Breaking down the Washington Football Team’s WR group
This sextet would constitute a major upgrade over recent years. In McLaurin, Washington has a true number one receiver, both in terms of talent and character. He can run any pattern. He has the speed to run downfield from the Z position. The strength line up at X, where he has played out of necessity for the past two years. He can even run out of the slot, because there is not a single pattern he cannot run. With added support from the new blood, he should have a monster season.
Samuel can also line up anywhere, including in the backfield. He will add speed and playmaking ability in the open field. Since running back J.D. McKissic is essentially another receiver, you can look for Samuel and McKissic to move around a lot, theoretically creating match-up problems for defenses all year long.
Cam Sims proved a lot of people wrong in 2020 (including yours truly). We all could see he was big and tall. We knew he had decent straight-line speed. But I had no idea he had the ability to generate the type of yards-after-catch that he showed last season. He will never have the quickness or separation speed to become an elite receiver, and ideally, other players will take a lot of his offensive snaps. But he has carved out a spot for himself. If nothing else, he remains a first-rate special teams player, but he also showed he can provide firepower when asked to play offense.
In an ideal world, rookie Dyami Brown will take over as the primary Z receiver. He has good size, good speed, and would be ideally suited running downfield while McLaurin, Samuel, Humphries and tight end Logan Thomas draw most of the attention from the defense. Brown is not as physically imposing as Pittsburgh’s 2020 rookie sensation Chase Claypool, but he could perform a very similar role. When defenses geared up to stop Juju Smith-Schuster and Deontae Johnson last year, Claypool made them pay. Brown could do that for the Washington Football Team this season.
Adam Humphries is an ideal slot option. He has quickness and some veteran savvy. Like Brown, he will benefit from playing alongside McLaurin and Samuel. If he can remain healthy, Humphries has a chance to become an upper-tier slot receiver, who is always able to sneak free for seven yards on third-and-three.
Harmon is returning from injury but based on what he showed in the second half of 2019, he could challenge for a starting spot. His promising numbers were put up while playing for Jay Gruden and with Dwayne Haskins, so he will have to prove himself all over again, but I think he could become a quality possession guy on a team full of big play receivers.
Amongst the others, Dax Milne has the advantage of being new to Washington Football Team fans. He has no negative track record and the sky is the limit. I presume that unless there are multiple injuries, he will end up on the practice squad to begin the season, but given Humphries’ recent injury history, Milne could find his way into a slot receiver role. He also has the flexibility to line up outside. At minimum, he should hang on for a few years, hopefully getting the chance to prove he belongs.
Antonio Gandy-Golden has some work to do. He was hampered by injuries in 2020, but when he did get on the field, he showed very little. He is a tall receiver with limited speed who looked very good on 50/50 balls in college. But the concerns about his speed and the level of competition he faced in college remain. I don’t see him jumping ahead of any of the outside receivers already mentioned. He may end up taking advantage of the fairly recent trend toward putting bigger receivers in the slot and trying to exploit match-ups with smaller slot corners.
I like Isaiah Wright. He overcame the odds to make the team as an undrafted free agent in 2020 and ended up playing the fourth-most snaps of any receiver. He can return kicks and serve as a gunner. He was used on a few gadget plays last year. But with the arrival of Samuel, Brown and DeAndre Carter, pretty much everything he can do can now be done by someone who may be better than him. I expect Washington will stash him on the practice squad to provide all-around depth.
Of the receivers on the active roster, other than Trevor Davis and Tony Brown, Steven Sims Jr. has the farthest to go to secure a spot. Humphries is slated to take his slot position, with Samuel and Milne able to step in if need be. Carter is one of several candidates to take over as a punt returner. Sims performed very badly in that role in 2020. The talent he flashed in 2019 seems a distant memory. But there was a flash, which means he could regain form. It will be a serious uphill battle.
Even for the pessimists and cynics among us, it is hard to envision a 2021 receiving corps that doesn’t take a major step up from where this unit has been in recent years. Even if Samuel or Humphries goes down with injury, or if Brown and Milne fizzle out, we should see much more production. Part of that has to do with a veteran downfield passer like Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. But another part has to do with a quality overhaul of the entire unit in the past several years. There is simply too much talent, versatility and depth to revert to what we had in 2018.