In 2021, Washington finished Ron Rivera’s second season 7-9. He rolled the dice on a washed up QB, but otherwise improved the roster, and overall - as predicted - the team’s record improved in 2022, to 8-8-1.
With Washington’s initial 2023 roster just finalized, I wanted to run the same comparative analysis exercise I did last year over again, and evaluate whether or not the team has been improved across the various position groups on the roster.
What follows below is a side-by-side comparison, primarily focused on the starters, but including a discussion of the depth within each unit as well.
2022: Carson Wentz & Taylor Heinicke
2023: Sam Howell & Jacoby Brissett
Ron Rivera gambled last offseason that Carson Wentz was going to be final piece in putting together a successful team. After frittering away $28M and two third round picks for the chance, he was nearly bailed out by overachieving back-up, Taylor Heinicke.
With both Wentz and Heinicke gone this offseason, second-year QB Sam Howell will get his shot at greatness, and if he falters, journeyman back-up, Jacoby Brissett will be waiting in the wings.
Wentz was downright terrible last year, and - at least statistically - Heinicke was well-below average. In my gut, I think Howell and Brissett are an upgrade, and I’m prepared to stand by that. The question of the season is, how big an upgrade are they?
I’m not at all convinced that Brissett is an upgrade from Heinicke, as I think they’re both high-end NFL back-ups. Jake Fromm will head up the practice squad.
Running Back (Upgrade)
2022: Antonio Gibson & JD McKissic (with Brian Robinson & Gibson as eventual starters)
2023: Brian Robinson & Antonio Gibson
Before Brian Robinson’s wounding in an attempted robbery, this unit looked like it had the potential to be one of the best in the NFL, and significantly improved from the prior year, when it was already pretty solid. A fully healthy Robinson, and an offensive scheme that should make much better use of Gibson, position this duo to be an upgrade from 2022.
Depth: Christian Rodriguez
It’s my feeling that Rodriguez is actually talented enough to supplant Robinson as RB1 by the end of the season, but in the meantime, he is a significantly better back than either Jonathan Williams or Jaret Patterson, last year’s depth RBs. Expect Rodriguez to get some early carriers aimed at punishing defenses.
Tight End (Upgrade)
2022: Logan Thomas & John Bates
2023: Logan Thomas & John Bates
Thomas should be as healthy as he’s been in years to start this season, and Bates has another year under his belt. Unfortunately, Armani Rogers went down early this offseason, as I thought he might have a shot at grabbing the TE1 mantle. That will have to wait until next year at this point.
Depth: Cole Turner and Curtis Hodges
Last year, Rogers and Turner were the depth, so this is a slight downgrade. Nevertheless, Cole Turner appears more comfortable this pre-season than he did for much of last year, and I expect Eric Bieniemy will work him into this offense. I’d be surprised if Hodges isn’t inactive for most of the season, or eventually shipped to the practice squad in exchange for fullback Alex Armah.
Wide Receiver (Upgrade)
2022: Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, & Jahan Dotson
2023: Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, & Jahan Dotson
The starters remain the same, but with an additional year of experience, particularly in the case of Dotson, I expect there to be a maturation jump. McLaurin and Samuel are essentially in the primes of their careers. If this group can stay healthy, they have a chance to - easily - be a top 10 WR group in the league.
Depth: Dyami Brown, Byron Pringle, Dax Milne, and Mitchell Tinsley
These four, at least provisionally, upgrade Brown, Milne, and Cam Sims. Brown appears to have a superior relationship with his former college QB to the one he did with either Wentz or Heinicke. Pringle is intimately familiar with EB’s offense, and Tinsley fills a similar depth role to the one that Sims did before he left.
Offensive Line (No Change)
2022: Charles Leno, Wes Schweitzer, Chase Roullier, Andrew Norwell, Sam Cosmi
2023: Charles Leno, Saahdiq Charles, Nick Gates, Sam Cosmi, Andrew Wylie
When Chase Roullier went down in Week 2 last year, Washington’s offensive line rotated through a carousel at center for the rest of the season. Free agent guards Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell were completely spent, and Sam Cosmi made it obvious he’s better suited for guard.
The line is radically changed from last season, adding free agents Nick Gates at center and Andrew Wylie at right tackle. Cosmi has been shifted to right guard, where his ceiling is much higher, and Saahdiq Charles seems to finally be living up to his hype coming out of college. Having improved play on his right shoulder should help Charles Leno as well.
There are lots of doubts about this line, but I’m expecting it to be average, which would be a significant upgrade from 2022.
Depth: Chris Paul. Ricky Stromberg, Cornelius Lucas, and Trent Scott
Chris Paul - who looked like he might be good enough to start - and rookie Ricky Stromberg represent the center/guard depth, and Cornelius Lucas and Trent Scott are the tackle depth to begin the season. Rookie Braeden Daniels gets the season on IR to build up his strength and prepare him for another shot at the roster next offseason.
Had Washington started Heinicke all last season, instead of Wentz, I think a 1.5 game improvement would have been a very reasonable expectation, putting the team at 10 wins. I expect that Howell will outperform Heinicke, giving this team - with it’s top of the league defense - a shockingly high ceiling.
Defensive Line (Upgrade)
2022: Jon Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, James Smith-Williams (until Young returned)
2023: Jon Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, Chase Young
As of publication, it’s still not clear if Chase Young is going to be available on Week 1. If he is, Washington’s front four should be one of the most imposing groups in the league. If he’s not, James Smith-Williams will get the opportunity to build on his impressive 2022 season and make his case for a generous contract in 2024.
Sweat is in a contract year (as is Young), and I expect him to rise to the occasion along with the already dominant Daron Payne and Jon Allen.
Depth: Smith-Williams, Ridgeway, KJ Henry, Andre Jones, Casey Toohill, Phidarian Mathis, and Efe Obada
Mathis and Obada will start the season on short term IR, so Abdullah Anderson has been elevated to play inside along with John Ridgeway. Meanwhile, the team is swimming in defensive end depth.
Linebackers (No Change)
2022: Cole Holcomb & Jamin Davis
2023: Jamin Davis & Cody Barton
Linebacker remains the weakest link on Washington’s defense, and it’s not entirely clear its been improved year-over-year. Will Davis continue the growth that we saw last season? Is Cody Barton as good, or better, than Cole Holcomb? The pre-season certainly didn’t answer either of those questions. I enter the season skeptical.
Depth: Khaleke Hudson & David Mayo
Hudson looked very good during the end of last season, and acquitted himself very well this pre-season. If either Davis or Barton falter, I hope he’ll be given a shot at a starting role. David Mayo is the Rasputin of Washington football - impossible to dispatch. It’s hard to envision a day when he won’t be on the roster.
2022: Kendall Fuller, William Jackson III, Ben St-Juste
2023: Kendall Fuller, Emmanuel Forbes, Ben St-Juste
With the addition of the first rounder Forbes, this group has a chance to move to the next level. Fuller, Forbes, and a healthy St. Juste could help this defensive line tremendously by locking down the defensive backfield.
Depth: Quan Martin, Danny Johnson, and Christian Holmes
Two of these three replace Tariq Castro-Fields and Rachad Wildgoose while Christian Holmes appears to have taken the physicality of his game up a notch since last season. Martin is still learning the ropes, but he’s expected to have an “eventual starter” ceiling.
2022: Kam Curl & Bobby McCain
2023: Kam Curl & Darrick Forrest
I fully expect this safety duo to be one of the most menacing in the league this year, with Forrest even eclipsing Curl’s stellar play. These two are going to end up making a lot of wide receivers end up regretting their decisions this season. It goes without saying that a full year of Forrest is a big upgrade on a full year of McCain.
Depth: Quan Martin, Percy Butler and Jeremy Reaves
These two are basically the same safety depth that the team had last year. Reaves has grown into one of the best special teams players in the game, and Butler continues to mature into his role. Martin was drafted in the second round this year.
I expect this group to be a top five unit in the league. Anything less than excellence, with the added investment this offseason, will be a serious disappointment. They should also be aided by a significantly improved offense year over year.
Special Teams (No Change)
2022: Joey Slye, Tress Way, & Camaron Cheeseman
2023: Joey Slye, Tress Way, & Camaron Cheeseman
The players are the same as last year, but with some kicking competition brought into camp this year, the hope is that Joey Slye has gotten the message: “Hit your damn extra points.” I expect a slight improvement from him this year, but am also a bit concerned about Cheeseman’s apparent snapping regression.
Overall, do you think Washington’s roster is upgraded from 2022 to 2023?
This poll is closed