The 2017 Redskins season was not a good one. The Skins did not finish with a winning record for a 17th time in 25 seasons and missed the playoffs for the 20th time in 25 seasons. We all know the things that didn’t go well. But what about what went right and can be built on this coming season?
5. The Redskins perhaps discovered a diamond in the rough in Chase Roullier
I say “perhaps” because I don’t want to overstate what Roullier was last season; he wasn’t some mauler who was a part of some great running game or pass-protecting offensive line, and in fact he and Niles Paul were at fault for the hideous blocking on Samaje Perine’s third-and-one run for minus-one yard in the fourth quarter of the gut-wrenching overtime loss at New Orleans in Week 11. But Roullier, a 2017 sixth-round pick out of Wyoming, became the Redskins’ starting center beginning with the loss to Dallas in Week 8 due to Spencer Long dealing with two knee injuries. Roullier missed Weeks 12-14 due to a fractured hand suffered in that loss at the Saints but returned to start the final three games of the season and ultimately did well enough last season to essentially be handed the starting job at center for this coming season off the expected loss of Long to free agency (four-year deal with $6 million guaranteed at signing with the Jets). This is how this is supposed to work – you replace older and more expensive with younger and cheaper. We’ll see if Roullier is up to the task, but the Redskins like his toughness and intellect.
4. Vernon Davis had a second straight productive season
You would like for the Redskins not to have to have counted on Vernon so much these last two years due to Jordan Reed missing so much time, but Vernon deserves a lot of credit for what he has done with the Skins. He finished no. 17 in the NFL in yards per reception last season at 15.1 (DeSean Jackson ranked no. 35 at 13.4). Vernon over an eight-game stretch that started with the win over Oakland in Week 3 and concluded with the overtime loss at New Orleans in Week 11 had 32 receptions for 514 yards (16.1 yards per reception) and a touchdown on 46 targets. Yes, Vernon’s production faded over the final six games of last season. But those are some tremendous numbers for a tight end who was in his age-33 season and who was coming off a surprisingly productive 2016. Vernon finished last season no. 14 among tight ends in Football Outsiders’ DYAR (Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric, which is essentially a football version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in baseball. He has played in all 32 Redskins games over the last two seasons and remains the lone true offseason veteran free-agent hit by Scot McCloughan over his two years as Skins general manager.
3. Two defensive linemen – while healthy – busted out
The Redskins’ defensive line has been a major weakness for years, but two guys offered hope last season.
Jonathan Allen played in just five games due to a Lisfranc injury suffered in the win over San Francisco in Week 6, but the no. 17 overall pick in the 2017 draft was really good over those five games. At the time of the injury, he was second among Redskins defensive linemen in defensive snaps on the season and was second on the Redskins with 29 pressures/hurries according to tape reviews by Redskins coaches.
Meantime, was any Redskin more of a pleasant surprise last season than Matt Ioannidis? The 2016 fifth-round pick out of Temple went from being waived in the 2016 cutdown to 53 and playing on just 9.29 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps in his rookie season to leading all Redskins defensive linemen in defensive snaps last season at 53.38 percent. His production declined thanks to a fractured hand suffered in the loss to Dallas in Week 8, but he still played in 14 games and finished with 4.5 sacks and a team-best 83 pressures/hurries according to tape reviews by Redskins coaches.
2. Chris Thompson blossomed into an elite pass-catching running back
You could argue that the greatest shame of the overtime loss at New Orleans in Week 11 was Thompson suffering a season-ending fractured fibula as opposed to the Redskins blowing a 31-16 fourth-quarter lead and losing the game. Thompson was having such a good season, especially from a pass-catching standpoint. How about this: he finished ninth in the NFL with 483 YAC per ESPN despite missing the Redskins’ final six games of the season. Here’s something else: Thompson finished third among running backs in receiving DYAR despite, again, missing the Redskins’ final six games of the season. And it’s not like he was a slouch as an actual runner; Thompson averaged 4.6 yards on 64 carries and now has averaged 5.2 yards over 167 carries over the last three seasons. Jay Gruden isn’t just being nice when he refers to Thompson as being among the best third-down backs in the NFL.
1. The Redskins’ pass defense took a massive step forward
Let’s make this clear: the Redskins got torched by a quarterback on more than one occasion last season, including Carson Wentz in the two losses to Philadelphia, Case Keenum in the loss to Minnesota in Week 10 and Phillip Rivers in the loss at the Chargers in Week 14. But the overall body of work by the Redskins against the pass last season was much better than what went down the previous season. The Redskins were just 24th in the NFL in pass defense per Football Outsiders’ DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average) metric in 2016; they were, believe it or not, sixth last season. The Redskins were dead last in the NFL in opponents’ third-down efficiency in 2016 at an abysmal 46.6 percent; the Skins were ninth last season at 36.7 percent. Yes, some of this had to do with two guys who are gone: the since-traded Kendall Fuller being outstanding as the Redskins’ slot corner and Bashaud Breeland, who was not re-signed as a free agent, having a bounce-back season off his bad 2016. The Redskins need the likes of Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau and Orlando Scandrick to fill the shoes of Fuller and Breeland – I have concerns about that. But the Redskins also got good 2017 seasons from Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith, who, along with Junior Galette, made up three of the top 10 pass rushers in the NFL in terms of pressure rate per Next Gen stats. And the Redskins enjoyed improved safety play and communication on the back end last season thanks to D.J. Swearinger. Greg Manusky and Torrian Gray deserve a lot of credit for taking a pass defense that was embarrassing in 2016 and making it much better last season.