State of the Franchise: Redskins trending up with Ron Rivera in tow

Where does your franchise stand heading into 2020? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Members of the Washington Redskins organization, 'Skins fans around the world and those who still celebrate like the "Fun Bunch":

I know these aren't exactly the glory days of your football fanfare. There was a time in history when the NFC East was the envy of the entire league. It seemed like the members would take turns winning Super Bowls. (Well, not you, Eagles fans.) The Redskins won Super Bowls in the 1982, 1987 and 1991 seasons. Unfortunately, Washington now has the longest Super Bowl drought in the division. But alas! There is a new man in charge, looking to change all of that. That said, we still have to dip back into the 3-13 morass for a second ...

How the Redskins got here

Let's take a quick look back at the highs and lows of the 2019 season.

The highs:

  • Beating the heck out of the Eagles in the opening stretches of the Week 1 opener, jumping out to a 17-0 lead five minutes into the second quarter. I'd been maligned for predicting the Redskins would have a two-win season, and I was really starting to regret that take. Fun opening half in a new campaign for 'Skins fans. (We'll put aside the fact that Washington ended up losing the game, 32-27. These are "the highs," after all.)
  • Adrian Peterson still being awesome. I mean, this is a guy who ran for 2,097 yards in 2012. And there he was last year, rushing for 898 yards and five touchdowns at age 34. Pretty amazing.
  • Terry McLaurin racking up 919 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns in Year 1. I might also throw in that the rookie, who wasn't selected until the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, helped me win a couple fantasy titles.

The lows:

  • The rest of it. The season was a shock to a lot of people, because Jay Gruden had done an admirable job of preventing the Redskins from hitting rock bottom in prior campaigns. But there was nothing even he could do in 2019. This led to Gruden's October firing after an 0-5 start, which allowed the team to enter the coaching carousel earlier than anyone else. And that leads us to the next section ...

2020 VIPs

Head coach: Ron Rivera. The Redskins have struggled for a number of years, with just four playoff appearances this millennium. The last season featuring a postseason win? 2005 -- the year Barack Obama arrived in Washington. As a U.S. Senator from Illinois. It has been a long time. One thing that didn't take a long time: Owner Dan Snyder's decision to hire Rivera as his next football coach, making that official on January 1 of this year.

We know Rivera is an excellent football coach. In fact, he's a two-time Coach of the Year recipient (2013, 2015), and he led the Carolina Panthers to their second ever Super Bowl appearance. Overall, he went 76-63-1 over nine seasons in Charlotte, and everyone knows how strong a presence he is as a leader. Rivera's one of the most highly respected coaches in the NFL right now.

He was often the face of the franchise for Carolina, something that could be used in Washington. After fluttering through the last couple of seasons, the team is in need of an identity and a winning culture. That is exactly what Rivera is expected to bring, especially as the team is nurturing a new quarterback (more on him in a moment). The hiring of Rivera shows that this team isn't in for a quick fix. Rather, it's looking for him to rebuild for the long haul. And there aren't many coaches I'd rather have in charge.

Quarterback: Trevor Lawrence. Whoops. I was already getting a head-start on next year's State of the Redskins. Just kidding! It's not fair to prematurely abandon last year's No. 15 overall pick ...

Quarterback: Dwayne Haskins. I don't even know how to talk about Haskins' first year with the team. He started by asking Joe Theismann if he could wear his old No. 7! Which had to put Joe in a weird spot, where he really couldn't say no. Like if you have a friend who asks what you're doing for the weekend. And when you say "nothing," said friend then asks you to help him move. Oof. Haskins also ended up missing the victory-formation snap of his first win because he was snapping selfies with fans on the sidelines. Which is the most Gen Z thing I've ever written. There is a lot to unpack from 2019 ... but let's instead leave that there and talk about the future.

Rivera has talked glowingly about Haskins. McLaurin -- who's been Haskins' teammate for years, going back to their Ohio State days -- has also given the QB rave reviews for his offseason work. Social media photos show Haskins has dropped a lot of weight, looking like he's in the best shape of his life. And let's not ignore the fact that the Redskins scored nearly nine more points per game last season when Haskins was the starter. After his three-pick debut in relief duty back in Week 4, the rookie did a nice job taking care of the football. There are some positives to his game. And from the looks of it, he's putting in the work to get better. I apologize for the Trevor Lawrence joke.

New face to know: Chase Young, defensive end. I'm going to change up the typical order in this section to help explain something. The Redskins took Young with the second overall pick in this past April's draft. Young was considered by many to be the best overall player in the class. And I know, sometimes I shudder when I hear things like that, too. Because did Joe Burrow just die or something? It's like when you have that snobby friend who likes to say stuff like, "Oh, my gosh -- Rancid was the pre-eminent punk band of the 1990s." Wait, I just realized that person is my boss, so I should probably just move on.

