One word to describe the 2020 season for the Washington Football Team: Inspirational. Watching them embody what head coach Ron Rivera preaches through the COVID-19 pandemic, Rivera’s cancer diagnosis, a quarterback carousel and Alex Smith coming back to lead them to an NFC East division championship was nothing short of inspirational.
With Smith unable to play in the postseason, another source of light from the Football Team was backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke. He battled his way from being an undrafted free agent to practice-squad quarterback, to the XFL St. Louis BattleHawks, back to the NFL to find himself starting in a playoff game against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. Even though they could not pull off the victory and Washington’s season came to an end, he performed as admirable as could have been expected and was rewarded with a well-earned, two-year contract extension.
Free Agency Impact
Entering the offseason, Washington needed one thing desperately: Offensive firepower. They ranked 30th in yards per game and averaged just over 20 points per game. Instability at the quarterback position and a lack of offensive weapons led to that result. They had three different starting quarterbacks during the regular season and a fourth in the playoffs. They had no weapons aside from Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson, who developed slower than some anticipated. It was easy for defenses to slow down an offense that lacked explosiveness and continuity.
In free agency, Washington opted for the veteran quarterback route with the signing of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who at one point was ready to retire from the NFL during this offseason. Fitzpatrick should provide some stability at the position, although it's likely only short-term. At the same time, Washington will decide whether Heinicke is the long-term answer or if they need to target one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. To go with Fitzpatrick, Washington added wide receiver Curtis Samuel to be a big part of the offense. He broke out in 2020 with over 1,000 total yards and five touchdowns for the Carolina Panthers. Adding Samuel opposite McLaurin, in the slot or in the backfield where we saw him his fair share of times in Carolina, Samuel adds a missing dimension in Washington, and he should have a big 2021.
There was a lot of speculation about Washington possibly trading up for its quarterback of the future during the draft this year, but they ultimately decided not to pay the price it would have taken to do that. Instead, they mainly focused on defense, adding linebacker Jamin Davis in the first round and four other defenders throughout the rest of the draft.
With the offensive pieces they did select, Dyami Brown is the star of the show for Washington. Selected in the third round, the wide receiver will now be another horse in arguably the fastest wide receiver room in the NFL between himself, McLaurin and Samuel. He will probably be eased into the offense and come along slowly, but there is a lot of potential. In the fourth round, they selected tight end John Bates from Boise State. He will be a depth addition behind Logan Thomas and will have minimal fantasy impact unless Thomas is injured. In the seventh round, they selected wide receiver Dax Milne. Being the second to last pick in the draft, this does carry some intrigue. He was a former walk-on at BYU and turned into Zach Wilson’s favorite target, hauling in 70 catches for 1,188 yards and eight touchdowns in 2020. His impact will be minimal;, although he fits the mold on a Rivera team of someone who will battle every opportunity he gets.
Dynasty Fantasy Football Players to Target
1. Terry McLaurin: He has caught passes from six different quarterbacks and been the main focus of defenses across his two seasons and both have been very good. Fitzpatrick will provide a sense of stability for 2021 and along with the addition of Samuel and the growth of running back Antonio Gibson, that should take away some of the attention leading to a monster year for the third-year wide receiver.
2. Antonio Gibson: It is not often said that a running back’s season was kind of underwhelming from a fantasy perspective when there were 11 touchdowns in 14 games, but that’s the feeling with Gibson because of what it could have been in 2020. Essentially in a timeshare with J.D. McKissic, Gibson played more than 50 percent of the offensive snaps only five times across 14 games, according to Pro Football Reference. Gibson getting a full offseason program this year will be massively beneficial to his workload going forward and big things should be expected in 2021.
3. Curtis Samuel: It was finally a breakout year in 2020 for Samuel. He had been the third or fourth option on the Panthers for most of his career and had subpar quarterback play through most of it. Thankfully, he is now in a spot where he is the clear second option at receiver and Fitzpatrick should provide plenty of targets. He will challenge for somewhere between 90-100 catches in this offense and will challenge to be a top-15 receiver for the next few seasons.
4. Logan Thomas: Amid all the smaller speed receivers, here stands a 6-foot-6 giant, perfect for toss-up, red-zone targets. According to Pro Football Reference, these are Thomas’s stats inside the 20-yard line last year: 15 catches on 17 targets, 117 yards and six touchdowns. In a position like tight end in fantasy football where it is difficult to get consistent production on a week-to-week basis, Thomas established himself as a reliable target and is someone that Fitzpatrick will look to often in that area.
5. Dyami Brown: This is a stash player to be held onto until he can adjust to the NFL game, similar to Samuel. Brown is very young and has loads of talent and speed to burn, but will need some time to adjust. Brown will likely come along slowly and be used in specific spots, but this will pay off dividends in the long run if there is patience.
Fantasy Football Sleeper: Ryan Fitzpatrick
It seems to be a revolving door with Fitzpatrick that has been fun to watch while trying to capitalize on in fantasy football. When he starts, he has been wildly effective. The problem is that he has been the stopgap for a young quarterback so he doesn’t play full seasons. This year, however, he should get the full season. Washington did not draft his replacement, and barring a great offseason and preseason from Taylor Heinicke, it is hard not to see him be the guy in Washington. With the weapons that are there and a defense that will get him the ball a lot, Fitzpatrick is an extremely viable option at the quarterback position.