McLaurin agreed to terms on a three-year, $71 million extension earlier this week, thus ending any trade or holdout rumors entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Commanders understood that their best option to contend in the winnable NFC East was to do whatever to keep the two-time 1,000-yard receiver in the building.
He's locked in. Now, what's the outlook for the impending season.
Since coming out of Ohio State, McLaurin has improved each season. He finished with a team-high seven touchdowns as a rookie in 2019. In 2020, he was named a captain and recorded a career-high 1,118 yards to go along with five scores. Last season, there was regression, but not much compared to the other receivers.
Part of the reason for the limited praise in D.C. come from the quarterback position. In three years, McLaurin has played with seven different quarterbacks, none of whom were viewed as the franchise options after one season. This offseason, Washington added Carson Wentz from the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for two mid-round picks.
Is Wentz the answer under center long-term? Time will tell. He is the first quarterback with proven potential to play for the organization since McLaurin was drafted. That alone could provide dividends toward his success.
Similar to Taylor Heinicke, Alex Smith and others who donned the title of QB1 before, Wentz had a favorite target during his lone season in Indianapolis. Second-year receiver Michael Pittman Jr. broke out with Wentz in the passing attack, recording 88 catches for 1.082 yards and six scores.
Zach Pascal, the Colts' de facto No. 2 option, recorded only 38 catches for 384 yards. When looking back at last season, McLaurin hauled in 77 receptions for just over 1,000 yards. Adam Humphries, Washington's primary slot receiver, finished with only 41 catches and was targeted 62 times compared to McLaurin's 130.
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Offensive coordinator Scott Turner is looking to elevate the passing attack this fall with Wentz at the helm. The Commanders' overall receiving should improve with a healthy Curtis Samuel and the addition of first-rounder Jahan Dotson. Keep a close eye on second-year receiver Dyami Brown, who took the proper steps this summer at minicamp.
Of course, all three are unproven. McLaurin has been a staple of the passing game for three seasons with underachieving quarterbacks. Imagine if Wentz can play up to his 2017 status? Better yet, imagine simply average play from Wentz in the passing game?
The single-season record for receptions in Commanders' history was set by Pierre Garcon in 2013 at 113. Second on the list is Ark Monk at 106 in 1984. Given McLaurin's track record, surpassing 100 receptions should be a standard now with Wentz calling the shots.
As for single-season receiving yards, both Santana Moss (2005) and Bobby Mitchell (1963) have surpassed the 1400-yard marker. Five players have surpassed 1,300 yards as well. McLaurin, who has a career average of 13.9 yards per reception, should fit somewhere between 1200-1400.
Could he break Moss' record? Anything is possible, but in reality, it's highly unlikely. Dotson hopefully will finally break the streak of a No. 2 receiver recording more than 50 catches. The same could be said for Samuel, who has ample experience in Turner's offense dating back to their time together in Carolina.
Since 2016, Wentz has thrown for 25 or more touchdowns four times. Since his arrival in the NFL, Washington as a team has thrown for over 25 touchdowns twice, both coming with Kirk Cousins still on the roster.
Even if Wentz can't get over the hump, his production should help improve the stat line of McLaurin. Expect another career year from the fourth-year receiver come January.
Early prediction: 104 catches, 1384 yards, nine TDs