McLaurin needed a complement. But Washington might have done even better.
“I think we went out and got a few complements to Terry,” Coach Ron Rivera said in May. “I think that group can be very dynamic for us.”
Through free agency and the draft, Washington rebuilt its receivers room to create a dynamic mix of talent. It signed Curtis Samuel, a receiver/running back hybrid with 4.31-second speed in the 40-yard dash; added Adam Humphries, a seventh-year wideout who has played primarily in the slot; drafted Dyami Brown, a vertical threat out of North Carolina, in the third round; and selected Dax Milne, the top target for No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson at BYU, in the seventh.
Washington also signed DeAndre Carter, a veteran who doubles as a returner, and welcomed back Kelvin Harmon from an ACL injury that sidelined him in 2020. And it still has several of its young players from last season, including Cam Sims, Steven Sims Jr., Isaiah Wright and Antonio Gandy-Golden.
“We have every skill set. There’s not something that’s lacking,” wide receivers coach Drew Terrell said Monday. “We have real vertical threats, we have guys that can play inside, guys that can play outside, guys that can move around and do different things, play multiple positions.”
Samuel, who was McLaurin’s first roommate at Ohio State, played for Rivera with Carolina and reminded the coach of what he was missing in Washington when the teams met last season. He recorded a career-best 158 scrimmage yards at FedEx Field in December, creating big plays from the backfield, the slot and out wide as Carolina’s Swiss Army knife.
“If he’s an outside player, playing the X or Z, you can account for him here, but when he is in the slot, it’s a whole other thing depending on if you like their matchup,” Rivera said as he explained the thought process in scouting Samuel. “Is the nickel capable of covering more if he’s in the slot, or is that a linebacker over him? Now he motions across the formation. Now we have to be ready for a jet sweep or be ready for some sort of pulling, trap or helping inside because Curtis has the ability to run inside as well. There are a lot of variables that come into trying to scout a multi-positional player like Curtis Samuel.”
Coordinator Scott Turner’s offense values versatility, and Washington already had multiple players with dual skill sets, including receivers-turned-running backs J.D. McKissic and Antonio Gibson and quarterback-turned-tight end Logan Thomas.
Washington discovered another versatile option in Cam Sims, who became the “glue to the group,” as Terrell said, by playing all three receiver positions — in addition to contributing to all four special teams units. Adding Samuel, as well as Humphries and Brown, has the potential to create an even bigger burden on opposing defenses.
“What it does is stretch the field,” Turner said. “What we did last year was play well sideline to sideline as far as horizontally stretching the field, getting completions that way, moving guys to open up holes for the run game and that type of thing. Now, if you can stretch the field vertically, it opens up the intermediate passing game, the short passing game. Instead of catching it and getting tackled for a seven-yard gain, maybe it’s a 12-yard gain. Those things add up. If the defense is worried about the downfield passing, it opens up the run.
“It just all complements each other.”
It also creates more chances for big plays. Last year, Washington had only 94 explosive plays — receptions of 12-plus yards and rushes of 16-plus yards — to tie for the third fewest in the NFL, according to Sportradar. McLaurin accounted for nearly 28 percent of those.
“We need to be more explosive and create more big plays,” Turner said. “If we do that, everything else takes care of itself.”
The influx of talent also adds competition — for roster spots and playing time — to a unit that was thin last season. Washington retained five receivers on its initial 53-man roster, but the group changed over the course of the season because of injuries and other positional needs.
Discovering that initial core this year will make for some difficult decisions at the end of training camp. But it also should give a better indication of how diverse Washington’s offense can be in Year 2 under Turner.
Turner’s system — which is a version of the Air Coryell offense that his father, Norv, ran with Carolina, Washington and elsewhere — relies heavily on misdirection and a vertical attack, and it uses a heavy dose of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three receivers). According to Sharp Football Stats, Washington used three receivers on 67 percent of its plays in 2020, the 10th-highest rate in the league.
To Humphries, this was part of the appeal of signing with Washington. So was the team’s need for a reliable receiver inside, but he refuses to label himself as purely a slot.
“It’s a certain skill that you have to have just to make those decisions quickly,” he said. “… I think the cool thing about some of the guys we have with this team this year is we can move guys around and be successful in different parts of the field.”
The same holds true for Brown, the rookie who averaged more than 20 yards per catch over his last two seasons at North Carolina. Brown, who led the ACC with 1,099 receiving yards last year and ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, gives Washington more speed and another deep target for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on the outside.
But his strengths are perceived more as assets for the group. His speed creates space for the other receivers — and puts additional stress on the defense.
“The goal is to have your five eligible skill players, whether it’s receivers, backs or tight ends, to all be playmakers so the defense can’t focus on one or the other,” Turner said. “To me, that’s what true balance is.”