For his second season, Terry McLaurin will have to overcome what is typical for receivers coming off a breakout year.
Game plans will now be centered around stopping the 24-year-old. Every week, he’ll likely face every opposing team’s top corner — and then a safety over the top for good measure.
The extra attention follows McLaurin’s spectacular campaign in which he racked up 919 receiving yards, the 18th-most by a rookie since the turn of the century.
McLaurin needs to adapt, but there are ways Washington can help him out.
A second wide receiver must emerge, for starters.
With McLaurin being Washington’s clear No. 1 receiver, the team would benefit greatly if a second player can produce consistently enough to draw attention from opponents. But who that will be is anyone’s guess. Someone will start opposite of McLaurin, whether that’s fourth-rounder Antonio Gandy-Golden, veteran Dontrelle Inman, or perhaps someone not even yet on the roster. The more important question is whether he can be productive — and reliable.
“Crystal ball, I wish I could look into the future and tell you that I’ve got a definite but I don’t,” wide receivers coach Jim Hostler said Thursday. “That is part of the fun of this whole thing as it is anyway.”
The “fun” that Hostler is referring to is the competition the team is holding during training camp. As of now, Hostler said he has “no idea” of who will come next in the pecking order for the position. Beyond the spot opposite across McLaurin — the “Z,” or the strong side of the formation — Steven Sims, Trey Quinn and Darvin Kidsy are competing at slot receiver.
But Washington needs production. Last season, it ranked dead last in points (16.6) and passing yards (175.75) per game. Washington didn’t get much out of its receiving core besides McLaurin, either. Chris Thompson had the second-most receiving yards on Washington with 378 — and he’s a running back who now plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars. If looking at just wideouts, then Kelvin Harmon was second with 365 yards.
Harmon, though, is out for the year after tearing his ACL in June. The 2019 sixth-rounder had made encouraging strides in the last half of the season, but now won’t see the field until 2021.
Washington understands wide receiver is a question mark, which is why the franchise tried to upgrade the position in the offseason. The team offered Amari Cooper north of $100 million before the Pro Bowler decided to re-sign with the Dallas Cowboys. Not landing a marquee free agent, Washington used draft picks on Gandy-Golden and Antonio Gibson, the latter who is a running back but can play multiple positions.
Hostler, specifically, mentioned Gandy-Golden as someone who fits into what Washington is trying to build. Coach Ron Rivera prefers bigger receivers and Gandy-Golden, quite literally, fits the description at 6-foot-4.
At Liberty, Gandy-Golden had the fourth-most receiving yards in the nation (1,396) and is a sizable threat in the red zone. There are some concerns related to the 21-year-old’s speed, but speaking to reporters, Hostler said Gandy-Golden plays faster than his 4.6 40-yard dash.
“We pay no attention to that,” Hostler said. “It is all about how fast you are on the field. He is side-by-side with a guy that runs a 4.3 or 4.4.”
It is possible that the second option in Washington’s offense isn’t a wide receiver. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner likes to heavily involve running backs and tight ends in his scheme. Former coach Jay Gruden liked to incorporate those players as well, though running backs coach Randy Jordan said backs in Turner’s system have a much-expanded route tree. Under Turner, running back Christian McCaffrey led the Panthers in targets (142) and receptions (116). McCaffrey finished second in receiving yards behind wideout D.J. Moore.
Washington, of course, doesn’t have a talent like McCaffrey. It does, however, have youth. The average age of Washington’s wideouts is just 24 years old and only two — Inman and Cody Latimer (on the NFL exempt list) — have played in more than 16 games.
Hostler said Washington’s group is so inexperienced, there’s not much game film for wideouts near the bottom of the roster.
“There will be somebody that emerges and hopefully that one person we’re sitting here talking about next year as, ‘Oh, he had a breakout season just like we were talking about one guy from last year,’” Hostler said. “Hopefully that is the way that it goes.
“Hopefully it is maybe more than one or two guys and then we can build a solid depth receiving corps moving down the road.”