Wondering if and how your NFL team can make the playoffs in the coming season? Adam Rank and Marc Sessler have you covered in this ongoing series, as they provide five reasons why each of the league's 32 teams will make an appearance in the 2018 postseason. Today, Sessler examines the Washington Redskins.
1) That's right: Alex Smith
Bottom line: Acquiring Smith from the Chiefs was the next-best thing for a team not about to trade up for a rookie signal-caller in the draft.
Giving up cornerback Kendall Fuller in the Kansas City deal was costly for Washington, but Smith's presence means this offense shouldn't skip a beat. He spent much of last season playing at an MVP level under center inside a brilliantly schemed Chiefs attack. Defying lingering criticism of being a dink-and-dunk lobber, Smith led the league in Deep Passer Rating in 2017, per Pro Football Focus. That had plenty to do with Kansas City's juicy play-calling, but Smith is eternally underrated for his toughness, playmaking ability and creativity outside the pocket. Smith-led teams have made the playoffs in six of the past seven seasons, meaning this is a quarterback who knows how to use what's around him while navigating the rigors of the regular season.
"He's got good command of the offense already,"Redskins coach Jay Gruden said a week ago. "Great command in the huddle. He's just getting a feel for the receivers, the players around him, how we call things, but I'm very pleased with his quick progression and learning. I knew that wouldn't be an issue."
2) A steal in the backfield
Washington has struggled for years to find a true leader on the ground.
The club hasn't seen a running back top 800 yards since 2014, using a hodgepodge of runners -- Alfred Morris, Matt Jones, Roy Helu and Rob Kelley, to name a few -- to steer what amounted to a wayward clown car.
This year's Redskins offer new promise with the addition of rookie Derrius Guice, the second-round pick seen by scouts as a bona fide first-round talent. Drawing comparisons to Marshawn Lynch, Guice figures to play right away, per Gruden, as an early-down "banger" to pair with the marvelous derring-do of third-down gem Chris Thompson.
Thompson -- on the mend from last year's broken fibula -- gives Smith a proven weapon to maximize all over the field. The Redskins also have their last two leading rushers -- Samaje Perine and Kelley -- in house, making this one of the conference's deeper backfields, especially if Guice hits the ground running.
3) Witchcraft in the NFC East
This unpredictable four-pack of teams hasn't produced a repeat division champ since the Eagles ruled the roost in the early 2000s. Translation: Expect the unexpected.
I'm comfortable guaranteeing Philadelphia a playoff bid, but the scene gets funky from there.
The Cowboys have talent, but aren't without their issues. June, of course, is the perfect time to crow about the Giants as a worst-to-first operation, but that's hardly a given unless a creaky Eli Manning falls into some type of late-career explosion to lift the intriguing pieces around him.
Add it up, and the Redskins have a chance to compete inside their own division. People look right past Alex Smith, but he's not hard to defend as the second-best quarterback in the East behind Carson Wentz.
4) Depth in the trenches
Growing up in the 1980s, one could rely on the 'Skins to produce a whirlwind defense that doubled as the stuff of nightmares for NFC quarterbacks everywhere.
That feels like a trillion eons ago, but Washington finally has some depth up front.
This pick flew under the radar amid the quarterback frenzy, but the Redskins kicked off a solid draft with the selection of defensive tackle Daron Payne. The former Alabama standout projects as an immediate starter in the middle of Washington's line. He'll be flanked by end Jonathan Allen, last year's first-rounder who turned heads before suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury. Fellow lineman Matt Ioannidis is back, as well, after a surprisingly productive second season.
With this gang of behemoths up front, the under-praised Ryan Kerrigan (along with fellow pass rushers Preston Smith and Pernell McPhee) give Washington a quality collection of names in the front seven -- arguably the best Redskins fans have seen under Gruden's watch.
5) Smith's edgy arsenal
That's true of Guice flipping the switch on the ground, the young defenders doing their part -- and Washington's collection of pass catchers making it happen through the air.
Smith had Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt all operating at star-quality levels last season in Kansas City. The Redskins can hurt teams, too, if Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson come through. The uber-athletic Crowder led the team with 789 yards off 66 catches last autumn, but he was arguably more dangerous as an auxiliary weapon in 2016. The Redskins would greatly benefit from the continued development of Doctson. The 6-foot-2 wideout was a mixed bag last season -- his second -- posting six touchdowns and a rash of highlight-reel grabs, but also hauling in just 35 of his 78 targets. Richardson is the new guy, arriving from Seattle, where he showed off his dazzling speed during something of a breakout campaign in 2017.
Smith has a little bit of everything in this trio, plus a star tight end in Jordan Reed -- if he can stay healthy.
Again, this comes down to a lot tilting the right way for Washington. If that happens, you're looking at a balanced, intriguing attack that could cause problems for defenses in the NFC.