But Young is amazing. And I know Redskins fans are hoping he can make the same kind of impact another Ohio State pass rusher just had on the 49ers, who went from picking second overall to reaching the Super Bowl. The question now: Is Young the projected MVP of this team? No.

Projected 2020 MVP: Haskins. This still comes down to the quarterback position. Young could have a Nick Bosa-like impact on this squad, challenging for the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year award -- and it still might not be enough to flip the script in Washington if the Redskins don't get quality play from the quarterback position. The 49ers did thrive with Bosa, but they weren't hitting Super Bowl Sunday without Jimmy Garoppolo. If you have a great defense but don't get quality QB play, you end up at .500, like last season's Bears. Haskins is talented. (Don't forget: He did beat out Joe Burrow for the starting job at Ohio State.) I'm not promising he's going to be Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson in Year 2. But he should make the team competitive and help out the defense by scoring some points this season.

2020 breakout star: Fabian Moreau, cornerback. I loved Moreau while he was at UCLA and really believed the 'Skins got a huge break when they were able to select him in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. I honestly thought he was going to be the next Aqib Talib, because he's the kind of CB specimen you cook up in "create a player" on Madden. It hasn't translated yet, but he is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Last year's midseason move from slot corner to the outside really capitalized on his skills. He's going to have a breakout campaign in 2020. And then sign with somebody else, because that's the way it always works.

Probably not a new face to know: Antonio Brown, wide receiver. Rivera was asked about AB during his press conference on June 10 and politely responded. He didn't rule it out, but also noted that bringing in any veteran wideout could thwart the development of his young receivers. It's similar to the way parents have to talk to their children at times when they don't want to induce a tantrum by simply saying no, but also want to make it clear that it's not going to happen. Then again, it's the NFL. You never say never. Dan Snyder has never been shy about making bold moves. Right now, though, it doesn't appear too likely to happen.

The 2020 roadmap

The competitive urgency index is: MILD. The last time Rivera took over a downtrodden team, he inherited the 2-14 Panthers from John Fox. In his first year with Carolina, he guided that team to ... six wins. That seems like a good goal in 2020. I know, Redskins fans: You were hoping I was going to say playoffs. But an improvement to six wins would be quite a jump for a team that just bottomed out at 3-13.

Three key dates:

  • Week 4 vs. Ravens. The NFC East has a lot of great rivalries, but I wish this Baltimore-DC duel was more of a thing. At least to us outsiders. Gimme more DMV area heat!
  • Week 6 at Giants. A true barometer game for both franchises. Each has a brand-new head coach and a second-year quarterback. Who's trending more positive?
  • Week 16 vs. Panthers. The Ron Rivera revenge game! Could you imagine if the Redskins were to sign Cam Newton as a free agent and start him here? I know: That's a wild, convoluted ask. But just saying.

Will the Redskins be able to ...

Generate some offense? Washington finished 2019 dead last in scoring and second-to-last in total offense. In response, the team went old school -- kind of -- with some legacy hires. The Redskins brought in Scott Turner, son of former Redskins coach Norv Turner, to run the offense. And Ken Zampese -- son of Ernie Zampese, a mentor to Norv -- was tabbed as the quarterbacks coach. Norv and Ernie, of course, both nabbed Super Bowl rings as offensive coordinators of the Cowboys in the '90s.

Now, normally, we take a look at some wide-ranging subplots in this space. But I'm going to dedicate the rest of the section to the offensive skill positions, because of all the questions that remain.

Find a running back? Turner got his first taste of running an offense last December; after Rivera's firing, Turner was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator for Carolina's final four games of the season. In that role, he was able to dial up plays for RB Christian McCaffrey, who just so happened to become the third member of the 1,000/1,000 club. Now Turner is tasked with making sense of the backfield situation in DC. Which is akin to learning to drive on a Lambo, but then your first car is a Yaris. All right: That's not fair to my dude Derrius Guice. Just look at his highlights from last season against the Panthers. This is why we're always trying to make him a thing. And I know he's had injuries, but that was the knock on Dalvin Cook heading into last season. The team also has the aforementioned Peterson. You know, the future Hall of Famer? But he could be an odd fit for Turner's Air Coryell-style offense, which typically asks running backs to catch the football and be versatile. Running the ball will still be critical, no doubt, but you'd assume Turner wants somebody who can also play a huge role in the passing game. That is why J.D. McKissic and rookie Antonio Gibson could be in for steady snaps. McCaffrey obviously gave Turner the luxury of having one guy fill multiple roles, but he could spread the wealth among his backs in Washington.

