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2019 NFL preview: Redskins are in bad shape, and need Dwayne Haskins to save them

Yahoo Sports is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per weekday in reverse order of our initial 2019 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on July 31, the day before the Hall of Fame Game kicks off the preseason.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Paul Rosales)

The moment before Alex Smith suffered one of the worst injuries you’ll see on a football field, the Washington Redskins were in a pretty good place. Relatively speaking, for the Redskins.

They were 6-3 with a two-game lead in the NFC East. Smith wasn’t lighting up the stat sheet, but he was good enough. Then Smith broke his leg. The Redskins lost 23-21 to the Texans, and it’s reasonable to think Smith could have made a three-point difference. The Redskins lost six of seven to end the season. Smith, who got a $94 million deal from Washington after it acquired him in a trade, might never play again, though he is fighting to return.

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Not that Smith was going to cure everything that ailed the franchise, but what exactly is there to be positive about now?

The Redskins are still trying to get a new stadium. They’re losing fans at a startling rate. Daniel Snyder remains one of the most unpopular owners in sports. The Redskins have one playoff win since the 1999 season, a wild-card round win at the end of the 2005 season. Their best player, offensive tackle Trent Williams, stayed away from minicamp reportedly due to frustration over the team’s medical staff (it’s not the first time the Redskins’ medical staff has been questioned lately), and nobody seems to know if he’ll be back. Not that the acquisition of controversial linebacker Reuben Foster was met with universal applause, but Foster is a talented player and he blew out his knee on the first drill of OTAs. Of the 11 NFL head coaches who have been with their teams at least five years, Jay Gruden is the only one with a losing record. He’s also the only one in that group without a playoff win. Ironically, Gruden is the longest-tenured head coach under the notoriously impatient Snyder. The Redskins’ most intriguing player last season was the rejuvenated Adrian Peterson, and he’s 34 years old. Smith, their $94 million quarterback, played 10 games and unfortunately that might be it. The Redskins haven’t even been bad enough to be interesting; they’ve won between seven and nine games four straight seasons.

All of that is why Dwayne Haskins has to be good.

It’s tough to expect any rookie to be a franchise savior, and much tougher when that player lasted until the No. 15 overall pick. Quarterback-needy teams like the Raiders, Giants, Broncos, Dolphins and Bengals all had a shot to take Haskins and passed.

Yet, Haskins is a reason for Redskins fans — those who haven’t jumped ship, anyway — to get excited. There’s hope in the unknown. Haskins threw for 50 touchdowns with Ohio State last season. It was widely reported this was a pick made by Snyder, but that doesn’t mean it won’t turn out. Maybe Haskins can fulfill the star promise Robert Griffin III had until Mike Shanahan left Griffin in too long during a playoff game, leading to a torn ACL and an altered career trajectory. Of course, Haskins will need to beat out Case Keenum for the starting job first.

While it’s dangerous to get too excited about a rookie quarterback like Haskins, what else is there? Safety Landon Collins, signed away from the New York Giants for a fortune, is a good player. He might immediately be the team’s most marketable player, which says something. The defensive front should be excellent, though that won’t sell many tickets. Maybe running back Derrius Guice, last year’s second-round pick, returns from a torn ACL and is the same exciting player he was at LSU. But the list is pretty short. That’s a reason Washington was dead last in the NFL in attendance percentage last season, filling just 74.4 percent of capacity.

Washington needs something good to happen. An incredibly dysfunctional ownership situation and front office is to blame for a lot of the franchise’s woes, but there has been plenty of bad luck, including that awful Smith injury.

Maybe a new, seemingly likable first-round rookie quarterback can change all of that and give Washington something fun to build on. No pressure.

Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins, right, poses for a selfie with Redskins fan Davon Adams. (AP)

Landon Collins was a very good safety for the Giants, but not one without any flaws. He is mostly an in-the-box safety, and perhaps that’s not worth the $84 million over six years that Washington paid him. Jay Gruden reportedly was frustrated he was left out of the loop on the Collins signing, and was even more frustrated Washington didn’t get more help at linebacker and receiver, though he denied there was any issue. Regardless, Collins is a good player and solid addition. The trade for Case Keenum was fine at the time. Washington did lose players like pass rusher Preston Smith and receiver Jamison Crowder in free agency, without spending much themselves other than the Collins deal. The draft did look very good. They didn’t have to trade anything to move up for Dwayne Haskins. They pounced and moved up for pass rusher Montez Sweat when he fell in the first round. And receiver Terry McLaurin is a potential steal in the third round.

GRADE: C-plus

The Redskins have invested in the defensive front, and it should pay off. Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat are all young first-round picks on the line. Ryan Kerrigan might be the Redskins’ best player, depending on Trent Williams’ status. Ryan Anderson is a 2017 second-round pick who hasn’t made an impact but has potential. The off-the-ball linebackers are a bit of a question, but the Redskins are loaded on the defensive line and outside linebacker. That’s a good foundation.

While there’s some promise among the Redskins receivers, it’s hard to have faith in any of them. Josh Doctson flashes with some great catches, but still hasn’t produced like you’d hope from a first-round pick. Paul Richardson dealt with injuries and was disappointing last season after signing a five-year, $40 million deal. Trey Quinn is unproven and expected to replace slot receiver Jamison Crowder, who was very good. Tight end Jordan Reed’s medical history is well known. All of them could come through, but it’s a lot of uncertainty for one position group.

