Loading scores...
Team Previews

Washington Football Team 2021 Fantasy Football Preview

by Jack Miller
Updated On: July 28, 2021, 1:05 am ET

The App is Back! Don’t forget to download the NBC Sports EDGE app to receive real-time player news, mobile alerts and track your favorite players. Plus, now you can check out articles and player cards. Get it here!

 

2020 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 5,076 (30th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 34 (28th)
Offensive Plays: 1,051 (8th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 651 (8th)
Rush Attempts: 400 (25th)
Available Targets: 30 (24th)
Available Carries: 37 (29th)

Coaching Staff

Head coach Ron Rivera returns to Washington for 2021 along with both offensive coordinator Scott Turner and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Last year, the Football Team ranked third in neutral-script seconds per snap (26.0) and seventh in neutral-script pass rate (59%).

This was in line with the offense Turner ran two years ago when he operated as the interim OC for the Panthers after they fired Rivera. In Weeks 14-17 of 2019 (i.e. with Turner as OC), the Panthers ranked first in both neutral-script pace and pass rate. Turner has a history of spearheading fantasy-friendly attacks despite non-elite talent, so expect more of the same this season in that regard.

Del Rio will lead a defense that ranked third in the NFL in DVOA last season and retains the talent to replicate its world-beating efficiency in 2021. Ryan Kerrigan signed with the Eagles, but he only played 38.0% of snaps in 2020, while Chase Young and Montez Sweat handled the majority of EDGE duties. Washington has talent at all three levels, and this defense should be among the best in the league once again.

Passing Game

QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen
WR: Terry McLaurin, Dyami Brown
WR: Curtis Samuel, Cam Sims, Antonio Gandy-Golden
WR: Adam Humphries, Steven Sims
TE: Logan Thomas

After struggling through a quarterback carousel that featured Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, Alex Smith, and Taylor Heinicke, Washington brought in veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to call the shots this season. For someone who has been in the league so long, Fitzpatrick is still something of a black box. Over the past four seasons, he fluctuated in and out of the starting role in Tampa Bay and Miami, splitting time with Jameis Winston and Tua Tagovailoa, respectively. He also averaged 7.7 yards per attempt during that span, a commendable mark for someone who isn't seen as a reliable starter.

Still, he's a journeyman for a reason, and he was below 7.0 Y/A in the three seasons prior – notable considering he only started more than seven games one time in the past four years. It's unlikely he suddenly turned into an above-average QB in his mid-30s. With that being said, he's undeniably an upgrade over what the Football Team dealt with in 2020.

Terry McLaurin is clearly Washington's alpha wide receiver. The Ohio State product crested 1,000 yards for the first time last season, ending 2020 with 87 catches for 1,118 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games. McLaurin posted a 24.2% target share and ranked third in the NFL in air yards market share. With Fitzpatrick at the helm, McLaurin's positional ADP (WR14) is fair, but he's likely undervalued overall in the middle of Round 3 since WRs are typically your best bet in that range.

After being reunited with Scott Turner in free agency, Curtis Samuel should immediately step in as the Football Team's WR2. He posted a 14.2 average depth of target (14th among WRs) in 2019, but that number plummeted to 7.4 (100th) last year. With Turner, Samuel is likely to be utilized in a role that better suits his long-range speed. If you recall, Samuel averaged an abysmal 6.0 yards per target in 2019, but much of the blame for that can be placed on Kyle Allen. According to PlayerProfiler, just 62.6% of Samuel's targets that year were even catchable. It's a chicken-and-egg situation with Samuel: He has never been efficient as a deep threat, but his QBs have never done him any favors either.

 

YearCurtis Samuel Average Depth of Target
20179.8
201811.9
201914.2
20207.4

 

He also had nine carries across the four games he played with Turner at OC two years ago. Carries aren't as valuable as targets, but that's another way the Football Team could try to get Samuel the rock in 2021.

At the current juncture, WRs are being pushed up draft boards at a frightening pace. Samuel's ADP also falls in a range that has not been kind to WRs historically. Because of that – and because there is a myriad of ascending WRs around his price point – Samuel isn't necessarily a target, but it's easy to understand the bull case.

Adam Humphries and Dyami Brown will duke it out for WR3 duties behind McLaurin and Samuel. Humphries is the favorite to start Week 1, but he has limited upside at this point in his career. He has allure in deep best ball leagues because he should have multiple usable weeks, but he's not viable in the majority of formats. On the other hand, Brown had an underrated prospect profile coming out of North Carolina. He broke out as a true sophomore – posting a 31% Dominator Rating playing alongside Bears' Round 6 selection Dazz Newsome – and left school with a 25% career market share of receiving yards. Over his final two collegiate seasons, he averaged 20.1 yards per reception. Straight-up, he might have been the most lethal deep threat in college football over the past two years. As the veteran, Humphries will start with the WR3 role, but Brown is a stellar late-round dart throw and profiles as a long-term contributor.

Realistically, Logan Thomas looks like the third option in the Football Team's aerial attack. A former QB, Thomas had a breakout season in 2020, notching 110 targets, 72 catches, and 670 yards en route to a top-five TE finish. His ADP sits in Round 9 on Underdog.

There are two major questions with Thomas. First, the Football Team had almost no one to throw to last year outside of McLaurin. Among WFT WRs, Cam Sims had the second-most targets. With Samuel, Humphries, and Brown now in the picture, Thomas probably won't be as much of a priority.

He also averaged 6.1 yards per target in 2020. The QB play was subpar, but that was only narrowly better than running backs J.D. McKissic and Antonio Gibson (who we'll get to in the next section). There is a chance Thomas just isn't that good of a player and loses much of his role given the improved target competition.

