nursing a strained groin. Nickel cornerback Trumaine McBride hurt his hamstring in the preseason. The only healthy projected starter is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Seeing as he was slowed by injuries most of last season, and Amukamara is coming back from a biceps injury, the Giants will likely need to add a few more cornerbacks to the roster. It’s an overused analogy, but this secondary is a dumpster fire waiting to happen.
Kicker Josh Brown was excellent last season. Kicking in the Meadowlands isn’t as easy as he makes it look. Punter Steve Weatherford overcame an ankle injury last season, but the Giants aren’t taking any chances and have brought in Robert Malone to compete for the job. Right now it looks like Dwayne Harris has both of the return jobs locked down. That makes me happy, mostly because it means Odell Beckham Jr. won’t be injured returning a punt. This roster is already gutted with injuries, and losing him on special teams would just break my heart.
Things could break right for the Giants. If Cruz and Randle get healthy, the Giants will have a scary trio of receivers. Unfortunately, things haven’t broken right for the Giants. They just break. Opening against Dallas is a blessing, as they get to face them before Hardy returns. I’m also pretty skeptical of the Eagles and Redskins. 7-9.
Expected Wins: 9.65
Scouting Wins: 7.66
DVOA Wins: 8.8
2014 Record: 10-6 (9.7 Pythagorean)
It is possible to outsmart the NFL. It is very hard to keep outsmarting the NFL. Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy, and Jeremy Maclin all led the Eagles in DYAR at their respective positions. All three have been jettisoned. Frankly, only the loss of Maclin concerns me, but the point is that coach Chip Kelly has the courage of his convictions. So far, his schemes have worked, to a point. He wants to go further, and is willing to make take chances to do so. Case in point: Sam Bradford.
Bradford was a bust in St. Louis. His career DVOA of -9.8% doesn’t tell the whole story, as he was only available for 49 of the 80 games. He’s torn his ACL twice, so it was a surprise when Kelly approached the Rams with the idea of a quarterback swap. Kelly has seen what Foles can do in his offense, but how good can it be with better talent? Bradford produced 692 DYAR over his final two seasons in St. Louis (23 games), with a 1.1% DVOA over that stretch. For that, Kelly gave up a guy that went 14-4 in 18 starts for the Eagles. Bradford has shown he can be accurate, with above-average mobility, but there are questions about his arm strength and ability to throw deep. The buzz out of practice has been positive, but until we see it in a game, we can’t know for sure. If Bradford goes down, we’ll see the return of Mark Sanchez. Sanchez was… acceptable last season (-1.4% DVOA, 210 DYAR). Sanchez is not the quarterback that can lead the Eagles to the promised land, so the Eagles’ hopes rest with Bradford. As for Tim Tebow, he’s great on two point conversions and short yardage situations. If you think he can be a starting quarterback, then your faith is as strong as his.
Over the past two seasons, DeMarco Murray has 775 combined DYAR. That’s a tremendous stretch, but it’s clear the Cowboys were prepared to run Murray into the ground. Leading the NFL in yards-from-scrimmage (2,261) is a tough act to repeat, and I’d expect the Eagles to lighten Murray’s workload considerably. Darren Sproles and Ryan Matthews will each carry a share of the load. Sproles is still a quality scatback. Matthews has been a quality every-down back for the Chargers when healthy. Overall, this is a pretty good backfield.
