Commentary

Campbell set for year two under Zorn

Will one of the young receivers emerge to help out?

Updated: July 29, 2009, 12:23 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Coming off a ho-hum, forgettable 8-8 performance in the first season of the Jim Zorn era, the Redskins opened up their wallets this offseason. Problem is, none of their additions could exactly be classified as attention-grabbing moves by fantasy owners.

All-Pro Albert Haynesworth, arguably the most talented defensive tackle in football, was the team's most prominent pickup, signing a whopping seven-year, $100-million contract. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall was granted a six-year contract extension worth up to $55 million, and the team also selected defensive end Brian Orakpo 13th overall in the draft. But none of those moves does more than upgrade the defense, and considering Washington's D ranked 23rd in fantasy points in 2008, it's probably not enough to make the unit that attractive a pick. It's a stronger unit, but let's not go overboard.

On the offensive side, guard Derrick Dockery inked a five-year, $26.5-million deal to return to the team he left in search of big bucks two short years ago. Problem is, Dockery is an offensive lineman; outside of the impact on the quarterback and running backs, fantasy owners scarcely care about such moves.

Jason Campbell
Geoff Burke/US PresswireJason Campbell tossed just seven TD passes in his final 12 games in 2008.
No, what matters most to the fantasy owner is that the offensive core, which largely underperformed in Zorn's version of the West Coast offense, returns almost entirely intact. Front and center is quarterback Jason Campbell, who spent his winter and spring hearing all the talk that his time in D.C. was done … yet at the onset of training camp remained the team's de facto starter.

Not that Campbell performed poorly in 2008, placing 14th among quarterbacks in fantasy points and throwing the fewest interceptions of any passer with at least 250 attempts. Of course, he also threw the ninth-fewest touchdowns (13) of any passer with that many attempts … and finished 14th among quarterbacks in fantasy points, which is still not good enough to make him a weekly starter in most formats. He'll need to be more productive in the final year of his contract if he wants a future in Washington.

Getting more production out of his receivers might help. Chris Cooley, one of the most skilled pass-catching tight ends in the game, had his touchdown total plummet to one, and 2008 second-rounders Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly and Fred Davis were total busts as rookies. To that end, Cooley is expected to get more red-zone work in 2009, and the latter three will get chances to redeem themselves.

What to look for in camp

Key position battles: Either Kelly or Thomas desperately needs to step up and claim a starting job, or at least enough of a role in the offense to get work out of the slot. Antwaan Randle El's annual average of 40 receptions, 343 receiving yards and one score -- never deviating by more than six catches, 199 yards or one score from those numbers in his seven seasons -- is simply unacceptable from a starting No. 2 receiver. He's not cut out to be much more than a No. 3 on a league-average team. Besides, the two sophomores need to restore the faith the team had in them when they were selected so high in the 2008 draft.

The preseason will be a critical time for evaluation purposes with the duo; one of the primary knocks on Kelly and Thomas during their rookie campaigns was a lack of knowledge of the team's playbook. Kelly is the bigger of the two, making him a bit more of a red-zone option, while Thomas is the speedier receiver who could eat up yardage, but we'd need to hear glowing reports on one or both before either would warrant even a late-round selection.

Fitting in: Haynesworth and Orakpo are the Redskins' two most significant additions, and they both address a key weakness of the 2008 squad, that being an inability to pressure the quarterback. In spite of its No. 7 ranking against the pass and No. 8 rank defending the run, Washington ranked fourth-worst in sacks with 24. Credit the Redskins for recognizing their flaw in that area instead of resting on their laurels with their high rankings in the other departments; by addressing their pass rush they might have a few more starter-worthy outings for fantasy. Remember, sacks and turnovers are paramount in fantasy; Washington's lack of them in 2008 was a primary reason the defense wasn't exciting for our purposes.

On the line: Six-time Pro Bowler Chris Samuels is the rock of the Washington offensive line, a strength for the team both in running and passing situations, but he's also representative of many of the concerns with this unit. He's getting up there in years, set to turn 32 at the onset of training camp, and he's a health risk, having undergone triceps and knee surgeries in December. Looking at the five projected starters on the unit, their average age will be 31.6 at the start of the regular season, and the group has missed 35 games total the past two seasons combined. Concerns about the rapidly aging O-line were largely behind the team's decision to let left guard Pete Kendall go following the 2008 season and replace him by bringing back former Redskin Derrick Dockery, at 29 the youngest starter of the five. With Samuels and Dockery back to their old tricks, Washington's offensive line might look stout on paper, but the risk of injuries and age-related decline will threaten it more than it would almost any other unit in the league.

Depth is a real problem, especially at center, where there are precious few stand-ins should Casey Rabach miss time. Still, risk or not, barring the worst it's hard to see this group tailing off to the extent it did late last year. There's little reason to think this team can't squeeze out one more productive season.

The bottom line

Campbell's numbers might suggest he adapted poorly to the West Coast offense, but give the guy a break, he was working in either a new offense or under a new offensive coordinator for the eighth consecutive season (dating back to his time at Auburn). In his second year working with Zorn, he might yet figure things out, especially with his contract status following the year uncertain and the two almost certain to be shown the door if they disappoint again. The seeds of a Campbell breakout campaign would be sown during the preseason, so keep careful tabs on his progress and the reports out of camp. If you don't hear anything you like, chances are he'll be locked in as a fantasy backup.

As Campbell goes, the rest of the offense goes. Santana Moss cannot contend for top-10 status without a quality quarterback to get him the ball, and while the progress of Thomas, Kelly and Davis will have an effect on Campbell's numbers, that goes both ways. How the now-veteran passer is working with any of those three in the preseason might hint at the potency of this offense.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is an FSWA award-winning fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.