WELCOME BACK: Short inside passing game. Washington's two best weapons, tight end JORDAN REED and third-down back CHRIS THOMPSON, missed significant time with injuries last year. (Reed was out with hamstring and rib injuries, Thompson with a fractured right fibula.) Both are healthy now, so the offense will go through them. Reed is lethal on slants, Thompson on angle and option routes. The Redskins' attack will be a nightmare for opposing inside linebackers.
Kirk Cousins for ALEX SMITH is not an apples-for-apples switch at QB. Cousins, who left for the Vikings, is an attack-minded passer who must be reeled in. Smith, acquired from Kansas City, is a dinker-and-dunker who must be prodded into taking chances. He won't pull the trigger until he sees—and then sometimes verifies—that a receiver is open. Even in pristine pockets he will lose form before working to his backside progressions. Smith will drive coach JAY GRUDEN crazy by November.
The Redskins have two of the league's finest on-the-move blockers in left tackle TRENT WILLIAMS and right guard BRANDON SCHERFF. Williams's athleticism on the perimeter keys their screen game. Scherff's mobility in the trenches defines many of their man-blocking runs. Both are excellent in Gruden's foundational zone ground game.
Cornerback JOSH NORMAN'S sense for route angles and timing is superb, but when plays get extended, you see his limitations—including his ho-hum speed. His first two years in Washington have been disappointing relative to his salary ($50 million guaranteed). Norman will make more plays if recent high picks on the D-line can bolster the rush.
Inside linebacker ZACH BROWN'S high-octane 2017 performance earned him a three-year, $24 million contract. For this investment to pay off, the 28-year-old must be more consistent at diagnosing plays. Sometimes he bursts into the backfield, other times he looks as if he's counting Mississippis. If Brown improves, so will a run defense that ranked 29th in yards per attempt last season.
2017 RECORD 7W 9L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 5W 11L
8th @SAINTS [Monday]
22nd @COWBOYS [Thursday]
3rd @EAGLES [Monday]
23rd @TITANS [Flex/Saturday]
RYAN KERRIGAN can bend the edge as a pass rusher, but the rest of this front four is suspect. Much depends on JONATHAN ALLEN and RYAN ANDERSON, Washington's top two choices in the 2017 draft.