With five of the ten players from the 2015 draft playing major roles in helping the team win the division last year, one has to beg the question. What’s next?
Looking ahead to the way too early 2016 depth chart projections, four of those five will be penciled in as starters. So let’s take a look at them and how continued improvement, can drastically impact the team this season and moving forward.
Brandon Scherff | started all 16 games in 2015
The first draft selection of the McCloughan era, was drafted to be the long term solution at RT with the number five overall pick. But a combination of factors, chief among them the improvement of 2014 draftee Morgan Moses, shifted the former Outland Trophy winner inside to RG. Where he partnered with the aforementioned Moses to form a young and formidable right side of an improving offensive line.
Centers aside, when it comes to interior lineman, you want to be almost forgettable to fans watching at home. Meaning, do not end up on replays being pushed into ballcarriers, commit bad penalties or give up sacks via inside rush moves. After starting his career against Ndamukong Suh in week 1 and following up with a very stout Rams front in week 2, Scherff showed well from early on in 2015. Year 1, mission accomplished. For continued team success, Brandon will need to continue to iron out his pass pro technique and help turn around the fortunes of a run game that struggled to gain consistent traction.
Preston Smith | started 2 games in 2015, finished second on the team in sacks
At 6’5″ 270lbs, the rush LB out of Mississippi State all but put to bed the knock on him going into last years draft. As part of a rotation at outside linebacker with Trent Murphy, the young pass rusher burst onto the scene in week 1. Racking up his first career sack, forcing two fumbles and recovering one versus the Dolphins. Brushing aside the notion of a slow step and penchant for not hustling at all times.
Because of the nature of how he was used, it’s hard to truly judge his numbers, though very good last season (8 sacks, 3 FF). However when you pair the way he finished the year (five sacks in the last three gms), with Murphy’s move to the defensive line, more opportunities to get after the passer could lead to a big sophomore season– despite the presence of Junior Galette.
Matt Jones | 0 starts, led team in rushing TDs
Matt Jones, come on down. You are the new RB1 on the 2016 Washington depth chart. The big, explosive back out of Florida showed himself as the typical rookie last season. Alternating between, providing the type of burst akin to a young Stephen Jackson. And frustrating a ton, putting the ball on the carpet five times.
With the team’s electing not to bring back fan favorite Alfred Morris, Jones will need to show growth in three areas to fully take advantage of his new opportunity. Correct his ball protection issues, working with running back’s coach Randy Jordan to improve his vision, and taking care of his body (he missed three games due to injury). If he can take care of those things, the team should definitely benefit from the big back’s increased workload.
Jamison Crowder | started 6 games, finished third in receptions
Word coming out of training camp last year, was the young slot receiver out of Duke was showing himself to be the real deal pretty early on. His sure hands, quick feet and electric run after the catch ability seemed to flash on the screen every time he was given an opportunity. In week 4, coach Gruden called his number to start in the slot against Philadelphia over the inconsistent Andre Roberts and he did not disappoint (7 catches, 65 yards).
Even if he never becomes the threat as a returner that he was in college, the burgundy & gold still will have found themselves one of the steals of last year’s draft. With an entire offseason to further strengthen his rapport with Kirk Cousins, don’t be surprised to see him finish 2016 first or second on the team in receptions. As he looks to continue to be a chain mover out of the slot (finishing last season w/58% of his receptions turning into first downs).
With improvements on last season’s production, all four could stand to drastically impact the team’s fortunes in 2016– Jones being the unquestioned most important due to need and position, and Smith possessing the potential to be a game changer on the defensive side of the ball.
It’s only year two for both this group and this GM, but this class could go down as one of the bes-…never mind, I won’t do that to them. But they could be very good. How about, let’s just bookmark this article for future reference.