The Washington Redskins are coming off of their third straight losing season, but things are looking up heading into 2020. Ron Rivera has replaced Jay Gruden as head coach, the Redskins appear to have a young quarterback to build around and also struck gold with their 2019 draft class.
Other than Dwayne Haskins, the Redskins picked up a star wideout in Terry McLaurin and a couple of pieces along the defensive and offensive fronts. While the rookies showed promise in 2019, they have to continue to improve and develop into legitimate NFL starters if this team wants to make the postseason in the near future. There are a few players I have in mind that will be able to turn the corner easier than others, however, and 2020 could be their coming out party.
Let's take a look at three players who are poised to break out this upcoming season for the Redskins.
With Rivera comes a new defensive scheme to Washington. The Redskins will be trading in their 3-4 scheme for a 4-3 -- which means true defensive ends will get to play defensive end instead of outside linebacker. One of those players is second-year pass rusher Montez Sweat
The Redskins actually traded back into the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft to select Sweat after a heart issue caused him to fall down draft boards. He quickly drew praise from both coaches and teammates early in training camp, and recorded 50 combined tackles, seven sacks and two passes defensed in his rookie season. His seven quarterback takedowns ranked second on the team in 2019. Sweat came along as the year progressed -- but like Jadeveon Clowney -- he's a true 4-3 defensive end, not a 3-4 outside linebacker. In this new scheme, Sweat will feel more at home with his hand in the dirt and his eyes not in pass coverage -- but solely on the quarterback.
Sweat played in a 4-3 during his two seasons at Mississippi State, and recorded 22.5 sacks and 30 tackles for loss. In his senior season, he was a First-Team All-American and First-Team All-SEC. I expect him to put up big numbers in his second NFL season.
If you are a Redskins fan, you already probably think running back Derrius Guice is one of the best players on this team entering 2020. The truth is, he has only played in five games in two seasons. The former second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft tore his ACL in his very first preseason game against the New England Patriots, and played in just five games before an MCL sprain placed him back on injured reserve in 2019.
While his durability and health are major concerns, Guice proved he can be a star in this league if he can stay on the field. He rushed 42 times for 245 yards and two touchdowns last season, and also caught seven passes for 79 yards and added another touchdown through the air. In just a handful of games, Guice proved he's fast, shifty, powerful and effective as a receiving back.
This upcoming season, Guice has to prove he can stay on the field, or you have to wonder if he will ever pan out in the NFL. If he can stay healthy, however, expect to see plenty of highlight reel plays like this one:
Cole Holcomb didn't get much credit for what he accomplished his rookie season -- which is criminal. The former UNC walk-on and fifth-round pick recorded 105 combined tackles in 16 games played, which ranked second on the team behind three-time Pro Bowler Landon Collins. His 105 tackles were second among all rookies and his 74 solo tackles ranked first among all rookies. He also forced three fumbles.
While Gruden is no longer with the team, he was one of the first to see potential in Holcomb. He said this after drafting him last year:
"When you're looking at linebackers in this day and age, you want to make sure they have the ability to cover in space and that's what his gift is, he's very good out in space. They ask him to play a coverage out there where he's got to take the No. 3 receiver, take him to the flat, take him up the field but also play the B-gap, I mean it's not easy for a linebacker to do. But this guy can cover out in space and I think he's got the physicality to him, I've seen him take on blocks and do some great things in that regard. He had 22 tackles against Army, I saw that game and watched a lot of him and I was just wondering why he wasn't as highly-touted as a lot of these other guys because he has the speed, ran a 4.48 I think at his Pro Day, 38-inch vertical, he tested out of the moon — so you say, 'well he's just a tester.' No, he had 100 tackles three years in a row, so he's had 300 tackles at North Carolina so he's had production so I think it's a great pick in that spot, I'm excited to get him in here."
Holcomb certainly was not incredible in coverage during in his rookie season, but made up for it in the run game. It's very possible he takes another leap forward in 2020, and could end up being a starting linebacker for the Redskins for years to come. At the NFL Combine, Rivera even mentioned Holcomb as someone who excited him on defense.
"He played out in space a little bit and came back into the box and played linebacker," Rivera said of Holcomb, via Redskins.com. "Those are the kind of guys that you want, because you want that position flexibility."
He also compared Holcomb to Carolina Panthers defenseman Shaq Thompson, who played in several different roles under Rivera over the past couple of seasons. As previously mentioned, the change from the 3-4 scheme to the 4-3 takes away a middle linebacker spot. The Redskins already with inside linebacker Jon Bostic after a career season, so it remains to be seen where Holcomb could be playing. Whether it's in the middle or as an outside backer, Holcomb has proven that he can make a difference at the next level.