Rookie first-round pick Nelson Agholor is already slotted in as Jeremy Maclin’s replacement. I wrote that I considered him the wide receiver in this draft that’s third-most likely to succeed (behind Amari Cooper and Kevin White). He’s a perfect addition to the roster and should step right into the slot. 2014 fourth-round pick Jordan Matthews is coming off a quietly superb season (11.6% DVOA, 194 DYAR). Matthews and Agholor should form an elite receiving tandem for years to come. After dropping a stinkbomb in 2012 (-22.8% DVOA, -15 DYAR), Riley Cooper bounced back with a strong 2013 (20.6% DVOA, 212 DYAR). He then produced an even bigger stench in 2014 (-17.6% DVOA, -38 DYAR). He was worse than the numbers indicated, as defenses were focused on Maclin and Matthews. If he struggles again this season, don’t be surprised when Kelly kicks him down the depth chart:
Miles Austin is coming off his best season in years (10.1% DVOA, 120 DYAR, in Cleveland). He’s not the threat he once was, but he’s learned to make do with the athleticism he has left. Cooper has looked good so far this preseason, but if he slips, Austin is the likely beneficiary. That is, unless 2014 third-round pick Josh Huff learns how to catch. Huff earned a -3.7 +/- despite only being targeted 18 times. That’s why his -48.9% DVOA is harsh but fair (-49 DYAR). Huff is an Oregon product, so he may get slightly more rope from Kelly. He was dealing with a shoulder injury last season, so perhaps he’ll have better form this year. 2013 third-round pick Zach Ertz has supplanted Brent Celek at tight end, and may be the Eagles’ de facto third receiver this season. He’s produced 187 DYAR over his first two seasons and could easily sustain a larger role in the offense. He’s currently recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia. Celek is on the way down (-20.8% DVOA, -49 DYAR last season). No way he keeps that up and keeps his job.
There is a general consensus that the Eagles have a strong offensive line. I’m not seeing that. Jason Peters slipped badly last season, finishing 25th among left tackles in my rankings. Center Jason Kelce was even worse, ranking 30th. Right tackle Lane Johnson was above-average. Left guard Allen Barbre only appeared in one game last season due to an ankle injury. It’s not clear who is going to start at right tackle. I will say that Peters was excellent at run-blocking last season. Perhaps last year was just a fluke, and Peters will bounce back to his previous All Pro form. If so, this line could be pretty good. If the Eagles’ up-tempo pace is wearing down their offensive line, then it could be a long (or excruciatingly short) year for Sam Bradford.
The Eagles led the NFC with 49 sacks last season. They (and the NFC) were led by outside linebacker Connor Barwin (14.5 sacks, 33.5 hits+hurries). The only key piece missing from last season is Trent Cole. Brandon Graham was a more effective player than Cole last season, and I expect him to be able to pick up the slack. The loss of Cole might hurt the depth here, There will be pressure on 2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith to bounce back from an awful rookie season (0 tackles in 74 snaps). He was recently carted off the field due to an injured hamstring, so his year is not off to a good start. Mychal Kendricks will start inside, but whether he’s next to Kiko Alonso or Demeco Ryans is still be to determined. Kendricks was excellent in 12 games last season. Alonso is coming back from a torn ACL. Ryans is coming back from a torn Achilles. Let’s see who is healthier and closer to 100%. Right now that is Ryans, as Alonso suffered a concussion in practice.
Interestingly, despite being built for speed and rushing the passer, the Eagles were better against the run than they were vs. the pass. Starting nose tackle Bennie Logan and end Cedric Thornton were both solid against the run, particularly Logan. Fletcher Cox is an all-around great defender. Vinny Curry replaces Thornton on passing downs. Curry grabbed nine sacks and 20 hits+hurries in 321 pass-rushing opportunities. That’s a nice rate (especially given opponents passed 87% of the time when he was on the field). This is a strong and underrated defensive line. If either Alonso or Ryans can get back up to speed, this should be one of the better front-sevens in the NFC.
The Eagles’ secondary wasn’t very good last season. That is why the top two cornerbacks are newcomers. Byron Maxwell is coming from Seattle via free agency. Rookie second-round pick Eric Rowe played both cornerback and safety at Utah. Rowe was the rare controversial prospect based entirely on what he did on the field. Some teams saw a player who lacked the strength to play safety and the quickness to play cornerback. Others saw a premier press-cover specialist with the size to match up with the bigger receivers becoming prevalent in the NFL. If you’re curious where I stand, let me say I would’ve taken him one round later, which isn’t that big a deal for a player with this kind of potential. As for starting him immediately, that’s quite a gamble. Rookie cornerbacks usually struggle. JaCorey Shepherd is out for the season with a torn ACL. Walter Thurmond III has missed more games with injury than he’s played over the past four seasons (and it’s not close). Depth here is going to be an issue, especially if Rowe struggles. Malcolm Jenkins will start at strong safety, but free safety is an open competition, cornerbacks welcome. Earl Wolff was slated to start, but the Eagles tired of waiting for him to return to the field and waived him. Tough league. This could be an excellent secondary if Maxwell and Rowe are both hits. It could be a disaster if injuries hit, or Rowe fails. A great pass rush can help, but sometimes the offensive line does its job and the secondary needs to do theirs.
