We’re previewing every NFL team to get you ready for the 2021 season. Our analysts will tackle pressing fantasy questions and team win totals, in order from the squad with the least amount of fantasy relevancy all the way to the most talented team. Next up, the 15th-ranked Washington Football Team.
1. The only thing that seems to be keeping Terry McLaurin from becoming a star is better QB play. What is his ceiling with the bearded wonder, Ryan Fitzpatrick, now throwing him the ball?
Liz: I’ll go with exospheric. Fitz’s YOLO arm in combination with all that makes Terry so scary allows for astronomical comps. The veteran QB may be 38 years old but he’s coming off of a season in which he averaged 7.8 YPA (QB9). McLaurin, on the other side of this equation, averaged nearly 88 air yards per contest … and that was with a cadre of upper-level management under center.
More specifically, from Weeks 9 through 17 — with Alex Smith tossing the ball and noting a high ankle sprain that he suffered in Week 11 — McLaurin averaged over 72 air yards per game (WR22 overall during that time span) and was the WR14 in fantasy points per game. If he could do that then, surely he’ll post top-10/12 FF numbers in 2021.
Scott: His upside is the best receiver in fantasy.
I will draft McLaurin aggressively, and I’m generally not an elbow-out-of-the-way drafter. Compared to the previous quarterbacks in this city, Fitzpatrick might as well be Patrick Mahomes. And don’t forget it’s Season 3 for McLaurin; though wideouts have shown in recent years that they can produce quickly, this is still the perfect time for a spike year, and a ton of endzone spikes. Go get him.
Andy: I love Ryan Fitzpatrick with my whole true heart; let’s start there. He’s demonstrated over several seasons that he can support multiple viable fantasy receivers. McLaurin’s skill set pairs extremely well with a heady quarterback who’s willing to make YOLO throws — in fact, the setup is pretty sweet for Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown, too. McLaurin’s upside is a top-3 positional finish. Football Team’s offense could be a party.
2. Antonio Gibson finished as RB12 as a rookie. Not bad for a guy who carried the ball a grand total of 33 times in college. Are we looking at a potential top-5 RB if he gets more work in the passing game in 2021?
Scott: I just worry about the toe, but otherwise, I’m proactive here, too. He’s still learning the position, for crying out loud; his workload was modest at Memphis. And yet, Gibson was a star as a rookie. I’d like to hear some clean medical news in the summer, but I’m expecting to have plenty of him in my portfolio. He’s an ankle-breaker, a game-breaker.
Andy: Without a doubt, yes. Gibson is someone we might very well be drafting inside the top-5 (or 3) in 2022. It’s ridiculous that he was so effective last season, given the shortcomings of the offense and his lack of experience at his position. I’ll be shocked if he can’t leapfrog J.D. McKissic for passing-down work; it’s not like we’re asking him to play ahead of prime Marshall Faulk. It’s easy to imagine a 65-catch season for Gibson with 1,600-plus scrimmage yards.
I realize some of you are fretting about the December toe issue, but the man was running and cutting in early June practices. For me, there’s no obvious reason for concern on that front.
Liz: A member of my 2020 All Breakouts Team, Gibson managed 170 carries (12.1/gm) — eight of which were at the goal line (RB14) — over 14 games. Despite his collegiate experience as a receiver, the Memphis product deferred to J.D. McKissic on passing downs, but still recorded a healthy 2.6 catches per game (RB19). Displaying eye-popping speed — particularly given his size (6’0”, 228lbs) — the 22-year-old consistently ripped off runs over 15 yards and evaded tackles to create additional yardage.
While the toe issue is a mild concern, I can only imagine Gibson’s role growing — as echoed by his head coach — in 2021. I’m not bullish enough to predict a top-five finish, but he’s certainly a top-10 option.
3. Logan Thomas is ranked in the TE1 range. Does he match — or best — his production from last season (TE6), or will he take a step back in what should be a better Washington offense with more mouths to feed?
Andy: Thomas was a revelation last year, but it’s very tough for me to look at the weapons available in Washington right now and forecast another 110 targets for the tight end. I think we have to expect Thomas to take a backward step in terms of volume, yet I also think the team’s overall offensive gains will mitigate the damage. I can easily imagine an 8 or 9-TD season from Thomas, even if his receptions are dialed back a bit. He’s not a top-6 tight end on my board at the moment, but he clearly has the potential to finish in that neighborhood again.
Liz: In 2020, Thomas averaged nearly 7 targets per game and 4.5 catches per contest. With Fitzpatrick captaining a more aggressive approach, Thomas’ efficiency (his catch rate last year was 65.5%, TE22) figures to increase, but his overall volume should go down. A conversion rate of 15 of 17 in the red zone (TE7) is promising and will likely buoy his fantasy stock. Assuming he stays healthy, a 70-ish reception and 7-TD season seem within reach.
Scott: I wish he were a little younger and I wish Thomas didn’t have so much competition for the ball. It’s difficult to make a fantasy profit on a tight end if that player is not the first or second option in the passing game. I’m still open to considering Thomas at his current ADP, but unlike the earlier players we discussed, I will not be drafting him proactively.
Washington Football Team projected 2021 fantasy contributors
QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick
RB: Antonio Gibson / J.D. McKissic
WR: Terry McLaurin / Curtis Samuel
TE: Logan Thomas
Scott: This is a bad number — take the OVER before it fixes. The defense has the potential to be elite, and the offense is loaded with playmakers. Ron Rivera was the perfect coaching hire last year, changing the culture and pushing this team in the right direction. And the NFC East is still a division filled with flaws and incomplete teams; Washington has to feel like it can win in any stadium it travels to. One of my strongest punches of the summer; WFT sails over.
Follow Andy: @andybehrens
Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF
Follow Scott: @scott_pianowski