Biggest Studs, Duds and Surprises of Washington Redskins' 2017 Season

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2017

Biggest Studs, Duds and Surprises of Washington Redskins' 2017 Season

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    There hasn't been much to shout about for the Washington Redskins during a miserable 2017 NFL season marred by disappointing free agents, poor coaching and a slew of injuries.

    The silver lining, faint though it is, comes from the standout performances of three players, including two members of the front seven. An evergreen pass-catcher has rolled back the years to be one of the few receivers on the team who has produced big plays with any sort of consistency.

    Surprises have at least been of the pleasant variety, thanks to the rapid progress of a pair of second-year defensive players. A little-used wide receiver has also more than justified a long overdue bigger role in the passing game.

    Find out who are the studs, duds and biggest surprises for the Redskins this season.

Honorable Mention: Chris Thompson

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    Were it not for the season-ending injury he suffered against the New Orleans Saints in Week 11, Chris Thompson would likely have put together a campaign for the ages.

    There is no doubt he was Washington's best player before injury struck. Whether it was averaging 4.6 yards a carry in the running game or catching 39 passes for 510 yards, Thompson was the lone consistent source of magic and highlight-reel plays on the offense.

    He was also the moving chess piece guaranteed to keep defenses guessing. Thompson's mere presence lent a level of flexibility to Washington's pre-snap looks the Redskins have sorely missed since.

    Thompson coming back to full fitness will be a huge fillip for the Burgundy and Gold ahead of next season. He has to continue as a feature of the passing game, as well as the speedster on the ground who can gash spread out defenses.

Stud: Zach Brown

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    A tough-looking foot injury saw Zach Brown taken off the field during Sunday's 30-13 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, per RotoWire (h/t CBS Sports). It could well have put paid to what has been an exceptional season for Brown.

    Will Brown's debut campaign be his only one as a member of the Redskins? He's a free agent this offseason, and it would be a shame to see the 28-year-old head for pastures new so soon.

    Brown leads the NFL in tackles and has been the dynamic and versatile downhill thumper a stout defense can be built around. Not only does Brown have 127 tackles to his credit, he's also broken up a pair of passes and logged 2.5 sacks.

    More than his numbers, Brown has shown the tenacity and commitment sadly in too short a supply across the roster during 2017. Proof of his resolve came from Brown continuing to play despite problems with his hamstring and Achilles, per Jake Kring-Schreifels of the team's official website.

    It's difficult to envisage the future of the Redskins' defense beyond this season. Coaching changes can't be ruled out after a third year out of four with no playoff football.

    If so, Washington may junk the 3-4 scheme employed defensively since 2010. Even so, Brown would remain a player the new system should be built around.

Dud: Terrelle Pryor Sr.

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    Terrelle Pryor Sr. was the other notable free agent the Redskins signed on what appeared to be a bargain one-year deal in the offseason. Yet unlike Brown, Pryor has failed spectacularly to deliver what was expected.

    What the Redskins were counting on from Pryor was a big-bodied, big-play target who would help offset the loss of DeSedan Jackson in free agency. Sadly, what the Burgundy and Gold got is just 20 catches for 240 yards and a single touchdown.

    There has also been a trip to and extended stay on the bench. Pryor not making the grade has robbed Washington's offense of a much-needed vertical threat and a go-to weapon for quarterback Kirk Cousins.

    Assessing why the player who topped 1,000 yards in his first full season as a pro wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns in 2016 has failed in D.C. isn't easy. Injuries have surely slowed the 28-year-old, who underwent ankle surgery last month, per ESPN.

    There is also no hiding the fact Pryor's inexperience at the position has shown. He has lacked nuance running routes and doesn't have the hands of a trusted pass-catcher.

    Even so, Pryor's physical gifts, namely his size and speed, could make him worth giving a second chance to. It's not as if there will be a queue for the converted quarterback once the 2018 market opens.

Surprise: Ryan Grant

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    It's hard not to be impressed by what Ryan Grant has done this season. Amid a rotation of wide receivers devoid of star power, he has quietly put together some solid numbers.

