2018 NFL season preview: Washington Redskins

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Typically, when a team loses a top quarterback, there is a lengthy and difficult transition period. But in the case of the 2018 Washington Redskins, the team immediately replaced Kirk Cousins with the incoming Alex Smith. Smith, who has spent the past five years with the Kansas City Chiefs, had his best season as a pro last year, surpassing the 4,000 passing yards mark for the first time in his career.

The 2017 season was a contract year for Smith, and he made it count to the tune of 4,042 yards passing, and taking meticulous care of the football, while also making big plays for his offense. He threw 26 touchdown passes and just five interceptions over the course of the season. And while he has long been known for being a careful passer, who opts for safe throws near the line of scrimmage, Smith displayed his deep game by featuring all-world speedster receiver Tyreek Hill. It seemed like Hill would come down with deep catches for touchdowns on a fairly consistent basis, which illustrated that it was not a fluke.

With the Chiefs moving forward with their young, second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Smith naturally knew he would need to move on to a new team. The vacancy left behind by Kirk Cousins (now on the Vikings), paved the way for the Smith to become Washington’s new starting quarterback. In the midst of this quarterback musical chairs, Washington could remain relevant in a suddenly ultra competitive NFC East division.

Washington has a very solid group of receivers, including Jamison Crowder, the high upside Josh Doctson, and Paul Richardson, who just signed with the team this offseason. Smith likes throwing to tight ends, evident by the swift rise of Travis Kelce to the top tier in his position in recent years. Now, he gets to team up with another top tight end in Jordan Reed, who is one of the best in the NFL when healthy. Moreover, Vernon Davis also remains on the team, which means the Redskins have a lot of flexibility when it comes to shifting personnel groups on the field at any given time.

Washington’s running game should be solid in 2018. But the team received some bad news recently, in the form of an unfortunate injury to exciting rookie Derrius Guice, whom the team drafted in the second round of the draft. Guice went down with a torn ACL and will now miss his entire rookie season. But the Redskins acted quickly, by signing all-time great Adrian Peterson to join the team. AP looked sharp in the preseason, and he will now lead this unit heading into the regular season. Peterson is capable of having big games, which was evident last year. But his consistency has been brought into question, and he now enters his age 33 season. Washington also has a good amount of depth with Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine there to spell Peterson, and to learn from one of the greatest running backs to ever play the game. Meanwhile, Chris Thompson is the team’s passing down specialist in the backfield, and his job is very secure. The Redskins know just how explosive he can be, and right now the rest of the running backs are simply fighting for early down work.

Washington’s defense was ranked 21st overall last season, permitting 347.9 total yards per game to opposing offenses. The main reason for the poor ranking was the fact that they had the absolute worst run defense in the NFL last season, giving up a terrible 134.1 yards per game and 13 touchdowns on the ground. That is a recipe for disaster, as it allows teams to simply run all over them and control the tempo and time of possession. The pass defense fared much better, ranked ninth overall in the league, with a per game clip of 214 yards allowed through the air. Cornerback Josh Norman is a physical presence that limits opposing number one receivers from having big games.

In an effort to limit the damage on the ground, Washington used their first round pick to select former Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne with the 13th overall pick in the draft. Payne is a physical beast, who naturally clogs holes up the middle, and provides an intimidating factor against opposing running games. But the Redskins didn’t stop there, as they drafted several other defensive players. They took Penn State safety Troy Apke in the fourth round, whose speed was simply too attractive to pass up. He ran a 4.34 second 40-yard dash at the Combine. They followed that pick by taking defensive tackle Tim Settle in the fifth round, and another Alabama player, in linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton in the sixth round. Washington also added depth to the secondary with the selection of former Virginia Tech cornerback Greg Stroman.

Overall, this was a pretty busy and successful offseason in Washington, who added key players to both the offensive and defensive units. The team is optimistic that they will be able to recover from their 7-9 campaign a year ago. However, the NFC East is looking like it could be one of the toughest and most intriguing divisions this season, with the defending champion Eagles looking to repeat, and improved rosters for both the Giants and Cowboys.