2015 Fantasy Football Outlook: Washington Redskins
July 9, 2015 | Chet
Washington’s first year under Jay Gruden went very much like their last season under Mike Shanahan as they finished 4-12 on the season. They’ve now won just seven games total since their 10 win season in 2012. As a team that went through a litany of continuity issues on offense last season, can Washington finally begin to build upwards in 2015?
2015 Washington Schedule
By now, you know the drill on looking ahead at the schedule, so proceed with caution in that regard. Washington has a hit or miss schedule over the front half of the season as it’s hard to be excited using any pieces of the offense against Miami, St. Louis and the Jets, but the fantasy stretch run isn’t daunting outside of the week 15 tilt against Buffalo. The passing schedule could be potentially light for how I project most of their opponents to look, but that’s also the sketchiest part of this team entering the season.
As an offense, Washington has been mediocre at producing yards and scoring opportunities, but has often left that production hollow into generating points. Year one under Gruden was more of the same from 2013, as the 2012 production now feels like a distant memory for this offense.
Getting Alf into Syndication
The most bankable part of this offense through the good and bad of the past three seasons has been Alfred Morris. Morris has opened his career with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons as his 3,962 rushing yards are the most over a backs first three seasons since Chris Johnson’s 4,598 yards from 2008-2010. For fantasy, he’s been in a steady decline in almost every facet of his game since that franchise record 1,613 yard rookie season in which he was a top-10 back.
In 2014, Morris seen marked improvement in the passing game compared to his career totals as he caught 17 passes compared to the 20 he had over the previous two seasons combined. Roy Helu is leaving 47 targets and 42 receptions on the floor here, but that lack of substantial receiving totals are still holding Morris back from being a safer weekly play in reception leagues as his average weekly finish of 25.7 ranked just 24th at running back last season. Considered by most as a safe floor player, Morris was actually a boom or bust option last season as he tallied six weeks as RB13 or better, but also eight weeks as the RB33 or lower. As mentioned, Morris has been steadily declining in performance as a runner. His efficiency and success rates per carry fell to league average and below last season.
|Year||Att||2 Yd or Less||%||5+ Yds||%||10+ Yds||%||Pt/Att|
The good news here is that Washington has brought in offensive line savant Bill Callahan. Callahan is scrapping the zone blocking scheme that has been in place for the past three seasons for a power running approach which should aid Morris into seeing an increase in effectiveness. The main issue here for Morris is that may not even matter as he’s been a back that has been victimized over the past two seasons by game script. Here’s how little Washington has lead over the past two seasons compared to his massive 2012 season and where Morris ranked in rushing attempts per half.
|Year||WAS Plays||Lead%||Trail%||Morris 1st Half Att||Rank||Morris 2nd Half Att||Rank|
As a back that doesn’t add anything to the passing game, Morris has been severely limited for fantasy output because Washington has been lousy. Washington is projected for just 6.5 wins this upcoming season, so it’s hard to feel great about him reaching that ceiling again in 2015 or holding much week to week consistency. That’s not a huge issue, though because he’s already been in awful environments the past two seasons and still been a top-20 overall back, even in reception leagues. Morris is currently priced in today as RB19, so at worst; you’re more or less getting what you pay for as his floor from a seasonal stance. I like Morris as my RB2 in scenarios in which I land an alpha back in the first as he comes with bankable volume (to begin games at least) and has been a steady touchdown producer even in bad conditions. If I’ve gone receiver heavy early, I’m likely to just let him go and keep waiting on the position since he’s more volatile week to week than perceived.
It was kind of a surprise when Washington selected Matt Jones as the eighth overall running back off of the board at the end of the third round. Although hampered by an anemic offense, Jones was not wildly productive at Florida, but did display some impressive athleticism at the combine for a 231 pound back in terms of adjusted speed and agility. With the current Washington depth chart behind Morris being just the undrafted Silas Redd and receiving only back, Chris Thompson, the draft capital invested in Jones could easily push him up to the number two in the pecking order. Morris himself is also in a contract season and has the sixth most touches (929) in the league including the postseason and has 63.9 percent of the Washington carries (third highest) since entering the league and has yet to miss a game. With is running style at his size, that’s an impressive feat of preservation. If Morris were to go down, Jones will inherit a fantasy relevant workload, but is strictly a handcuff only option in drafts.
Investing Capital Into the Capitol’s Pass Game
No team relied on yards after the catch more than Washington last season as 59 percent of their 4,461 receiving yards were generated after the completion. A large chunk of that came from DeSean Jackson who was 10th in the league at 476 yards after the catch as he brought his big play production over to Washington in year one.
Jackson lost nearly all of the slot smoothing targets he had during 2013 with Philadelphia which aided career highs in receptions, catch rate and yards, but his lid lifting prowess was able to cover the fewest targets per game that he’s seen to date. Since entering the league, no player has more receptions of 40 yards or longer than Jackson’s 48 and he once again led the league in 2014 with 13 of them. Jackson shattered league averages on percentage of big play receptions while making his teammate Pierre Garcon look like he was playing in a wheelchair.
|Player||Rec||10+ Yds||%||20+ Yds||%||30+ Yds||%||40+ yds||%|
Despite the rotating door at quarterback, Jackson’s play never changed as five of those 40 plus yard receptions came from Robert Griffin III, another five from Kirk Cousins and three from Colt McCoy. Jackson also posted multiple top-20 scoring weeks with all three quarterbacks. For those concerned about Griffin limiting him, he was still strong with him in a limited sample last season, but there’s not too much worry because Jackson has largely been the same player throughout his career regardless who is throwing him the football as long as he’s not Vince Young.
