That group of wide receivers, along with Haskins, represents the future of the Redskins’ passing game. Since the trio of McLaurin, Harmon and Quinn started during a Week 9 loss at the Buffalo Bills, the young wideouts have continued to take on a bigger role for the offense. And while the development of Haskins, the 15th pick of this year’s draft, is the most important factor for the franchise’s future success, the final five weeks of the season provide an opportunity to see what the young receiving corps can do.
“Me, Terry, Stevie and Dwayne talk about how we’re the young guys,” Harmon said. “And we’re the ones who are going to be the future and putting the team on our back. We all pass through the same thing, whether it’s sitting on the bench or having to fight for a spot, we all watch each other go through that so we can feel each other and feed off each other.”
McLaurin was the only one to have immediate success. It became clear he would give the NFL problems with his top-end speed, immaculate routes and sticky hands during his five-catch, 125-yard, one-touchdown debut in the opener at Philadelphia. He leads the team with 40 catches, 638 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns, and he is on pace to break Gary Clark’s franchise rookie record of 926 receiving yards set in 1985.
Harmon has shown flashes as he has gotten more opportunities, posting eight receptions for 96 yards on 12 targets over the past two games after getting just nine targets in the first nine games. Quinn has been frustrated by his unproductive season. He has struggled to get open and has recorded just 26 catches for 198 yards after being given the starting slot receiver role when Jamison Crowder left in free agency. Sims has been used primarily on misdirection plays in addition to his role as the kick returner.
The young wideouts had their fingerprints all over Sunday’s victory. McLaurin stretched out for a 17-yard reception to set up the final field goal — one of his five catches for 72 yards on 12 targets. Harmon, with his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame, may have pulled in the team’s best catch of the season, an extended one-hander. In addition to his kickoff return for a score, Sims took another one 33 yards.
“We try to speak it into existence, and we talk about it a lot when we’re just hanging out,” McLaurin said. “But at the same time, we’re just all learning and progressing as we go. We all know — and it’s no surprise — that the young guys need to step up. And I felt like we took a big step forward on Sunday, and I feel like that can continue.”
Interim coach Bill Callahan has been hesitant to declare Washington’s season a bust despite its 2-9 record, but it’s clear the team is trying to get more playing time for its young players. Injuries to wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr. and tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis have accelerated the youth movement in the receiving corps.
“We have a young nucleus of guys on this team,” McLaurin said. “I feel like we’re all hungry just to earn a role, earn a spot on this organization, this team, and provide in any way that we can."
The passing game’s growth will be a process. Haskins still has work to do in reading defenses, throwing accurately and being a mature leader. McLaurin looks like a star in the making, but Quinn has had a sophomore slump and Harmon must show week-to-week consistency. Sims has been dynamic with the ball in his hands, but he hasn’t proved himself to be a reliable pass catcher.
So far, however, the Redskins’ coaches seem to be pleased with what they are seeing out of their young wide receivers, particularly a rookie class that will be counted on to grow alongside its first-round quarterback.
“All of our draft picks checked two boxes for me,” offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell said. “The skill sets that we’re looking for and the important one: Do they love football? And that’s what helps through the growing processes that they go through. You notice that these guys love football. These guys show up every day, [and] they work. When I’m installing plays . . . I can turn around and see those guys with a pen in their hands writing down those details, hoping that they translate to give themselves the best possible success transition on Sunday.”