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Fantasy football 2014 draft prep: Washington Redskins team preview

Photo: Carlos M. Saavedra/SI

Despite being inactive for the final three games of the season, Robert Griffin III threw for 3,203 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013.

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It’s basically impossible for fewer things to have gone right in Washington last season. Robert Griffin III rushed back to the field after a gruesome knee injury suffered just nine months earlier, and then proceeded to clash with head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The offense scored an unimpressive 20.9 points per game, which ranked No. 23 in the league. The defense largely stayed healthy, but surrendered 29.9 points per game, the second-highest total in the league. Add it all up, and it equals a 3-13 record, as well as a deposed coaching staff. Gone are the Shanahans, and in are new head coach Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay. That is a very good development for RGIII, one of the league’s prime bounce-back candidates.

Here's something that may surprise you: Despite all his struggles and the tumult in Washington last year, Griffin was the 12th-highest scoring fantasy quarterback on a per-game basis, tied with Matt Ryan. He did miss three games and put up six total dud performances, but there were some highs that have gone largely forgotten. Of course, the case for Griffin in 2014 isn’t built on the, “No, no, he was better last year than you think,” line of reasoning, but rather on the changes, both in him and the team’s roster makeup.

First and foremost, the third-year quarterback will be 20 months removed from tearing his ACL and MCL in the team’s divisional round playoff loss to the Seahawks in January 2013 when the 2014 season begins. Griffin was able to start Week 1 in 2013, but there were obvious signs of rust, not to mention a bulky knee brace that seriously limited his mobility. When Griffin suits up for the first time in 2014, that knee injury should be behind him both mentally and physically.

Second, Washington boasts one of the most dangerous collections of talent at the skill positions. Pierre Garcon racked up 113 catches for 1,346 yards last year. In just 10 games in 2012, he had 44 receptions for 633 yards and four touchdowns. His new running mate DeSean Jackson is coming off an 82-catch, 1,332-yard, nine-score season with the Eagles. While his skill set was an ideal fit for Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia, Griffin has the deep-ball bona fides to make use of Jackson’s best asset, his speed. With those two keeping defenders busy outside the numbers, tight end Jordan Reed looks primed for a breakout season. The 23-year-old supplanted Fred Davis as the starter last year, hauling in 45 passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns in nine games. He has the size and speed to fit in among the new breed of tight ends, and gives Griffin a strong third option in the passing game. While Alfred Morris isn’t a huge threat catching the ball out of the backfield, he’s an effective runner who has notched 4.7 yards per carry across 611 career totes, and will force defenses to be honest, giving Griffin lanes to both throw and run.

Finally, do not discount the coaching change in Washington. This is not to say that Gruden is some quarterback whisperer (though Andy Dalton did put up the third-most fantasy points among quarterbacks last year). The Griffin-Shanahan relationship was toxic, with each one seemingly trying to undermine the other every single week last year. That doesn’t exactly seem like a healthy arrangement for coach and quarterback. Things between Griffin and Gruden can’t help but be better, and that’s a good thing for his real-life and fantasy prospects.

Fantasy owners could go in a number of directions at quarterback once Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are off the board. For my money, Griffin is the No. 7 quarterback, trailing also Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady.

Most overvalued player

Alfred Morris, RB -- In the universe of running backs, Morris is properly valued. He’s widely seen as a high-end RB2 alongside guys like Doug Martin, Zac Stacy and Andre Ellington. That is exactly where he belongs when compared with players at his position. In the overall player pool, however, this entire crop of guys is overvalued. We’ve seen the bust rates of running backs soar in recent years, while receivers have been safe and reliable producers. The opportunity cost of Morris is someone like Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown, Alshon Jeffery or Randall Cobb. I trust all of those receivers over a low-to-mid-teens running back.

Most undervalued player

DeSean Jackson, WR -- The case being built against Jackson this season is baffling. In 2011 and 2012, the two down years in Jackson’s career, the Eagles’ passing offense ranked 18th and 24th, respectively, per Pro Football Focus’ metrics. In 2011, Philadelphia’s offensive line was merely mediocre at pass blocking. Jackson never had a chance on either of those squads, and that’s before factoring in the middling performance of Michael Vick and Nick Foles in those two seasons. Last year, with a new coach, new scheme and an unleashed Foles, Jackson had the best season of his career. He joins a team that is stocked with athletes at the skill positions and features an offensive line that ranked fourth in pass blocking a season ago. Jackson is roundly seen as a receiver outside the top 20, trailing the famously unreliable Michael Crabtree and Percy Harvin. Do not make that mistake.

Depth chart

QB: Robert Griffin, Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy
RB: Alfred Morris, Roy Helu, Evan Royster, Lache Seastrunk
WR: Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts, Aldrick Robinson, Ryan Grant, Santana Moss
TE: Jordan Reed, Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen

Defensive analysis

  Total vs. Pass vs. Run Points allowed
NFL Rank 18 20 17 T-30
  vs. QB vs. RB vs. WR vs. TE
Fantasy rank 23 29 22 22

The Redskins weren’t a terrible fantasy defense last year, though nearly one-third of their total output was on five defensive touchdowns. There’s plenty of evidence that points to defensive scores being a volatile statistic from year to year, so fantasy owners should not count on that level of production again. The team also wasn’t a very good real-life defense, and the unit that allowed nearly 30 points per game last year returns almost completely intact. Washington made three moves to upgrade its defense during the offseason. It drafted Trent Murphy, a linebacker who may not start, in the second round, and signed Ryan Clark, a 34-year-old free safety, and Jason Hatcher, a 31-year-old defensive tackle with 143 tackles to his credit in seven total seasons. That doesn’t exactly move the needle.

​​Despite the failings of the unit as a whole, there is some IDP juice on this team. Linebackers Perry Riley, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan all ranked in the top 50 at the position in fantasy points last year. Riley is likely the least known of the three, but he might be the best IDP of the bunch. He had 115 tackles, three sacks and an interception last year. He also defended nine passes, the seventh-most at the position. Orakpo returned from a torn pectoral suffered in 2012 to pick up 10 sacks last season, and is the team’s best pass rusher. Kerrigan, meanwhile, has had at least 7.5 sacks in each of his three years in the league.

DeAngelo Hall continues to be the name player in the secondary, and though Pro Football Focus graded him the No. 85 cornerback in the league last year, he did have four interceptions, 78 total tackles, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. His owners won't be totally pumped about having owning him in an IDP league, but they won't be depressed about it, either. He’s a classic non-offensive IDP league defensive back.

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