Garcon was just about as disappointing as they come for owners in 2014 as he finished the season with just four top-24 scoring weeks and eight weeks outside of the top-48 scorers at his position. The thing is, his 2014 season looked a lot like nearly every season we seen from him when he’s shared targets in an offense.
*Removed 2008 as he had just four targets as a rookie
His bottom line should definitely see an uptick as his usage per game was on par with his Indianapolis years when he was at least a viable WR3 fantasy option. He just seen a smattering of low efficiency type targets. He’s going to see a position change as Garcon will be flip flopping with Jackson as the team’s primary Z receiver while Jackson plays more outside of the numbers. What this means for Garcon is that he’ll be running more routes conducive to his playing style, which is built on intermediate passes and using his after the catch ability. Last season, 46.7 percent of Garcon’s yardage came after the reception, which was the eighth highest percentage in the league. For Jackson, I’m not overly concerned with the swap since we know what he is as a fantasy asset and what his tactical value is to a passing game. Even for him, he should see a natural dip yards per reception, leaving him as a volatile WR3 on your roster.
The main area of concern for both of these guys though is that they each have limited touchdown upside. Garcon has yet to catch more than six touchdowns in any given season while Jackson has done it twice in seven seasons. Their touchdown ceilings are limited because both have been beyond subpar for their careers in the red zone.
|Player||Year||RZ Tgt||TD||TD %|
When the paint dries, I still am interested in both of these receivers at their current cost. Jackson is coming off of the board at WR28, which is just fine given you’re already cognizant of the player you’re selecting. He’s the kind of WR3 I gravitate towards since he can tilt a week for you, but he’s also not for everyone. If he’s your second wide receiver, that’s not ideal. At WR41, I like Garcon as a WR4 or bye week fill in option and see him as an arbitrage on Golden Tate and Jarvis Landry, two players with much higher price tags that rely on yards after the catch with limited touchdown upside, but will still have tangible target volume.
Too big for corners and too fast for linebackers and safeties, Jordan Reed’s opening two seasons have disappointed and not matched his talent level. A large part of that disappointment is that he just hasn’t been able to play as he’s missed 12 games to start his career with concussion, thumb, hamstring and other ailments. When on the field, he was still serviceable as he provided four top-12 scoring weeks on the season despite failing to score a touchdown. Only Dwayne Bowe had more targets (95) than Reed’s 65 while also failing to catch a touchdown. The interesting thing with Reed last season though is that he was fed targets when on the field. Out of all tight ends to run 100 or more routes on the season, only Rob Gronkowski was targeted as often as Reed was.
Reed is priced as the TE20, so that makes a safe spot to invest on the upside and opportunity he has while removing a lot of the risk associated with his health concerns. On deeper bench leagues, I like adding Reed to a stable of options with my final pick in drafts, but if I already have a solid tight end, I’m passing on the potential.
RG Three and Out
The bad got worse for quarterback Robert Griffin III last season as he continued to step back in performance from his 2012 inaugural breakout. Griffin not only missed five weeks due to an ankle injury, he then was later just benched outright for his play on the field. He had just two top-12 scoring weeks all season long and one came in a game in which he didn’t start and another week 17.
Griffin threw just four touchdowns on 214 pass attempts last season as he was dead last in throwing a touchdown once every 53.5 pass attempts. For comparison sake, Blake Bortles was second to last at once every 43.2 attempts and his teammates Colt McCoy (32.0) and Kirk Cousins (24.0) were far ahead. Griffin hasn’t thrown for multiple scores in any of his past 10 starts dating back to 2013.
The other alarming thing with Griffin is he has nearly stopped running altogether, the one component to his game that unlocked his not only his personal ceiling, but also this entire offense in hindsight. If we’re still waiting for the 2012 version of Griffin to return, we could be waiting for a long, long time.
I hate to give a semi-narrative based take here, but it’s important that Gruden came out and declared Griffin the starter already because I feel like so much of Griffin’s issues come from what he is carrying upstairs in regards to confidence. His play diminished last season as a passer as it appeared he began to compartmentalize everything to the point in which he played the game far too slowly. Per Pro Football Focus, his average depth of throws disintegrated to a lowly 7.0 yards per attempt, better than only Alex Smith, after seasons of 8.6 and 8.9 yards over his first two seasons. Those pedestrian throws alter the appearance of the best completion percentage he’s had thus far.
Not to completely bury Griffin here, but there’s not a lot to be excited about from a fantasy stance, especially if he’s not running. He has weapons that have yet to show touchdown elevating abilities for their quarterbacks, no real pass game threat out of the backfield and a team that is projected to have a losing season. The ray of sunshine here is that he’s buried as the QB23 off of the board in drafts, so you’re not investing much if you believe a piece of that 2012 player exists. Washington was only one of two teams not to have a quarterback coach last season and has hired Matt Cavanaugh for that role this season. Cavanaugh has most recently been linked to Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez, so that doesn’t exactly evoke a ton of confidence, but maybe weekly one on one focus from an actual position coach helps nurture his week to week growth. I’m not going to be drafting Griffin even in stables, but if he shows something to open the season against two tougher opponents in Miami and St. Louis, than I may kick the tires on him in leagues where I’m full on streaming since there are soft spots on the slate.