WFT Players with Most to Prove Ahead of 2021 Season

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2021

WFT Players with Most to Prove Ahead of 2021 Season

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team has plenty to prove in 2021. It must show that last year's NFC East title was no fluke. It must demonstrate that passing on a quarterback in this year's draft wasn't a mistake. It must also prove that winning with defense is still a viable strategy in the NFL.

    Last season, the Football Team ranked second in total defense and fourth in points allowed. This was good enough to take the division crown with a 7-9 record. However, Washington only ranked 40th in total offense, and its solution at quarterback is journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.

    With both the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles improving on paper this offseason—and the Dallas Cowboys getting back a healthy Dak Prescott at quarterback—Washington won't have an easy path to the postseason.

    Along the way, several individual players will have to prove themselves. You will find a look at three of them here.

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    Alex Smith retired this offseason, and the Football Team has only seen a limited resume from Taylor Heinicke. For better or worse, this will be Ryan Fitzpatrick's team in 2021. The good news is that Fitzpatrick has played well over the past couple of seasons and doesn't appear close to hitting the proverbial cliff edge.

    "Obviously he's 38 years old, couple months younger than me, but he is playing well, he's playing at a high level and there's no reason to believe that he's not going to continue that," offensive coordinator Scott Turner said on the Washington Football Talk Podcast (h/t Ryan Homler of NBC 4 Washington).

    The bad news is that Fitzpatrick has been a wildly inconsistent quarterback at points in his career. He led the NFL in interceptions back in 2011 and has never lasted more than four seasons with a single franchise.

    Fitzpatrick will have to prove he can be the same passer he was last season—when he produced a quarterback rating of 95.6—and not the streaky gunslinger who was abandoned by teams like the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets.

    The Football Team only signed Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal, so if he cannot prove himself to be a competent signal-caller, his tenure in Washington will be short. This doesn't mean that another team won't give Fitzpatrick a shot in 2022, but it would send the Football Team back to the drawing board at the game's most important position.

WR Terry McLaurin

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    While wideout Terry McLaurin has proved himself to be a legitimate No. 1 receiver for Washington, the 2019 third-round pick still has plenty to prove. First and foremost, he will need to prove he deserves a massive second contract, as he will be eligible for an extension after this season.

    While McLaurin was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2020, he hasn't reached a Pro Bowl level just yet. And though his numbers increased, McLaurin was less effective as a deep threat last season.

    From Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus:

    "His average depth of target dipped from 14.6 yards as a rookie in 2019 to 9.9 yards in 2020. The percentage of his catches that turned into a 15-plus-yard gain decreased from 40% to 30%, and his yardage total from vertical routes was nearly cut in half from 404 to 207 despite him seeing 37 more targets overall."

    This will be a pivotal year for McLaurin because Washington added Fitzpatrick and complementary receivers in Curtis Samuel and rookie Dyami Brown. Theoretically, McLaurin will see fewer double-teams than he did in 2020 and more of a vertical passing attack with the strong-armed Fitzpatrick pulling the trigger.

    McLaurin isn't playing for a job. He's the best receiver on the roster and is under contract for two more seasons. With receiver salaries constantly growing, though, it's time for him to prove he's among the game's elite.

DT Jonathan Allen

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    Daniel Kucin Jr./Associated Press

    Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen may be playing for his Washington future in 2021—not because he hasn't performed well but because of the team's investment in its front seven.

    Allen has been solid, racking up 202 tackles and 17 sacks in four seasons. However, the 2017 first-round pick is in the final year of his rookie deal and is part of a front seven loaded with first-round picks.

    Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, Chase Young and Jamin Davis were all first-round selections. Allen, Payne, Sweat and Young all play along the defensive line. It will be virtually impossible for Washington to pay everyone over the long term.

    For Allen to secure a permanent place along the defensive front, he will likely need to show he can be a Pro Bowl-caliber defender this season. He hasn't gotten to that point and had the most underwhelming season since his rookie year in 2020.

    While Allen did have 62 tackles last season, he only produced two sacks. That's fine production for a down lineman, but with Sweat, Payne and Young on the roster, Washington may view Allen as expendable in the offseason. That is unless Allen can prove himself to be an indispensable member of the defense.


    Contract information via Spotrac.