2018 Redskins Position Previews: Quarterback

With 2018 training camp only days away, we begin the annual Redskins Position Previews. We will look at every position on the team, the players vying for jobs, and try to figure out who will still be wearing a burgundy and gold uniform when the regular season begins — and what their role will be.

Projected starters are in bold.

We begin today with Quarterback.

ON THE ROSTER: Alex Smith, Colt McCoy, Kevin Hogan

NEW: Alex Smith, Kevin Hogan

DEPARTED: Kirk Cousins

ANALYSIS: The Redskins, having botched negotiations with Kirk Cousins a couple of years ago, finally gave up on signing him when it became abundantly clear that he had no intention of re-signing with the team. Finally showing a bit of initiative, the team moved quickly, trading a third round pick and slot cornerback Kendall Fuller for veteran Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith, the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Smith will turn 34 later this year. Washington immediately signed Smith to a long-term deal that will probably see him ending his career as a Redskin.

Smith had a spectacular season with the Chiefs in 2017, finishing in the top three in passer rating, completion percentage, adjusted net yards per pass attempt, and interception percentage, and leading his team to an AFC West division championship. Smith’s 104.7 passer rating actually led the NFL in 2017. The Chiefs scored 415 points last season, 6th most in the NFL and 73 more points than the Redskins scored.

In fact, Smith had the best season of his entire career, posting career-best numbers in passing yards, touchdown passes, interception ratio, adjusted yards per attempt, yards per completion, passer rating, and QBR.

Smith, who some dismissed for years as “Captain Checkdown,” turned into the best deep passer in the NFL in 2017, as long scores to players like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce became standard fare on NFL highlight shows. Was Smith’s career year just a blip and nothing more or is he actually getting better with age? He had good weapons to work with in Kansas City, can Washington offer him the same offensive array to exploit?

Much depends on three things:

  1. Is 2017 Alex Smith who the Skins will be getting?
  2. Can TE Jordan Reed stay healthy?
  3. Is Josh Doctson finally ready to realize his vast potential?

Smith has a record of 69-31-1 since the start of the 2011 season. Only Tom Brady has a better winning percentage since that time. In other words, Alex Smith wins games, at least in the regular season. Smith’s 2-5 postseason record does not inspire as much confidence, but the fact that he has a 14-2 TD pass to INT ratio on those seven playoff games indicates the problem might have have been him.

Smith should have a strong offensive line in front of him, if it is healthier than last year, and an attack featuring Derrius Guice, Chris Thompson, Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Jamison Crowder, Paul Richardson, and JoshDoctson ought to be able to rack up some yards and points.

Colt McCoy is the backup to Smith, just as he was to Cousins, and in the last year of his contract, might be looking to move on after 2018. That could be just fine with the Redskins if newcomer Kevin Hogan, who played in eight games with the woeful Cleveland Browns the last two seasons, with just one start to his name, can emerge as a plausible backup. Hogan didn’t blow anyone away during OTAs, so his stay in Washington might be brief. But the team traded for him so it clearly believes he has some potential.

STRONGER OR WEAKER?: The quarterbacks position is probably a bit stronger in 2018 than 2017. On the one hand, Kirk Cousins new the Jay Gruden system inside and out and ran it better than anyone ever has. There is no way Smith will know the system as well as Cousins did when the regular season begins. On the other hand, Smith is a more athletic player than Cousins, with a real history of winning and clearly learned a lot from offensive gurus like Jim Harbaugh and Andy Reid, both former head coaches of Smith. In addition, Cousins does not have a history of winning, with a career record of 26-30-1 and even in the last three years is only one game above .500. I’m one who thinks QB won/loss records are overrated, but the differences between Smith and Cousins on this score are too vast to be ignored.

The early bet here is that Smith’s superior athleticism and pedigree slightly outweigh his lesser experience in the Gruden system.

LAST WORDS: Smith will start. McCoy will back him up. Hogan is fighting for a roster spot and must start impressing to convince the team to keep an extra quarterback at the expense of a position in greater need.

Alex Smith has done about all he can do to excel as a regular season quarterback. Now he needs some postseason success. That would suit the Skins just fine, a team that has had virtually no postseason success since January 1993.