    Grant's haul of 37 catches for 445 yards and quartet of touchdowns is a quality return considering he looked lost in the shuffle after the arrival of Pryor and Brian Quick in free agency. No. 14 has outperformed them both, showcasing the sure hands, ability to get open and a flair for working deep the Redskins wish they had gotten from more of their wideouts.

    An average of 12 yards per reception challenges the notion the player the Redskins drafted in the fifth round in 2014 is merely a possession receiver. Instead, what this team has is an intelligent route-runner, with the safe mitts and deceptive quicks to escape coverage on a regular basis.

    Grant and fellow receiver Jamison Crowder are the kind of targets who make life easier for a quarterback. The Redskins would be wise to stop chasing the elusive big-bodied prototype and instead build their passing game around Grant's sure hands and reliable skills.

Stud: Vernon Davis

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    Pryor may have left his big plays in Cleveland, but Vernon Davis has at least done what he can to make sure the Redskins' passing game can still stretch defenses.

    Even at 33, Davis has been enjoying one of his best seasons. He's caught 37 of Cousins' passes and turned those catches into 568 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

    An impressive average of 15.4 yards per reception has shown how effectively Davis has worked coverage vertically. He has 10 catches of 20-plus yards to his credit, including two for 40 or more, per the league's official website.

    Putting Davis' efforts into context only makes his season more impressive. Consider he hasn't had the benefit of fellow tight end Jordan Reed taking attention away from him. Reed's injuries have kept Washington's most challenging matchup problem sidelined and put the onus on Davis to turn the clock back.

    It's also worth considering the effect of Washington's myriad of injuries along the offensive line on Davis and his production. The revolving door up front has often forced the 6'3", 244-pounder to stay in and block more often, one reason why he's caught just seven passes over his last four games.

    Davis is ageing, but he has proved he's durable enough to start every game so far this season. This is a veteran presence the Redskins should retain for 2018.

Dud: Jay Gruden

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    He has had more than his share of injuries to deal with, but even a marathon-length casualty list can't excuse the mediocre coaching job Jay Gruden has done this season.

    Inconsistency has become this team's byline on Gruden's watch. At different times in 2017, his offense has shined only to go missing the next week.

    It was only in Week 10 when the Redskins put 30 points on the defensively sound Minnesota Vikings. A week later, Washington tallied 31 points in a heartbreaking loss to the New Orleans Saints on the road.

    Points haven't been as easy to come by since the trip to the Big Easy, though. In fact, the Redskins haven't topped 20 in any of their last three games.

    For the season, Gruden has been calling the plays for an offense ranked 18th in points and 15th in yards. He's also directing a unit seemingly determined to eradicate the running game as a part of successful football.

    A genuine run-pass balance is mere pie in the sky stuff while Gruden's writing the script.

    Yet his offense isn't the only unit afflicted with a questionable temperament. A defense swarming and aggressive earlier this season has crumbled spectacularly in recent weeks, getting turned over by the Vikings, Saints, Dallas Cowboys and Chargers.

    Too often, the Redskins have appeared unprepared and ill-disciplined. Penalties, turnovers, dubious game management and shaky execution have become worryingly commonplace.

    Gruden freely admitted to being "at a loss for words" after losing in L.A., per the Associated Press (h/t USA Today). It makes sense since there's no easy way to explain being out of your depth.

    Missing the playoffs for a third time in four years must surely mean Gruden will be coaching elsewhere in 2018.

Surprise: Kendall Fuller

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    No Redskins player has made the strides Kendall Fuller has taken in 2017. One year removed from a rookie campaign wrecked by injuries, Fuller has become indispensable as the Redskins' slot cornerback.

    A forced fumble, six pass breakups and a team-high four interceptions tell the tale of the tape for Fuller in Year 2.

    Those numbers are a direct result of Fuller's application this offseason, with Matthew Paras of the Washington Times recently outlining how the young defensive back approached getting better: "This year, Fuller showed up to OTAs and training camp and quickly caught the attention of the coaching staff. Fuller said he focused on getting his explosiveness back and worked on his first step, planting and driving."

    Fuller's improvement has given the Redskins a nice problem to have headed into an offseason where Bashaud Breeland is set to become a free agent. Breeland is still capable, but Washington can let him walk safe in the knowledge Fuller is able to take his place.

