It was more than anyone expected.
Despite the overwhelming adversity, Washington earned its first division title in five years behind Alex Smith, which individually was a story in and of itself. Now, the focus turns to 2021 and continuing to build on a roster that features nice building blocks on both sides of the ball.
On offense, Washington is led by the youth of Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson. Alex Smith’s career revival was one of a movie script, but the quarterback carousel continued to turn throughout 2020 in D.C. Former 15th-overall selection Dwyane Haskins played himself out of the NFL. Kyle Allen, despite showing flashes, suffered a brutal knee injury in Week 9, which led to the appearance of now-famed Taylor Heinicke. And now, Heinicke’s eye-popping performance against Tampa Bay (albeit in a loss) has raised internal discussion regarding who should start under center for Washington come Week 1 next season. He was that good. In fact, he was elite Saturday. Heinicke’s 92.0 overall grade against the Buccaneers was the highest for a Washington quarterback in the last 14 (!!!) years. His ability to throw downfield, extend plays with his legs, and run Scott Turner’s offense to a T has left many in Washington feeling their QB1 is already in the building.
On defense, it starts and stops up front with Chase Young, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, and Jonathan Allen. Rotational piece and franchise sack-leader Ryan Kerrigan is seemingly on the outs, and the trio of Jon Bostic, Cole Holcomb, and pending free-agent Kevin Pierre-Louis leave much to be desired. On the backend they were above-average, but adding a physical nickel-corner may be of priority for Jack Del Rio’s unit after a disappointing sophomore season for Jimmy Moreland.
So, let’s get right to it. Using our Mock Draft Machine, I looked at which prospects Washington could target this April when the annual draft rolls around. Here is my seven-round mock including scheme fit on each prospect:
Round 1 (No. 19 overall): Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
In this scenario, the Miami Dolphins took Heisman-trophy winner DeVonta Smith at No. 18, which if he drops to 19, would be a dream scenario for Washington. Pairing Terry McLaurin and Smith would give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares for the next decade. But, it’s Bateman who they take at 19. Standing at 6-foot-1, Bateman “offers an impressive blend of route running, ball skills and competitive toughness into a frame that should alleviate any concerns about his projections working in the boundary,” according to our own Kyle Crabbs.
How he fits: Washington desperately needs another weapon opposite McLaurin. The trio of Cam Sims, Steven Sims Jr., and Isaiah Wright will not, and has not cut it. I don’t think Vice President of Player Personnel Kyle Smith wastes any time addressing the need and snags Bateman off the board at No. 19.
Round 2 (No. 51 overall): Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama
It gets tricky here at No. 51. I think it comes down to who Washington prefers more; Leatherwood, or Dillon Radunz out of North Dakota State. I side with Radunz due to his nastiness in the run game, but with the swarm of SEC talent already infused within the Washington roster, I give them Leatherwood.
A menacing frame standing at 6-foot-6, Leatherwood fits both outside at tackle and at guard if need be. His experience is unmatched when it comes to reps opposite of top edge-rushing talent, which will smooth out the transition process for him from the college to pro game.
How he fits: Looking long-term, I think Leatherwood fits best at guard. That’s where he’ll thrive with his elite hands and powerful upper body. Wes Schweitzer has been a nice surprise at left guard, but Leatherwood would ultimately provide one of the strongest interior units in the NFL adjacent to Chase Roullier and Brandon Scherff at right guard.
Round 3 (No. 76 overall): Paris Ford, S, Pittsburgh
I get it. Landon Collins and Kamren Curl are projected to be the starting safeties in the fall. However, both of them fit best near the box as strong safeties, leading to one of them either having to change positions or taking a reduced role. Enter Ford, a true ball-hawk safety who plays best as the single-high defender. He brings a thump to the backend playing the game with passion and energy to the likes of Young.
How he fits: Curl looks to be a hit from the 2020 draft class. He was outstanding following Collins’ injury. Looking at his frame, many in Washington could see Collins easily transition to ‘backer, but they paid him $84 million to play safety. Inserting Ford to play beside Curl with Collins moving up to the second level would be ideal, and would provide Del Rio scheme versatility unlike any he’s ever had.
