Can you feel it? Summer is coming to an end and football season is almost upon us. You will no longer have to pretend that you are interested in the World Series of Poker or that Ice Cube’s “BIG 3” is proper entertainment. Football is back, and the world rejoices.

Considering this, I wanted to provide a pre-season primer highlighting players to look out for this upcoming season. This is a superlatives list of sorts, emphasizing players who are poised for a breakout, and even identifying who will be this season’s Redskins MVP. Enjoy the read.  

Outside Linebacker Preston Smith 2016, MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DISPATCH

Breakout Player of the Year: Preston Smith. I luckily had the chance to interact with Smith at Fan Appreciation Day in Richmond. I asked him, “Who is your favorite quarterback to hit?” He said, “ALL OF THEM…whoever has the ball”. At that point I knew Preston was dialed in for the season.

In person, Smith looks every bit as big as his 6’5” frame. Coming into his own at age 25, he is looking to cash in on the fact that he is entering free agency in his prime. I think this is the year Preston breaks the double digit sack mark, and surpasses his previous watermark of eight sacks in a season. What will also help, is the addition of Alabama standouts Da’ron Payne and Jonathan Allen. They should occupy the interior of his opponents’ offensive line, leaving him in favorable match-ups. Preston will be a very rich man next off-season.  

Comeback Kid: Jamison Crowder. Many claim that Crowder had a down season in 2017, and fear that he has regressed. I disagree. I believe the Redskins asked too much of their slot receiver, and should refrain from asking him to field punts this year.  Good health should benefit him as well.

Crowder has built a rapport with Alex Smith and their skill sets complement each other. Expect Jamison to bounce back this season and lead all Redskins receivers in yards and receptions.

Redskins Nose Tackle Da’Ron Payne (AP Photo)

Rising Star: Da’Ron Payne. The guy is a tank. This summer I spent time watching three of his collegiate games (@ no. 18 Mississippi State, @ no. 6 Auburn, and the Sugar Bowl against Clemson) with a special emphasis on his skill set. Redskins fans will be disappointed by his lack of a pass rush, but he is an immovable force on rushing plays. This is a welcome relief considering we were ranked 31st in rushing defense last season.

One thing I think ‘Skins fans will be happy with are his active hands and awareness; he always keeps his eyes on the quarterback and routinely jumps to bat balls down. I saw him knock down several pass attempts on effort plays when he we was stonewalled on a rush.

Surprisingly athletic, this nose tackle had a pick AND a receiving touchdown against the number four team in the nation during the Sugar Bowl. If defensive line coach Jim Tomsula can develop his pass-rushing skills, Da’ron may bring the PAYNE this upcoming season. 

Don’t forget about: Zach Brown. It’s easy to forget that Brown was leading the NFL in tackles with 127 by week 13 last season. But his season was abruptly cut short due to an injury. This guy flashes on the screen and covers the field from sideline to sideline. He’s a plus defender in the run game, and he has a chip on his shoulder that he hasn’t received a blockbuster contract yet. Watch out this year.  

Redskins Tight End Jordan Reed. Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports

Needs to rebound: Jordan Reed. I like to equate Jordan Reed to being the Grant Hill of football. All of the talent in the world, has shown flashes, but just can’t get out of his own way in terms of health. In 2015, he had 950 yards and 11 touchdowns. In 2019, he may be on a different team if he can’t stay on the field. I’m rooting for him, since our team is much more dynamic when Reed straps up. But Reed needs to prove that he’s worth the 5-year, 46 million dollar contract he is being paid.

Darkhorse 1: Fabian Moreau. Many draft evaluators had Moreau pegged as a first round talent before he tore his pectoral muscle bench pressing on his pro day. It’s easy to see why. He’s a 6-foot corner who runs a 4.35 forty-yard dash and is known to be an explosive athlete (he was a converted running back at UCLA). With his only obstruction to starting being an oft-injured Orlando Scandrick, and a still developing Quinton Dunbar, Moreau may be a full fledged starter by mid-season.

Redskins reserve outside linebacker Pernell McPhee. Photo credit: Kenneth K. Lam Baltimore Sun

Darkhorse 2: Pernell McPhee. Admit it, you may have forgotten that he was even on the team. That may be a mistake. When healthy, McPhee will be a key rotational player as an outside linebacker. At 256, his biggest strength may be setting the edge, but he will chime in with 5-6 sacks this year. He may be in store for more if things break right.  

 

Under the Radar: Anthony Lanier  

Lanier was only active for 11 games last year, and played meaningful snaps in only seven games. That didn’t stop him from accumulating five sacks as a reserve defensive lineman. His pass-rushing skills have been well-documented. Is this the year Lanier plays a more active role? We’ll see on third and long this season.

 

Redskins Running Back Derrius Guice. (AP Photo)

Offensive Player of the Year: Derrius Guice

The last time the Redskins invested a second pick or higher on a running back, Ja Rule was relevant and “Ain’t it Funny” was the number one hit on the billboard charts. The year was 2002, and Ladell Betts was the selection. No offense to Betts, but he didn’t have half of the pedigree that Guice has coming out of college. If Guice can live up to his mantra of “running angry”,  he will be the engine that drives this team, and should provide some attitude to what was once a toothless offense. Let’s hope he can be the closer who punches it in on “goal to go” situations. I think he will.

Defensive Player of the Year: Ryan Kerrigan

You might as well call this guy, “Mr. Redskin”. All he does is produce sacks, accumulating 71.5 over his time with the team. If he continues his pace of roughly 10 sacks a season, he will leap-frog Dexter Manley as the all-time leading sack producer for the Redskins by 2020 (Manley holds the team record of 92 sacks). Expect Kerrigan to match or surpass his career high of 13.5 sacks that he had last season. Especially if Payne and Jonathan Allen develop as expected.

Redskins quarterback Alex Smith. Photo Credit: Washington Redskins

Most Valuable Player: Alex Smith

As the saying goes, “you only go as far as your quarterback takes you”. This is indeed the case with Smith. The Redskins need a leader. After six seasons of turbulent production on the field, and plenty of drama off of it, the Redskins need a quarterback who can right the ship. Smith may be that calming presence to lead the offense and not be flustered in critical situations.

Something to consider: As a full-time starter, Kirk Cousins averaged 563 passing attempts per season as the Redskins QB. Smith’s career high was 505, which occurred last season. That’s a difference of 58 pass attempts, and 406 yards if you factor in Smith’s career average of 6.9 yards-per-attempt.

In a pass happy offense that suits his strengths, I can see Smith passing for over 4000 yards again this season. If you combine that with his propensity to keep turnovers down (only five interceptions last year), Smith will have us in the heart of the NFC East race this season. Making him our team’s MVP. 

 

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