Dwayne Haskins is the future and like nearly every other first-round quarterback, he’s likely to start at some point this season. But will it happen by Week 1? Case Keenum was very good for the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, signed a nice deal with the Denver Broncos and then was traded to the Redskins after a down 2018. Jay Gruden, who shouldn’t feel too confident in his job security, might settle for the safety of a veteran to begin the season instead of a rookie. Colt McCoy also looms, though he spent the offseason recovering from surgery for a broken leg. It seems like a wide-open competition between Keenum and Haskins heading into training camp. Getting Haskins on the field as soon as possible should be a priority, but he won’t be handed the job.

Until earlier this offseason, when the Miami Dolphins signed Xavien Howard to a huge deal, Josh Norman was the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback in terms of average per year and total value. Norman was one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks with the Carolina Panthers and in 2016 it seemed like a fine investment for Washington to give him a five-year, $75 million deal, but Norman hasn’t provided great bang for the buck. Pro Football Focus said Norman allowed eight touchdowns last season. He hasn’t made a Pro Bowl for Washington. Norman will turn 32 in December, and at that age it’s tough to predict a huge rebound. But Norman is being paid like an elite cornerback, and it would help Washington’s defense if he played at that level.

From Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski: “We like to say it’s important to know every NFL roster for potential fantasy value, but it could be a fool’s errand with these guys. Only one Redskins player is among the Top 160 in current NFFC ADP.

“Running back Derrius Guice is the lone ticket that’s expensive here — he’s going around Pick 75 in Yahoo leagues, and 11 slots earlier in NFFC. And it’s not like Guice is a known commodity or a sure thing; he blew out his ACL last summer after just one preseason game. He’ll compete with Adrian Peterson for the early-down carries, while Chris Thompson is the best receiver among the backs. I was bullish on Guice before last year’s injury, but he’s a wait-and-see for me now, not a proactive pick.

“The support pieces probably won’t prop Guice up. Washington has an average offensive line and a murky situation at quarterback. When you’re considering a two-down back, you prefer to roll with a team that can control games, challenge for a playoff spot. That doesn’t look like the 2019 Redskins.”

[Yahoo fantasy preview: Washington Redskins]

What Adrian Peterson did last season is remarkable. Only five running backs in NFL history have a 1,000-yard season at age 33 or later: John Riggins, John Henry Johnson, Frank Gore, Franco Harris and Peterson. Riggins and Johnson did it twice. Riggins, Johnson and Harris are in the Hall of Fame, and Gore and Peterson are likely on their way. Johnson and Peterson are the only two in that club who also averaged four yards per carry. And until Peterson signed in mid-August, after Derrius Guice’s ACL injury, it looked like his career might be over. It was a truly amazing season for one of the all-time greats. Peterson re-signed with the Redskins this offseason, which was a little curious with Guice slated to return. Presumably, the Redskins want to get a long look at Guice, an exciting 2018 second-round pick. But Peterson will be around just in case. And after last season, it’s hard to dismiss the possibility of Peterson being very good yet again.

HOW MANY WINS DOES JAY GRUDEN NEED TO SAVE HIS JOB?

It’s a little cold, but not unfair to wonder if Alex Smith’s injury bought Gruden another year.

Had the Redskins not made the playoffs after a 6-3 start with Smith, Gruden would likely be gone already. Because of the circumstances, which included also losing Colt McCoy and having to sign Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson off the street, Gruden got a pass. In fact, the Redskins being as competitive as they were with Johnson reflected well on Gruden. Beating the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road with Johnson, who hadn’t started an NFL game since 2011, was impressive.

Yet, most coaches don’t get this much time, and no other coach has gotten this much time for owner Daniel Snyder. In five years, Gruden has never finished better than 9-7. He’s 0-1 in the playoffs. He hasn’t made the playoffs in three straight seasons. His record is 35-44-1. There are reasons to believe Gruden is a good coach in a bad situation, and Snyder seems to recognize that, but there won’t be endless patience. Presumably Gruden needs to win eight games this season — at least — to get another year.

It’s hard to figure out how Washington can be a playoff team. Yet, the Redskins always seem to be a little better than expected. They’ll be strong up front on defense, and perhaps Case Keenum or Dwayne Haskins gives them unexpectedly good quarterback play. Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson could be a very good running back tandem. This is a team that was 6-3 last season, and it’s not because Alex Smith was playing like an MVP candidate. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Washington could be in the playoff race.

There were reasons Dwayne Haskins slipped a little in the draft. He’s not a swift mover with light feet. He’s not yet great when he has to improvise. He doesn’t have a lot of experience, which might make the learning curve steep. He’s no sure thing. And if Haskins is bad, but the Redskins are not bad enough as a team to get a top-three pick and a marquee quarterback prospect, then what? It’s not like this is a young franchise on the rise. It needs a home run somewhere, preferably with the young Ohio State quarterback.

Washington is always a little better than you think it will be. So the Redskins probably won’t face-plant. But there’s nothing that indicates a special, unexpected run is coming, outside of surprise career years from multiple players and a big year from Keenum or Haskins. It’s a mediocre franchise that has done a stunning job in turning off its fanbase, without providing much for the remaining fans to get excited about down the road. Washington will likely be slightly below .500 again, start over at head coach, and move even further from the team’s glory days that fans wistfully remember.

32. Arizona Cardinals

31. Miami Dolphins

30. Oakland Raiders

29. New York Giants

28. Cincinnati Bengals

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab