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Logan Thomas’s career day validates Washington’s offseason gamble

Logan Thomas’s career day was a bright spot — less for what was new and more for the fact that it’s becoming commonplace. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

In a season defined by offensive instability, one of the Washington Football Team’s only constants has been Logan Thomas. The tight end’s presence has contrasted with the unit’s personnel churn, and all year it has seemed as though the team’s quarterback, whoever it is, has looked to him with increasing frequency — and Thomas has always been there.

Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks was the perfect example. There were no mind-boggling feats of athleticism that would go viral online, no home run plays that would change the outcome, but he was consistent, finding holes in the defense and turning them into gains. Thomas caught Dwayne Haskins’s first positive pass. He converted a pair of key third downs. He snagged four passes in six plays on one early drive, the last a 20-yarder that brought the team to the doorstep of the red zone.

“Logan is a beast, man,” Haskins said. “[He] understands the solid pockets of defenses, having seen it from a quarterback’s perspective, and then [he’s] savvy enough as a route runner to [exploit] the solid pockets. He’s a [good enough] athlete to get away from man coverage, and he’s put it all together.”

Svrluga: Does Dwayne Haskins have a future in Washington? Sunday’s loss didn’t provide the answer.

This reliability, combined with Haskins’s quick trigger, turned a 20-15 loss to the Seahawks into a career day for Thomas. His 13 catches and 101 yards were single-game highs, and he missed tying the franchise record for receptions in a game by one (Roy Helu, 14 in 2011). But the numbers overshadow the real importance of this performance, which is that it wasn’t a surprise. Thomas has been building toward this all season, improving and enduring as seemingly everyone around him shuffled in and out.

Now Thomas is an indispensable part of the offense. He is averaging more than seven targets per game over the past seven games and is seeing 30.4 percent of his team’s targets in the red zone, the fourth-highest rate in the NFL, according to Sportradar. This usage has made Thomas, at least statistically, a borderline top-10 tight end leaguewide.

This means Thomas is in range of Washington’s mammoth preseason expectations. In April, Coach Ron Rivera said the coaching staff saw in Thomas “glimpses” of Greg Olsen, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who played nine seasons under Rivera with the Carolina Panthers. During training camp, Rivera continued to assert the 29-year-old former quarterback was the solution at tight end. Rivera sees parallels between Thomas and running back J.D. McKissic.

“These are guys that we brought in knowing that — at least we felt — that these are guys getting ready to take the next step,” Rivera said. “They most certainly showed it and have played like it. They really are a part of what we’re trying to do as we go forward as a football team.”

Thomas’s production is of immense value. OverTheCap.com, a salary cap analysis website, compares a player’s statistical output to his contract with a metric called valuations. Thomas is owed $3.07 million this season, but according to OTC he has played like a tight end worth more than triple that ($9.44 million). This is slightly less than what Austin Hooper, the tight end Washington fans clamored for in free agency, will be paid this year ($10.5 million).

Nine months later, the difference in value is stark. OTC tabs Hooper as the fourth-highest-paid tight end and the 21st most valuable. Thomas is the sixth most valuable and the 30th-highest-paid player at the position.

Yet Thomas’s value is heightened in Washington’s scheme. He has shown savvy in the Air Coryell-based system, which relies on running backs and tight ends to keep the offense on schedule by turning check-downs into first downs. There were several examples of this Sunday, including on one second-quarter drive when Thomas turned three short targets into gains of 11, 11 and 20. After the game, Haskins said, Thomas noted Haskins targeted him 15 times.

“I had no idea,” Haskins said. “But he was getting first downs for me, and you can’t complain about that.”

Washington doesn’t have ‘the best defense in football’ yet, and it showed against the Seahawks

The growth of Thomas is key for a rebuilding offense. He has been a rock as the team has struggled to run without injured running back Antonio Gibson and rotated through wide receivers all season (Dontrelle Inman, Steven Sims Jr., Isaiah Wright, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Robert Foster). This steadfastness lets the front office worry first about other positions, and it forces defenses to divert attention from Terry McLaurin, which the wide receiver himself called “vital.”

“Logan has really executed at a high level,” McLaurin said. “To be able to pass-catch and make guys miss and get open and get separation like he can at that size is pretty impressive. … [He] and the quarterbacks — whether it’s been Alex [Smith] or Dwayne — they have been connecting a lot, and that just helps our offense as a whole.”

For his part, Thomas said he did Sunday what he has done all season. He learned on the field, not only what this style of defense would do against him but how a smart team “used to winning” would react to being pushed. He also deflected credit by attributing his career day to Haskins “getting through his progressions and getting to his check-downs.”

“He did a good job,” Thomas said. “Obviously I’m thankful to be one of the guys that was the recipient of [the check-downs], but I’d love to have a ‘W’ instead.”

Read more about Washington NFL:

Hail or Fail: Thanks to Fox’s fancy end zone cameras, Washington’s loss at least looked cool

Washington’s late rally falls short in 20-15 loss to Seahawks

As praise pours in for Washington football, Ron Rivera needs to mix confidence with caution

Boswell: With a fresh roster and some good luck, Washington became a football team worth watching again

Barry Svrluga: Chase Young demands attention — and now Washington’s football team does, too

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