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After two years of great drafts, Washington declined steeply in 2021

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The Red Commandants are well into the 2022 offseason, and now is the time for us to reflect back on what went well, and what didn’t, during the last offseason. Given the influx of new faces in the front office last year, this takes on a particular relevance.

How did our guys do last year? General Manager Martin Mayhew was brought on in January 2021, and immediately went to work planning for the draft. Marty Hurney, the executive vice president of football for player personnel, was brought on later in the month as Mayhew’s right-hand man, and “a guy who likes to sit in the stands and scout college players.”

A few months later, the 2021 draft was upon us, and the Martys made their picks. Early draft evaluations put Washington in the middle of the pack, like this review that had them at #16:

Are you the type of draft connoisseur who prefers unique athletes? Well, you’ve come to the right place! The Football Team’s first three picks are three of the rarest physical specimens at their respective positions in this draft class. Davis posted some eye-popping numbers at the Kentucky pro day, including a 4.47 40-yard dash, a 42-inch vertical(!) and an 11-foot broad jump. This is the kind of explosiveness that plays in today’s game, in which linebackers are routinely met with nightmare assignments. There’s room for growth in pass coverage, but Davis has the kind of freaky athleticism that can’t be taught. The biggest question on Washington’s first-round pick: With these physical gifts at his disposal, why did it take until his breakout redshirt junior season to become a starter at Kentucky? Cosmi, on the other hand, started 34 games in his three non-redshirt seasons at Texas, and his 9.99 score in RAS (Kent Lee Platte’s “Relative Athletic Score”) ranks No. 2 among the 1,119 offensive tackles in his database that goes back to 1987. Simply put, the guy’s quite an athlete at nearly 6-6 and 314 pounds. But like Davis, his technique needs some refinement. In Round 3, Washington landed a cornerback with an exceptional mix of size (6-3 1/2) and agility (6.63 three-cone drill). That’s a whole lot of uncommon athleticism packed into three different body types. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Brown, who averaged 20 yards per catch and scored 20 touchdowns over his final two seasons at North Carolina. He’ll drop a ball here and there, but the big plays just keep coming.

In the wake of the draft, things looked up. Lots of potential, lots of athleticism, but how would it weather the trials of a 17-game NFL season? Turns out the answer is, “not great”:

The grade was particularly pulled down by the lackluster play of first round pick, linebacker Jamin Davis. Davis’ PFF grade of 44.5 was woefully below that of fellow linebacker and PFF All-Rookie Team member, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (JOK), who earned a 74.4 grade. The shortcoming is particularly notable given that many of the Hogs Haven faithful - and outside draft experts - had JOK pegged as a perfect fit for Washington’s needs. He was even taken as Washington’s selection in the annual SBNation.com draft. Unfortunately, in this case, life did not imitate art:

The selection of JOK here ended up being the perfect marriage of “best player available” and a position of need. JOK was 15th on my board, and even with the trade back to number 22, was available for the taking. I considered Teven Jenkins, who I actually prefer to Christian Darrisaw (gone at #20), but JOK is cut from the same cloth as Isaiah Simmons, who was my 2020 draft man-crush. This defense with a speedy LB corps, improved CBs, and, potentially, improved safeties, is going to be terrifying. This move allows a strong focus on offense on Day 2.

Other picks, like tight end John Bates, appear to have been very solid values, but they were few and far between, and insufficient to pull the overall draft out of the bottom third in terms of league performance.

But How Does 2021 Stack Up Against Prior Years?

Oh boy.

In 2019, Washington was deemed by Pro Football Focus to have “the most productive rookie class in the NFL.” While, at the time, their analysis (below) focused primarily on Dwayne Haskins and Terry McLaurin, in the years since, Montez Sweat (EDGE) and Cole Holcomb (LB) have both become key contributors as well.

Why they’re ranked here: The Redskins got average quarterback play from Dwayne Haskins after he took over as the starter in Week 9 and an outstanding performance from third-round receiver Terry McLaurin. Play like that from two of the most valuable positions in the NFL will go a long way toward making a top draft class.

How their top pick fared: Haskins (No. 15 overall) got off to a rough start to his career with two shaky performances off the bench, but he rebounded with a 73.4 PFF grade (12th among quarterbacks) after taking over as the starter in Week 9.

Best value pick: McLaurin (No. 76 overall) was a revelation in 2019. His 86.5 receiving grade not only led all rookie wide receivers this season, but it was the highest mark since Odell Beckham Jr.’s in 2014.

Haskins, of course, is gone now, and it’s since come out that he was drafted over the strenuous objections of personnel staff and scouts, at the owner’s behest. One can only imagine what the class might look like if Sweat had been taken at #15, and a player like AJ Brown, DK Metcalf, or Erik McCoy had been taken with Washington’s second round pick that was traded away to the Colts (with 2020’s second rounder) to move up for Sweat at #26.

Lest we forget the debacle that brought us the only 2019 draft bust:

[Kyle] Smith started to ask questions on what the choice was going to be. Sources described to us a tense silence. Smith asked the room specifically: Is the organization really thinking of taking Haskins?

At that point, one voice chimed in. It was the owner’s voice, confirming that Haskins was going to be the choice.

After the selection was made and Haskins was announced as the draft choice, Smith continued on.

“More silence ensued in the moments around the pick and with the pick made, Smith pushed himself up from the table and unloaded on the room - a speech that was described as “fiery and passionate’’ about the pick and how much he disagreed with the selection,” according to [Chris] Russell.

Kansas City Chiefs v Washington Football Team Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The 2020 Washington draft class slipped just a little, but it was still in PFF’s top tier, rated the 5th most productive draft class in the league last January:

Why they’re ranked here: The Football Team was the only franchise to have two rookies produce PFF grades above 80.0 this season: defensive end Chase Young (No. 2 overall) and running back Antonio Gibson (No. 66 overall). And while seventh-round pick Kamren Curl didn’t hit that mark, he did generate the seventh-best WAR in the entire rookie class.

How their top pick fared: Young closed out the regular season on an absolute tear. From Week 12 through the end of the regular season he earned a 90.6 PFF grade that trailed only Khalil Mack for the best at the position. Get used to seeing that dominance continue, as it appears he’ll be dominating for years to come.

Best value pick: Curl emerged in the second half of the season for the Washington Football Team and finished the regular season as the highest-graded safety from the 2020 rookie class. He logged more snaps in the box than any safety in the league from Week 9 on and ranked 14th of 56 qualifying safeties in PFF grade in the box over that span.

As mentioned above, three of the picks were selected among the 2020 ranking of the top 25 rookies in the league. The Washington Football Team was the only team in the league to have more than two entrants: Chase Young (#2), Kamren Curl (#11), and Antonio Gibson (#13).

From that draft class, James Smith-Williams, Saahdiq Charles, and Keith Ismael all played important supporting roles during the 2021 season as well.

So, while the team experienced a couple of years of excellent drafting, even with the owner’s bungled pick in 2019, 2021, at least initially, appears to be a bit of a disappointment. Do we attribute that to the new front office getting their legs under them, the disruptions associated with COVID, simple bad luck, the loss of the team’s top college personnel evaluator, or something else altogether?

The Martys and Coach Ron will get another shot just about 3 months from now, what’s your confidence level that they’ll get it right this time?

Poll

Are you concerned about the drop off in draft pick performance in 2021 from prior years?

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  • 69%
    Yes.
    (1258 votes)
  • 30%
    No.
    (544 votes)
1802 votes total Vote Now