ASHBURN — No team wants to lose a starter to injury. But last week, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said linebacker Jon Bostic’s season-ending torn pectoral muscle would mean more playing time for first-rounder Jamin Davis. And that, Del Rio added, would be “good for him, good for us.”
There was only one problem in Del Rio’s silver lining: Davis’ snaps did not increase. Instead, the rookie logged just 13 plays in Sunday’s loss against the New Orleans Saints — a season low.
“What we’re doing (is dictated) by game plans,” coach Ron Rivera said.
Davis isn’t the team’s only rookie to spend most of the time watching from the sidelines. Over the weekend, third-round cornerback Benjamin St-Juste also played the fewest snaps of his young career with 12. Even second-rounder Sam Cosmi, who’s started all five games at tackle, went down with an ankle injury in the first half. The rookie who logged the most snaps? Seventh-round receiver Dax Milne (34).
The limited contributions from Washington’s draft class stand in stark contrast to what the team received last season. A year ago, defensive end Chase Young, running back Antonio Gibson and safety Kam Curl were high-impact starters whose youthful energy played a big part in the 7-9 team’s surprising division title.
But so far, heading into this weekend’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, most of Washington’s rookies have yet to make an impact. Cosmi is the lone exception, though he missed Wednesday’s practice and his status is still unknown for Sunday.
“There’s a learning curve for them,” Rivera said. “You wish that they could get a little bit more (playing) time, but it’s still early. I mean, we’ve only played a little more than a quarter of the season, so I’m still optimistic because I still think we have guys that if we could play to our abilities, we create opportunities to win.”
To be fair, Rivera has a point. There are 12 games left in the regular season. Even looking at last season, Washington’s trio of Young, Gibson and Curl dramatically improved as the year progressed. Gibson, for instance, only had 213 rushing yards through five games in 2020 — and he finished with 795.
Washington was far from perfect with its 2020 class. Fourth-rounders Antonio Gandy-Golden and Saahdiq Charles have hardly seen the field after both struggled with injuries as rookies. Fifth-round linebacker Khaleke Hudson was mostly a backup, and that hasn’t changed in his second year. Fifth-round center Keith Ismael sits on the practice squad.
Not every rookie starts with a bang. Players like Cincinnati wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (23 catches for 456 yards) and Dallas linebacker Micah Parsons (2 1/2 sacks) — two front-runners for offensive and defensive rookie of the year this season — are the exception, not the norm.
Plenty of other rookies are adjusting to the harsh realities of the league. Just look at top quarterbacks in Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence (six touchdowns, eight interceptions) and the Jets’ Zach Wilson (four touchdowns, nine picks).
Still, the problem with Washington’s rookies is that, outside of Cosmi and long-snapper Camaron Cheeseman, the results have been ugly when they do get on the field.
Davis, for example, was on the field for two of the Saints’ five touchdowns — despite only playing 23% of the snaps. Those numbers get worse when factoring that both scores came in the second quarter, when Davis was on the field for only three snaps.
On the first score, the Kentucky product missed an assignment in the A-gap, leaving a wide-open hole for running back Alvin Kamara to burst through for a 23-yard touchdown.
But even before Sunday’s rough outing, Davis’ high moments have been few. He made a nice stop on fourth-and-2 in the Week 3 loss to the Buffalo Bills, but generally, the 22-year-old is adjusting to the speed and pace of the NFL. Rivera has said inexperienced linebackers often hesitate early on in their careers, and that appears to be happening with Davis.
St-Juste, meanwhile, is experiencing similar growing pains. According to Pro Football Focus, the Chargers targeted St-Juste a game-high 10 times and completed seven passes for 70 yards. Rivera noted how the Chargers went after St-Juste with back-shoulder throws.
“With him, it’s not the X’s and O’s as much as it’s learning the nuances of the position,” Rivera said.
Injuries haven’t helped. Third-round receiver Dyami Brown missed last week’s game with a knee injury, while fifth-round safety Darrick Forrest (knee) has been on injured reserve since Week 1.
Others like seventh-rounders Shaka Toney and William Bradley-King have either been inactive (Toney) or on the practice squad (Bradley-King). Some have been limited to mostly backup roles, like fourth-round tight end John Bates and Milne.
Perhaps by the end of the season, the group — or at least a few — will have taken a step forward. Star wide receiver Terry McLaurin isn’t giving up on the rookies. He praised the way that Brown has tried to work on his game each day, even as the wideout has been hurt and dealt with drops early on.
“I’m still really excited to see what he can do this year,” McLaurin said. “We’re only five games in. There’s a lot of season left.”