The Eagles excelled at special teams last season, with five blocks and four touchdowns on returns. Neither of those marks are sustainable. Even so, they should still be above-average returning kicks and punts, as well as defending against field goals. Cody Parkey was one of the best kickers in the NFL. The strong coverage units were a nice touch, although some of that credit should go to Parker and his hangtime. Punter Donnie Jones was no slouch either. The Eagles’ special teams will see some major regression to the mean, but should still be an asset.
We can examine the Eagles’ roster as much as we’d like, but the big question is still Sam Bradford. Kelly is confident he can bring the best out of the former first-overall pick. Preseason can only tell us so much, so we’re going to have to wait and see. My guess? Bradford delivers and we see the Eagles make another playoff run. 10-6. (Update: I should note that no team has seen its season expectations change more than the Eagles. They’ve gone from 8.77 wins to 9.65. That’s a lot of faith in Bradford.)
Expected Wins: 5.82
Scouting Wins: 5.84
DVOA Wins: 6.0
2014 Record: 4-12 (4.5 Pythagorean)
“All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” -Leo Tolstoy
The Redskins are the unhappiest family in the NFL. Enough has been written about owner Dan Snyder and his destructive ownership. Head coach Jay Gruden is petulant and incompetent. Robert Griffin III should have been allowed to play out his rookie contract from the comfort of the bench, but instead the Redskins picked up his fifth year option…
…and sent him out to take a beating in the preseason. It’s not that I don’t know what the Redskins are thinking, they’re just utter morons. They don’t have an NFL-quality quarterback on their roster. RG3 was destroyed years ago (blame Shanahan), but the Redskins haven’t come to terms with that. I’m not going to break him, or Colt McCoy, or Kirk Cousins down in detail, because what’s the point? Gruden played musical chairs with them last season, and it looks like he’ll do so again.
(Update: With the latest bits of dysfunction, I’ve changed my mind. The Redskins have looked into trading or cutting RG3, and plan to start Cousins. Over the past three seasons Cousins has taken 690 snaps, which is about 2/3’s of a season’s worth. In that time he’s thrown 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. His DVOA was -13.2%, with -32 DYAR. He actually looks good on film, until he has one of his “WTF was he thinking” plays. Good luck Washington.)
Alfred Morris has seen his production, DYAR, and DVOA drop every season since his breakout rookie year:
2012: 1,613 yards, 10.3% DVOA, 254 DYAR
2013: 1,275 yards, 2.0% DVOA, 121 DYAR
2014: 1,074 yards, -1.4% DVOA, 77 DYAR
Some of that drop might be on him, but the fact that defenses don’t respect the Redskins’ passing game clearly isn’t helping. Rookie third-round pick Matt Jones was a surprising reach, given the other running backs available and the fact that he had a fifth-round grade. I’m not sure what the Redskins saw in him, and the pick wasn’t well received due to the numerous other needs on the roster.
On the plus side, DeSean Jackson is still incredible (27.0% DVOA, 306 DYAR). He pulled that off by raising his YAC to 8.5 yards (20.9 yards-per-catch). That’s what it takes when your quarterbacks have a cumulative -194 DYAR. That’s going to be a tough act to repeat. Pierre Garcon wasn’t able to make magic happen (-14.6% DVOA, -15 DYAR). He can still be productive, but it is hard to be efficient in this offense. Andre Roberts was worse than his numbers suggest (-14.2% DVOA, -9 DYAR), and would already be looking at the bench if rookie fourth-round pick Jamison Crowder was healthy. Crowder has been sidelined by a hamstring injury, so Roberts has a chance to redeem himself. Crowder was a machine at Duke, catching 193 balls in his final two seasons. He’s a 5-8 possession receiver, with great hands and body control. He will need an accurate quarterback to take advantage of his skill-set, though. 2013 third-round pick Jordan Reed regressed badly after a promising rookie season. Injuries were a part of it, but he needs to find a way to become more consistent. Staying on the field would help. Niles Paul played great in Reed’s absence (24.4% DVOA, 110 DYAR), but that’s not something the Redskins (or Paul) can expect again. There is a decent amount of talent in this receiving corps, but no good way of taking advantage of it.