Unearth a viable outside receiver opposite Terry McLaurin? Again, Terry is great. Trey Quinn -- a.k.a. Mr. Irrelevant of 2018, a.k.a. the guy who did "The Scarn" two Thanksgivings ago -- will man the slot. Who is the other guy? Carolina, where Turner came from, ran a lot of 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) last season. The Redskins need that third man to step up. Kelvin Harmon and Cody Latimer are the top two guys on the depth chart. Harmon appears to be the front-runner. He had 30 receptions during his rookie season, which isn't something that jumps off the page -- but 20 of those came after Haskins was elevated to the starting spot. Another guy to keep an eye on: Steven Sims Jr., who could battle Gibson to be that Curtis Samuel type of playmaker who has a few very specific plays drawn up for him.

Get production from the tight end position? You think about Rivera having Greg Olsen all of those years in Carolina. And the position has a very important role in this offense. The Turner family has enjoyed a lot of success with the position, spanning to Antonio Gates (Chargers) and Jay Novacek (Cowboys) in the way-back machine. But this is a huge question for Washington. Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis are gone. Jeremy Sprinkle may currently sit atop the depth chart, but given the chance to lock down the spot last year, he totaled just 26 catches for 241 yards and a touchdown. And this is why it's a little weird the Redskins didn't draft a tight end. Maybe they can ask the Bears for one of their surplus guys. Or maybe the Bears stole Cole Kmet from them. Washington did sign Thaddeus Moss as an undrafted free agent, and he's very intriguing, given the family bloodline. His numbers at LSU weren't spectacular, though, as he battled injuries. And when you're on a team that loaded with talent, steady individual production's hard to come by. But Moss projects as a good blocking tight end. And it's not unheard of for a blocking tight end to end up making a huge mark in the passing game once he gets to the NFL.

One storyline ...

... people are overlooking: That defensive line looks like an absolute force of nature. We already spent some time talking about Chase Young, who looks like a potential generational talent. But you have to realize this Redskins defense was already loaded up front. The team has invested a ton of draft capital in the D-line of late, spending first-round selections on Montez Sweat, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen before using this April's No. 2 overall pick on Young. Not to mention, Matt Ioannidis has quietly racked up 16 sacks over the past two seasons, while four-time Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan remains in tow. On paper, this looks like one of the very best defensive lines in football. Washington also added Kendall Fuller at corner after missing out on James Bradberry, but that's fine: Just about any replacement-level CB could thrive behind this defensive line. Another astute move was the bringing in Thomas Davis. This is going to be a pretty nasty defense, starting with the group up front. The Redskins piled up 46 sacks in each of the past two seasons -- ranking top 10 in both -- and I expect them to terrorize opposing quarterbacks even more in 2020.

ANOTHER storyline people are overlooking: The offensive line can survive without Trent Williams. The highly publicized standoff between Williams and the Redskins ultimately resulted in the seven-time Pro Bowl tackle missing the entire season. However, Washington's line did not come apart at the seams, as the Redskins finished 2019 in the top half of Pro Football Focus' O-line rankings. Quite encouraging, especially now that Williams has been dealt to San Francisco. Now, I assume that high grade partially spawns from Washington running the ball so much last season. The unit still needs to improve in pass pro, especially with a quarterback like Haskins, who isn't known for his athleticism. But this unit's far from the dumpster fire some anticipated when Williams began his holdout last year.

... people are overthinking: That Tua Tagovailoa should have been the pick at No. 2. It's an interesting thought. And as a Bears fan who must forever live with Chicago taking Mitch Trubisky over Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, I understand the trepidation. But you probably did the best thing for your team. Young appears to be a can't-miss guy who'll provide an immediate impact. Tagovailoa, meanwhile, enters the NFL with serious injury concerns and an uncertain timetable for 2020.

For 2020 to be a successful season, the Redskins MUST:

  • Score some points. You don't have to be the 1999 St. Louis Rams, but make visits to the end zone a more regular occurrence, so the defense isn't completely hung out to dry.
  • Figure out the quarterback position. Let Dwayne Haskins do his thing. As I touched on above, I think he can take strides in 2020. By the end of the year, though, the Redskins need to know whether they have a quarterback to build around or not.
  • Double your win total. Rivera won six games during his first season with the Panthers. That is a modest goal. I wouldn't rule out eight here. But let's keep those expectations realistic for a team that finished the 2019 season at an NFC-worst 3-13.

In closing

For the first time in a long time, I feel pretty good about the direction of the Redskins. The defense should make you instantly competitive. And you can be a major annoyance to any team if Haskins improves like I'm anticipating. It seems like only a matter of time before Rivera will have this team back in the playoff hunt.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @AdamRank.

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