Round 3 (No. 82 overall): Dazz Newsome, WR, North Carolina
Whoever is playing quarterback for Washington will need more weapons. At just 5-foot-11, Newsome ideally fits in the slot. Luckily, that’s where Newsome thrives. He was a threat to go-the-distance every time he got the rock. He touts “terrific separation quickness, fluidity in and out of his breaks and deception to set up those breaks,” according to our own Joe Marino.
How he fits: The Sims Jr. experiment has come and gone. Washington has desperately missed Jamison Crowder since his departure to the New York Jets following the 2018 season as a true threat out of the slot. Trey Quin—oh boy—was expected to fill in for Crowder, but that clearly never came to fruition. An influx of talent out wide is exactly what Turner needs in D.C. A versatile pass-catcher that can play both inside and out like Newsome would fit very nicely in Turner’s unique offensive scheme.
Round 4 (No. 120 overall): Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis
Back to the well. Antonio Gibson in 2020, Gainwell here for the burgundy and gold. A sneaky athlete at 5-foot-11, Gainwell offers versatility (see a trend here?), speed, and twitchy quickness out of the backfield. He’s a natural pass-catcher that would contribute from day one. The three-man group of Gibson, J.D. McKissic, and Peyton Barber were a one-year stunt. It’s Gibson’s backfield for the foreseeable future. I’m not sure if Bryce Love will ever be healthy, so the addition of Gainwell would allow Washington to use Gibson as their true bell-cow, and Gainwell as a change-of-pace weapon out of the backfield.
Round 5 (No. 159 overall): Tre’ McKitty, TE, Georgia
I was thrilled to see McKitty available here. At 6-foot-5, the former Bulldog is an excellent athlete with outstanding mobility. He projects more as a bigger wideout than a typical tight end, but is a plenty good blocker to work beside the tackle. If he improves his blocking, he could push up draft boards significantly according to our Drae Harris, but grabbing him at No. 159 provides outstanding pick value.
How he fits: Logan Thomas was another great surprise on offense for Washington. The quarterback-turned-tight-end played himself into a major role within the offense, finishing with almost seven targets a game, good for fourth-most among all tight ends. Neither Thomas nor McKitty will serve as the elite option Jordan Reed once did, but pairing the two could provide a nice duo for the next Washington signal-caller.
Round 7 (No. 238 overall): Trey Dean III, CB, Florida
A former 4-star recruit, Dean is long and lanky at 6-foot-3. Florida initially wanted to give him a look at safety, but no spring practice led to him sticking at corner. A better fit in zone schemes, Dean uses his length to his advantage in press-bail techniques, allowing him to keep everything schematically in front of him. With more snaps, Dean could project as a primary slot corner to stymie smaller wideouts/tight ends.
How he fits: The duo of Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby were very good this season. Washington finished the year as the league's second-best passing defense behind only the Rams. Behind Fuller and Darby sit the prior mentioned Moreland and Fabian Moreau, who both were underwhelming both in the run and working in the slot, despite the latter receiving minimal snaps. Dean could immediately compete for a roster spot.
Round 7 (No. 240 overall): Chris Rumph, EDGE, Duke
Most teams tend to go “best player available” so late in the draft, but Rumph clearly stands out here. He is a Swiss Army knife along the defensive line and projects to be the same at the next level. Despite weighing in at just over 225 pounds, Rumph has elite first-step quickness and a deep toolbox of pass-rush moves to counter any offensive lineman set.
How he fits: In today’s NFL, one fact is clear: you can never have enough pass rushers. With Kerrigan seemingly gone, Rumph would add immediate depth into an already youth-infused unit, with the potential to develop into a clear rotational-piece.
In summary, Washington must use the offseason to focus on bolstering its receiving corps. With such a deep class of receivers, Smith and Rivera will have options on each of the three days to find weapons.
With another productive draft, Washington could again see itself at the top of its division and back in the postseason with eyes focused on making more of an impact than just a wild-card berth.