    In all honesty, the Burgundy and Gold may want Breeland to go if it means getting 22-year-old Fuller on the field more often in 2018.

Stud: Ryan Kerrigan

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    It's becoming painful to see the Redskins waste Ryan Kerrigan's considerable talents. The process has been ongoing for the last seven years, but it may have reached its zenith during this particular campaign.

    Despite being the only true game-wrecker on a front decimated by injuries, Kerrigan has remained a player offenses can't easily control. He has recorded nine sacks, forced a pair of fumbles and snared an interception.

    Kerrigan has done all this while playing for his third defensive coordinator since being drafted in the first round in 2011. The coaches and schemes may have changed, but one thing has remained woefully constant during Kerrigan's time in Washington, namely the absence of a credible supporting cast around him.

    He still has no bookend edge-rusher to take blockers away. Nor does he have a secondary behind him good enough to make quarterbacks hesitate in the pocket and give him more time to get home.

    Despite all this, Kerrigan has still never missed a game as a pro and remains on pace to enjoy his third season with double-digit sacks.

    Somebody please put the talent around this man he deserves.

Dud: Greg Manusky

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    Greg Manusky was given a lot this offseason to go with the chance to coach for the team he once played for. The former Redskins inside linebacker was also handed four free agents and several prominent draft picks to help rebuild a defense already not lacking for talent.

    Manusky inherited a unit with an outstanding edge-rusher in Kerrigan, along with a pair of quality cornerbacks in the shape of Bashaud Breeland and Josh Norman.

    This talented trio was supplemented by the arrivals of linemen Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain, middle linebacker Zach Brown and safety D.J. Swearinger. They were joined by Jonathan Allen, the 17th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, while the second round yielded outside linebacker Ryan Anderson before defensive back Montae Nicholson came off the board in Round 4.

    The Redskins even gave Manusky Jim Tomsula, arguably the best D-line coach in the game.

    What has Manusky done with Washington's generosity? He has overseen a D ranked last in the league in points allowed. Last.

    Sure, he can point to injuries, like Allen landing on injured reserve just five games into his pro career, but so can the New England Patriots, who lost a host of starters earlier in a season they began by handing out 30- and 40-burgers for fun. Yet unlike Manusky and the Redskins, the Pats adapted and are the fourth-stingiest scoring defense in the NFL.

    Part of the reason things work for the Patriots is a commitment to getting specific about taking away an opponent's strengths. Unfortunately, no such commitment exists in Washington.

    There was no obvious plan to counter the Cowboys' massive O-line and punishing running game in Week 13. Nor was there a plan to contain tight end Travis Kelce against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4 or to stop Mark Ingram against the Saints in Week 11.

    Manusky has appeared content to rely simply on an approach dedicated to being tougher than the guys lined up on the other side. In an era where offenses can get as sophisticated as they want and are generally better protected by the rules, there has to be more to modern defense than this.

Surprise: Matt Ioannidis

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    Seeing Kerrigan's name atop the sack charts is hardly a surprise to Redskins fans. However, those who look down to the third name on the list may raise an eyebrow in mild shock.

    The shock comes from seeing Matt Ioannidis with 4.5 sacks to his credit. It's a solid tally for a fifth-round pick from 2016 who spent a good portion of his rookie season on the practice squad.

    To his credit, Ioannidis has made the most of his opportunities in his second year. The former Temple standout was expected to be a big body against the run, but he has shown an aptitude for collapsing the pocket and getting to quarterbacks.

    Those skills have seen No. 98 emerge as a key member of Washington's nickel fronts. Whenever the Redskins switch to a four-man line, they want to get Ioannidis on the field as an interior 3-technique pass-rusher.

    Like many members of Manusky's defense, Ioannidis has struggled as the season has progressed. He got a sack against the Chargers, but it was his first since Week 6.

    Even so, the strides he's made this season are a testament to his work ethic, as well as Tomsula's coaching.

    Building around the studs and surprises from this season can quickly get the Redskins back to winning ways in 2018, provided the building is left to a new coaching staff.