- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2019

Ask anyone outside the District about the Washington Redskins — especially national pundits — and they’re bound to have the lowest of low expectations for the team in 2019.

It crops up everywhere you look: Fantasy football experts don’t like their skill players. Just about everyone has them near the bottom of their NFL power rankings. One bookmaking website made Jay Gruden the favorite to be the first coach handed a pink slip this year. Not to mention: Washington’s star left tackle is still MIA and doesn’t appear ready to show up anytime soon.

External expectations may not be high for the Redskins this upcoming season — USA Today predicted them to go 3-13 — but Gruden understands the reality of the situation: Washington needs to prove it before people buy in.

“Performance is king and our record these last two years we were 7-9,” Gruden said last month. “In the National Football League, you got to win to keep your job, and we have to get it turned around.”

Gruden has always been optimistic Washington has what it takes to win. Oddsmakers, however, don’t feel the same way. Bovada, an online sportsbook, has Washington 5-to-1 underdogs to make the playoffs and set the team’s over/under at 6 ½ win



Further, another sportsbook, Bookmaker.eu, listed Gruden as a 3-to-1 favorite to be the first coach fired next season, followed by Giants coach Pat Shurmur at 7-to-1. While owner Dan Snyder hasn’t made an in-season head coaching change since 2000, Gruden even joked about being fired if the Redskins don’t make the playoffs.

Gruden’s return was not a given after Washington went from a 6-3 start to a 7-9 finish last year, missing the postseason again amid brutal quarterback injuries. But several days after Week 17, the front office confirmed Gruden would return as coach. He is already the longest-tenured coach under Snyder.

Meanwhile, a quarter of the league pressed “reset” and changed head coaches in the offseason, so it’s not hard to imagine Gruden being the next coach in danger of being axed.

So why are experts so low on this year’s team? For one, Washington’s offense doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. The Redskins still haven’t decided on a starting quarterback — and all three signal-callers (Colt McCoy, Case Keenum and Dwayne Haskins) aren’t regarded in the league’s top tier. And who knows when — or if — seven-time Pro Bowler Trent Williams will end his holdout and return to the Redskins.

Even from a pure fantasy football perspective, ESPN’s Matthew Berry ranks Derrius Guice, Washington’s projected starting running back, as the 68th overall player to draft in fantasy football and the 29th best running back available. Sports Illustrated’s ranking of the top 200 fantasy football players only included four Redskins, led by Guice (No. 82 overall). So your fantasy draft might come and go with only two or three Washington players good enough to be taken.

But fantasy football comes down to raw stats, and wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard was not concerned about whether any of his players would have a breakout season statistically. In his view, football is “the ultimate team sport,” and their lack of a star wideout does not have to damper expectations for the team overall.

“I think we all understand — and I don’t want to pat myself on the back — we know what we have to endure in this type of offense,” Hilliard said. “We’re not going to have a guy that’s gonna have 140 targets on the season.”

If fans are surely frustrated over the Redskins‘ lack of progress in recent years — maybe make that decades — they’re not the only ones. Before Jonathan Allen was drafted by the Redskins in 2017, the defensive lineman grew up a Washington fan after going to high school in Ashburn, and fondly remembers the team making the playoffs during Robert Griffin III’s rookie season in 2012.

Then, Allen remembers that was seven years ago.

“That sucks,” he said. “If we don’t win, it doesn’t really matter about stats.”

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