Washington Redskins Fantasy: Mike Shanahan, Donovan McNabb To Rescue?
There’s a new sheriff in Washington and he brought a new quarterback in to town to run the show. After a disappointing two-year run with Jim Zorn as head coach, flashy Redskins owner Daniel Snyder jettisoned him in the offseason and hired former Bronco coach Mike Shanahan to run football operations at Redskins Park.
Not long after, Shanahan engineered a trade to acquire perennial Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb from the Eagles for a 2009 second-round pick and either a third- or fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft. In June, the wheeling and dealing continued with the acquisition of former Saints left tackle Jammal Brown, giving the Redskins the potential for two solid starters at offensive tackle in Brown and 2010 first-round pick Trent Williams.
The moves figure to plug the main holes on offense, where the team suffered in 2009 because of poor blocking along the offensive line and a lack of big plays from quarterback Jason Campbell.
Shanahan brings an impressive array of offensive credentials to Washington. In Denver, his teams often featured great performances from running backs taken in the lower rounds of the draft as well as solid passing production, using plenty of roll-outs in his version of the West Coast offense. Despite his advancing age, McNabb remains a reasonably mobile player and figures to fit perfectly into Shanahan’s offensive system, which closely resembles the offense Andy Reid runs in Philadelphia.
At running back, the Redskins feature a trio of aging veteran runners. Incumbent starter Clinton Portis enters training camp as the prohibitive favorite to win the starting job. He struggled in 2009—suffering through an ankle injury and then a concussion that ended his season—finishing with career lows in rushing (494 yards) and touchdowns (only one).
Larry Johnson and Willie Parker were signed during the offseason to compete with Portis for playing time. Despite the presence of three veteran runners, none of them are considered excellent pass receivers, so whoever wins the starting role could see plenty of touches, by default, in 2010.
The Redskins remain interested in signing former Eagle Brian Westbrook, and his presence would likely result in the release of one or both of Johnson and Parker.
While McNabb is a nice fit at quarterback to run Shanahan’s offense, there is a lack of proven playmaking ability at wide receiver. Santana Moss is coming off a down year in 2009, in which he finished with 902 yards and only three touchdowns. His yards per reception has declined in each of the last five years, going from 18.6 in 2004 to 12.9 last season. Further complicating his outlook for 2010 is the offseason knee surgery he had and his name being linked to the Canadian doctor charged with providing athletes with human growth hormone.
Third-year receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly will compete for the starting spot opposite Moss. However, both players have been disappointments thus far in their career.
The Redskins are loaded at tight end with Chris Cooley and Fred Davis manning the position. With Cooley out for nine games with an ankle injury, Davis played surprisingly well last year and is considered the team’s future at the position.
The Redskins offense figures to reach new heights in 2010 with the additions of Shanahan, McNabb, Brown, and Williams. However, the team will need rebound performances from their aging veteran runners and Moss—as well as another player to step up at receiver. Look for the Redskins to struggle on offense during the first few weeks of the year and to improve as the season progresses. Shanahan doesn’t seem to have enough parts in place to turn the Redskins into an offensive juggernaut during his first year in Washington.
McNabb had another solid season in 2009, finishing the year with over 3,500 passing yards and 22 touchdowns in just 14 starts with the Eagles. In Philadelphia, McNabb enjoyed the benefit of perhaps the league’s top young group of offensive skill position players. However, the Redskins offense features a number of aging veterans and yet-unproven youngsters at the skill positions. In addition, the Eagles ran a pass-heavy version of the West Coast offense, whereas Mike Shanahan’s version features far more emphasis on the running game. Simply put, McNabb will be hard pressed to match his production over the last few years during his first year in Washington. He enters the season as a borderline fantasy starter without much upside considering the Redskins offensive issues. There’s no getting around the fact there is a big drop-off in the talent surrounding him in Washington.
New head coach Mike Shanahan’s teams have a history of running the ball successfully, and although Portis wasn’t great last year before being injured, he wasn’t as bad as advertised. He had 494 rushing yards (averaging 4.0 per carry) during the team’s first seven games before suffering a concussion. Portis has earned the reputation of an aging, injury-prone player, but he will be 29 at the beginning of the season and didn’t miss a game through 2007 and 2008. He enters the year motivated to prove he has some gas left in the tank and to justify the large salary owed to him over the balance of his contract. Reports out of Washington indicate that he’s dropped 12 pounds in order to better fit into the team’s new zone blocking scheme. While that will help his cause, Portis will need to show some explosiveness to retain his starting position. Over the last couple of years, he has become more of an inside runner than the slasher he was earlier in his career. Nonetheless, Shanahan will run plenty in 2010, and Portis isn’t getting any fantasy love; so if there’s one Redskins player to gamble on, perhaps he is that guy.
Johnson signed with the Redskins in the offseason after being released by the Chiefs and finishing 2009 backing up Cedric Benson in Cincinnati. He has been promised a chance to start but will enter training camp second on the depth chart behind Clinton Portis. Provided he can supplant Portis, Johnson has the opportunity to have a bounce-back season in 2010. However, he looked old and slow for much of last year and will need to re-dedicate himself in order to earn significant playing time. Monitor the Redskins backfield situation in training camp and draft Johnson accordingly. The most likely scenario has Johnson earning a spot backing up Portis; and if that transpires, Johnson is worth taking a late-round flier on in your fantasy drafts.
Having lost his starting job in Pittsburgh to Rashard Mendenhall, Parker landed with the Redskins as a free agent this offseason. Despite being just 29, he seems to have lost a step and will have a difficult time cracking the Redskins roster. With Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson on board and former Bronco Ryan Torain providing younger legs at the position, Parker may be on the outside looking in on opening day. The Redskins are unlikely to keep more than three running backs on the roster, and the odds of them keeping three aging ones seems remote. Unless Parker can unseat Johnson, or an injury strikes at the position, Parker will likely be in a different uniform or out of the league in 2010. Don’t waste a roster spot on him.
Moss struggled in 2009 but has a chance to have a solid season this year with Donovan McNabb installed as the Redskins new starting quarterback. While Moss figures to get an opportunity to produce in 2010, there are serious questions about whether he will make the most of that opportunity. Was his lack of big plays (three touchdowns, 12.9 yards per reception, one 100-yard game) the result of poor quarterback play? Or is Moss simply slowing at thirty-one years of age? If it’s the latter, expect a fast decline in his play, since smaller wide receivers have more difficulty extending their careers. However, the more likely scenario is that Moss will produce another bounce-back season, continuing his history of following up a poor season with a good one. He figures to benefit from some garbage-time production on a Redskins squad that will need its defense to come up big in order to remain competitive. Draft Moss as a mid-tier WR3, but one who has upside as a WR2, provided he hasn’t lost a step. As is usually the case with Moss, the reward is there, but there’s plenty of risk as well.
It’s nice that Donovan McNabb is in town as Thomas enters his third season in the league, but it’s not so nice that the new Redskins management is loading up on journeyman, retread wide receivers. Despite having a pair of third-year players in Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, the Redskins added Bobby Wade and Joey Galloway as training camp approached—not exactly a sign of confidence in their youngsters. Of the two younger players, Thomas is the one worth taking a flier on, but he’s certainly not worth reaching for. Monitor his production in the preseason and move him up if it’s warranted. As it stands, he’s nothing more than a late-round pick in standard leagues.
Kelly hasn’t done much in two years, and the knock on him is that he doesn’t use his size to his advantage. With new head coach Mike Shanahan on board, Kelly gets a fresh start. But there are valid concerns that his attitude may get in the way of his making the most of the opportunity. At this point, Kelly shapes up as a backup on the outside, unless he can nail down the playbook in the slot as well. Given his prior lack of motivation, that seems improbable. This is likely his last year to pull it together. Kelly isn’t worth drafting in anything other than deep leagues.
Cooley is coming off a season in which he suffered an ankle injury that cost him all but seven games. He is a talented player and, at age twenty-seven, should bounce back. The Redskins have upgraded the talent at quarterback with Donovan McNabb, but Fred Davis is breathing down Cooley’s neck, courtesy of the solid production he had once he was inserted into the starting lineup when Cooley went down. Expect Cooley to retain the job, but Davis is too good not to be utilized. Cooley’s ankle injury from last season is of no concern in 2010 but, given Davis’ production last year, his number of touches is.
Davis stepped into the lineup for an injured Chris Cooley and put up surprisingly solid production as the team’s starting tight end. During the final six games of the season, Davis averaged nearly 10 fantasy points per game, courtesy of 25 receptions for 286 yards and five touchdowns. Davis played too well last year to be relegated to a strict backup role, especially considering the Redskins question marks at wide receiver. While his upside is limited in 2010 unless Cooley gets hurt again, he is a solid prospect in dynasty leagues.
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