 

PlayerYards per Target
Cam Sims9.9
Terry McLaurin8.3
Steven Sims7.2
Robert Foster6.2
Logan Thomas6.1
Antonio Gibson5.6
Isaiah Wright5.6
J.D. McKissic5.4

 

I'm out on Thomas right now, but he certainly has his supporters.

Editor’s Note: Get an edge on draft day with our 2021 Draft Guide that is packed with hundreds of player profiles, rankings for various formats, projections, tiers, mock drafts, custom scoring, our ADP Trend Report tool and more. And don't forget to use promo code SAVE10 to get 10% off. Click here to learn more!

Running Game 

RB: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Jaret Patterson, Peyton Barber
OL (L-R): Charles Leno, Wes Schweitzer, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, Cornelius Lucas

Washington returns four of five starters up front, although the one loss (Morgan Moses) is a major one. Still, they spent more on the offensive line than any other team during the offseason, bringing in Charles Leno, Ereck Flowers, and Tyler Larsen. They also added Texas tackle Samuel Cosmi in the second round of the NFL Draft. On paper, this looks like one of the stronger o-lines in the league.

Antonio Gibson was a revelation, emerging from the dust to finish as a top-12 running back in PPR formats. A college wide receiver, there were questions about how Gibson's game would translate as a pure RB. He swiftly answered those questions, as Pro Football Focus gave him the fifth-highest rushing grade last season. Curiously, he ceded pass-catching work to J.D. McKissic, who finished with 110 targets. Receiving ability was Gibson's calling card as a prospect – he was literally a WR at Memphis – yet the Football Team pigeonholed him into an early-down role.

Gibson's ADP currently sits at 17.0 (RB10). To return value, he needs to be more involved as a receiver. The good news is there has been a steady drumbeat out of Washington about making that a reality. ESPN's John Keim reported the coaching staff wants him to run more routes in 2021. Rivera stated he expects Gibson to make "a big jump." WFT coaches are saying all the right things about Gibson heading into his second NFL season. He certainly can catch passes; the question is whether he'll be granted more of an opportunity to do so with McKissic still in the picture.

The second-year pro is also likely to score at a lower rate this year. Gibson notched 11 rushing TDs on just 170 carries – a 6.5% clip. That's the 11th-highest rate among all backs with 100 or more carries over the past decade. According to Bet the Prop, there have been 21 RBs to post at least a 6.0% TD rate since 2011. On average, their TD rate dropped from 6.4% to 4.5% in the following season. He's established himself as the lead runner, but TD regression will probably keep him from scoring many more points on the ground, even if his rushing workload improves.

 

PlayerYearTouchdown Rate in Year NTouchdown Rate in Year N+1
Alvin Kamara20208.6%?
Mike Gillislee20167.9%4.8%
Alvin Kamara20187.3%2.9%
D'Andre Swift20207.0%?
Aaron Jones20196.8%4.5%
Tevin Coleman20166.8%3.2%
J.K. Dobbins20206.7%?
Alvin Kamara20176.7%7.3%
Mike Tolbert20116.7%13.0%
Todd Gurley20186.6%5.4%
Antonio Gibson20206.5%?

 

Gibson's fantasy productivity hinges on his involvement in the passing game. If he only takes a small step forward in that facet, he'll have a difficult time living up to his ADP. However, we know he has a three-down skill set based on how efficient he was playing wideout at Memphis, so it all depends on his usage. In that regard, his upside isn't entirely captured by projections or ADP because his workload is less certain. He has a wider range of outcomes than most Round 2 RBs because we don't know if the Football Team will thrust him into a three-down role or if they'll continue to rely on McKissic in obvious passing situations. That alone makes him intriguing because he's one of only a few backs with true game-breaking upside.

At the same time, his median outcome is lower than other second-round backs because his volume isn't as locked-in. Unlike someone like Joe Mixon, Gibson isn't guaranteed a massive rushing workload; in fact, he only averaged 13.3 carries per game when healthy once he became their primary rusher (i.e. from Week 2 onward, including their one playoff game). Drafting Gibson at ADP requires a leap of faith that he will secure a sizable pass-catching role in 2021.

In 2020, McKissic led all RBs in targets with 110. First of all, let's take a second to acknowledge the fact that J.D. McKissic led all RBs in targets.

Next, we have to assess how many targets he's going to lose. Similar to Thomas, Washington had to feature McKissic in the passing game because they simply didn't have any better options. With three new competent WRs, it's hard to see McKissic coming close to replicating what he did last year. And that's before you factor in Gibson taking on a larger role in the passing game.

A formerly barren Washington pass-catching corps is suddenly chock-full of viable options. Between that and a projected leap for Gibson, McKissic could be left out to dry in 2021. Fortunately, that's baked heavily into his ADP – he's going as the RB49 on Underdog right now after finishing as the RB23 last year – making him a fine pick at cost. Normally, you'd see someone like him going much earlier after such a productive season, but his ADP is only slightly ahead of other pass-catchers like James White and Giovani Bernard. I'm not drafting him much, but it does seem like the market has properly accounted for the factors working against him.

After those two guys, Jaret Patterson and Peyton Barber will fight over the short-yardage role. Both players need an injury to be relevant in all but the deepest of formats.

Win Total

PointsBet has the WFT win total set at 8.5 (-120 to the under). Considering Mike Clay has them at 9.3 wins, I'd be inclined to take the over in this spot. The Football Team has one of the stingiest defenses in the league, plus Fitzpatrick is an upgrade over the QB carousel they dealt with in 2020. I don't see enough value in this number to bet it myself, but that's the way I'd lean if I wanted to get some action down on this squad.

Jack Miller

Jack Miller is a fantasy football and prop betting analyst for NBC Sports EDGE and Establish The Run. You can find him on Twitter @JackMiller02.