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Washington has experienced quite an offseason. Between the team name change, some off-field issues, a damning report about the franchise culture behind closed doors and then head coach Ron Rivera’s unfortunate cancer diagnosis, there may not be an NFL team more ready to return to the field and embrace the new normal than Washington. While this team made several exciting additions over the course of the offseason, Washington is undoubtedly entering a rebuilding period. How good can we expect this team to be in 2020?

With the arrival of Rivera comes a new defensive system. Washington used its No. 2 overall pick on former Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young, who may be the most pro-ready player in this rookie class. Washington’s defense should be improved, but will it be able to single-handedly improve Washington’s 3-13 record? The offense has some intriguing pieces, but one has to wonder if Dwayne Haskins is truly the future under center, or if someone other than Terry McLaurin can step up as an offensive weapon.

Below, we will examine three bold predictions for Washington’s 2020 season. I believe a couple of new faces will step up and prove that this franchise is on the right track. 

1. Washington ranks top five in sacks

Despite the fact that Washington had the sixth-worst defense in terms of yards allowed per game last season, it recorded 46 sacks — which ranked No. 10 in the league. This unit struggled to defend both the run and the pass, but it did know how to get after the quarterback. Washington will build on that strength in 2020, and will be in the top five in sacks recorded.

Young figures to come in and make an immediate impact. In three seasons at Ohio State, he recorded 40.5 tackles for loss and 30.5 sacks — which ranks second in program history. Young was unanimously named to the 2019 All-Big Ten team and All-American team as well. His arrival in Washington is not the only reason I’m excited about this defensive front, however. The Carolina Panthers may have fired Rivera after last season, but his defense recorded 53 sacks in 2019 — which came in second behind the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 54. He’s bringing his 4-3 base defense to Washington, which is something that fits Washington’s personnel perfectly. Not only was Young a 4-3 defensive end, but so was Montez Sweat.

Washington actually traded back into the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft to select Sweat after a heart issue caused him to fall down draft boards. He quickly drew praise from both coaches and teammates early in training camp, and recorded 50 combined tackles, seven sacks and two passes defensed in his rookie season. His seven quarterback takedowns also ranked second on the team in 2019. Sweat came along as the year progressed, but like Young, he’s a true 4-3 defensive end, not a 3-4 outside linebacker. In this new scheme, Sweat will feel more at home with his hand in the dirt and his eyes not in pass coverage, but solely on the quarterback. Sweat played in a 4-3 during his two seasons at Mississippi State, and recorded 22.5 sacks and 30 tackles for loss. In his senior season, he was a First-Team All-American and First-Team All-SEC. I expect him to put up big numbers in his second NFL season.  

We haven’t even mentioned Ryan Kerrigan, who has recorded double-digit sacks in three of the past four seasons, or DaRon Payne, Jonathan Allen and last year’s sack leader in Matt Ioannidis. Washington has an absolutely loaded defensive line, and it’s going to be something that helps this team moving forward. 

2. Bryce Love emerges into RB No. 1

With Derrius Guice no longer a part of the team, all of the hype surrounding him has transferred to Love. The former Stanford standout was selected by Washington in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft after falling down draft boards following an ACL tear he suffered on the final play of his collegiate career. He didn’t play a single snap during his rookie season, but now the former Heisman runner-up is back healthy and ready to make an impact at the next level.

Adrian Peterson has been incredible for Washington, there is no doubt about it. Over the past two seasons, the future Pro Football Hall of Famer has rushed for 1,940 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Many have been predicting for years that the 35-year-old is finally ready to show his age on the field, but it just hasn’t happened yet. That could change in 2020 — which is fine, considering Washington loaded up at the running back position this offseason. Last month, Rivera told reporters that his coaching staff is excited that Love was officially cleared for football activity, and they will be watching him closely to see what he’s capable of in his first real training camp. 

In four years at Stanford, Love rushed for 3,865 yards and 30 touchdowns. He was one of the most dynamic running backs in college football over the past few seasons, and rushed for an incredible 2,118 yards during his junior year. Guice was in prime position to take over as Washington’s new lead back, but his alleged off-field activity has ruined any chance of reaching stardom in D.C. Now, in steps Love, who has a ton of potential. 

3. Dwayne Haskins proves he’s the future

To put it simply, this season will determine if Haskins will be Washington’s quarterback of the future. Haskins was not a prospect that was chosen by Rivera or this coaching staff, so they don’t have to move forward with him if they don’t want to. 

Haskins passed for 1,365 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in nine games last season. While those stats aren’t impressive on paper, Haskins took a gigantic step forward late in the season. He led Washington to a shocking 29-21 upset victory over the Panthers in Week 13, which ended up getting Rivera fired, and threw for a combined 394 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last two starts. People have asked me all offseason what Haskins has to do to prove he’s the definitive starter moving forward for Washington, and I don’t think there’s a certain stat he has to put up or goal he has to meet. I hate to compare Haskins and Daniel Jones of the New York Giants since they were a part of the same draft class, but Jones wasn’t NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, or a Pro Bowl/All-Pro guy. Still, the Giants are convinced he’s the right player to lead the Giants into the future. Washington fans need to feel the same way about Haskins as New York fans feel about Jones. 

Haskins has to remain healthy, show clear improvement from year one to year two and cut down on both misfires and turnovers. That upside has to be more evident in Year Two, and Rivera has to be convinced that Haskins is a legitimate starter in this league. I believe that’s possible, especially considering how this offseason has been a win for the former Ohio State star.

Haskins has said he has a new sense of urgency and has also really slimmed down over the past few months. When Haskins weighed in at the NFL combine last year, he was 231 pounds. Now, he claims that he is 220 pounds and has dropped his body fat percentage 7 percent. A slimmer Haskins should make for a more athletic Haskins, and I feel as though we will be able to see that in 2020. 

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