I read reviews of Trent Williams and see him referred to as “one of the NFL’s best left tackles” and I wonder if they are watching the same player. He finished 29th in my rankings. He’s not the player he used to be, and I wonder if the Redskins have picked up on that. It would explain their willingness to grab Brandon Scherff so early. Scherff might play at right tackle or right guard. The case for putting him at guard is that 2014 third-round pick Morgan Moses looks like a perfectly acceptable right tackle. However, Moses is coming back from Lisfranc surgery, so the Redskins need to see if he is still the same player. If Scherff plays right tackle, 2014 third-round pick Spencer Long could step in at right guard. Yes, the Redskins used a pair of third round picks on offensive linemen last season, as well as a fourth round pick, in addition to the fifth overall pick Scherff. Left guard Shawn Lauvao and center Corey Lichtensteiger both finished ninth in their respective positional rankings. This line could be very strong in a few years, or perhaps sooner.
It took some free agent dollars to do it, but the Redskins have rebuilt their defensive line:
Of course, the Redskins are no strangers to spending money on defensive linemen:
It’s a solid line, although the depth is a bit thin. Hatcher has had some knee issues and ended last season on IR due to them. Frankly, I’m ecstatic that the Redskins didn’t see fit to add Leonard Williams, and instead went with Scherff.
You’d think signing a young linebacker coming of a 10-sack season would be expensive, but that’s not always the case:
Galette was recently released by the Saints due to a torn pectoral muscle, and it’s unclear when he’ll return to the field. If he were healthy, he’d be starting across from Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan is coming off a monster season (13.5 sacks, 37 hits+hurries). He’s the Redskins’ best defender and the Redskins rewarded him with a long-term deal. 2014 second-round pick Trent Murphy was a bit of a disappointment, finishing with 2.5 sacks. He ended last season on IR due to a hand injury, but he appeared in 15 games and had an opportunity to make an impact. The pressure will be on, as the Redskins grabbed Preston Smith in the second round. Smith can play defensive end or outside linebacker. He’s a natural pass-rusher who has experience in coverage. The Redskins might have grabbed him a bit early, but he has a very good shot of making an impact here. Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley are slated to start inside. Robinson is decent, but Riley is the kind of player you’d prefer to use sparingly. It’s tough to draft for need with so many holes on the squad, but the Redskins really do need to look at grabbing some players for the front-seven that aren’t outside linebackers.
The Redskins traded a sixth-round pick for Dashon Goldson, and signed Jeron Johnson in free agency:
That takes care of the safeties. 2014 fourth-round pick Bashaud Breeland struggled, but showed enough promise to earn and keep a starting job. I expect the experience to pay off this season. He’ll play across from one more free agent pickup:
Building a team is easy, just spend money! Goldson should be a good fit for the defense, and Johnson is a reasonably-priced option who can handle the job. Expectations will be high for Culliver. He was excellent last season, but it was his first as a full-time starter. DeAngelo Hall is currently sidelined by a sprained toe, but I’m optimistic he’ll make it on to the field at some point this season. That’s not necessarily a good thing, as he isn’t close to the player he was in his prime. Overall, this looks like a solid unit, much like the defensive line. We’ll see how things actually play out. It’s tough to build a team in free agency.
The Redskins’ special teams have been a joke in recent years. Kicker Kai Forbath is mediocre, but he’s accurate enough that you can live with him. Punter Tress Way led the NFL with 47.5 average gross punting yards. Unfortunately, both of their respective coverage units were awful. The return game was poor as well. This is the kind of thing that teams can solve with resources, effort, and time. Instead, the Redskins have languished in the bottom five special teams units year-after-year. This is not a well-run franchise.
I don’t care if RG3 is hurt. Kirk Cousins can provide the same mediocrity with a lot less drama. So can Colt McCoy for that matter. Frankly, I’d prefer the Redskins to just pick one quarterback and show some faith in him, but that doesn’t appear to be Gruden’s style. The rest of the roster looks surprisingly sound, although it took a lot of roster turnover and free agent cash to get there. That should pay off with a few extra wins. 6-10.