Commander Skill Players: Terry McLaurin, Antonio Gibson, and Question Marks

ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Commanders have intriguing choices among their skill position players. They have potential. But they also have uncertainty with that group because of injuries.

They could have the playmakers needed to win. They should add more this offseason just in case.

Commanders coach Ron Rivera has spent the offseason, thus far, explaining why the team will aggressively pursue a quarterback. And the main factor, he said, stems from confidence in the roster: Commanders believe the defense will be good in 2022, the offensive line has depth and running back Antonio Gibson finished strong and continues to improve.

And they have potential at the receiver.

“It’s a position we like,” Rivera said. “It’s a good position.”

The anchor is Terry McLaurin, who is coming off his second 1,000-yard season in his first three years. He and Gibson are surrounded by skilled players who have shown flashes of greatness but struggled to stay on the field last season.

Is it enough to win the NFC East? ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen says the answer will be determined by his starting quarterback. However, he says that even if Washington gets a mid-level starter like Jimmy Garoppolo, “I think it’s enough to compete in that division and that’s all you can ask for.”

Four players in particular have shown the ability to complement McLaurin and Gibson, giving the team an explosive attack. But his injury history could force Washington to add more competition.

Tight end Logan Thomas: He’s been one of Washington’s best free-agent signings in a while, a low-level 2020 addition who turned into a solid starter. In two seasons, he missed 10 games this year due to injuries, caught 90 passes, nine for touchdowns. Over the past two seasons he has been one of the most productive tight ends in the red zone, based on his size (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) and career path. He’s third among tight ends in the red zone receiving yards in the past two years combined, despite playing at least 10 fewer games than those ahead of him. And he’s a friendly target for Washington quarterbacks, who completed 68 percent of his shots. Only Dwayne Haskins was below 70 percent.

However, Thomas tore his ACL on Dec. 5 and there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready for the start of the season. If he is back in September and ready to go? Thomas is a valuable part of the offense.

Receiver Curtis Samuel: Washington envisioned him lining up wide, in the slot and in the backfield. A college running back, Samuel averaged 11.05 yards per catch in 2020 with Carolina. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner said he wanted to use Samuel as a target on the field when he was healthy. And those last two words defined Samuel’s 2021 season. He was never healthy and played in only five games and caught six passes. There is a track record that suggests Samuel will help Washington, but to what extent? Will soft-tissue injuries, first to the groin and then to the hamstring, break out this season? There is reason for optimism regarding Samuel, but fingers will be crossed as well. His presence would reduce the pressure on McLaurin.

“The key here is to get Samuel healthy,” Bowen said. «There is no question about the versatility and the impact that he can bring. It is the goal of stretching him in the middle of the field and a dynamic player with the ball in his hands ».

At the end of the season, Samuel said: “I’m mentally focused and locked in and really ready to go. I hadn’t felt like this in a long time. I’m going to put a lot of effort into trying to put myself and the team in the best position next year to win games.”

Running back JD McKissic: Like Thomas, he was an excellent signing in 2020 but dealt with injuries last season. He played in parts of 11 games, but caught 47 passes in two years with Washington. His versatility, due to his days as a college catcher, allows Washington to use him in a variety of routes.

He is coming off a neck injury and is a pending free agent. Washington wants to re-sign him and has no one else like him on the roster.

“He is a vital part of what they do,” Bowen said.

Dyami Brown Receiver: He was drafted in the third round last year for his speed (4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash). But Brown never became a deep target for Washington. He finished his rookie season with 12 catches for 165 yards and no touchdowns.

He was slowed down by a knee injury in early October, but managed to play 15 games. He showed late improvement, shining in Weeks 16-17 with three catches for a combined 78 yards, showing off his downfield speed as well as the ability to go up the middle. And they liked how he played the gunner in coverage, becoming more physical and competitive and using his hands to get free, traits they hope to translate to the receiver.

“Most of [my improvement] it came towards the end of the season. That’s when I really got a feel for the game and understood what was going on around me,” Brown said. “My technique was complete and I was able to fix it on the way.”

Bowen said Brown “has to be his outside vertical extension target.”

“We know what [McLaurin] can do. He’s a high-end road runner and a high-volume target, but they need complementary pieces around him. If everyone is healthy and on the right track, they have enough talent. The question goes back to: Who throws the ball to them?

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Commander Skill Players: Terry McLaurin, Antonio Gibson, and Question Marks