The Washington Redskins may be enduring a dismal start to the 2019 NFL season, but rookie receiver Terry McLaurin has been one of the few bright spots.
While the Redskins slide rapidly into irrelevance, McLaurin is making sure to remain relevant to fantasy football owners by producing consistently in his first three games.
The former Ohio State wideout has 16 catches for 257 yards and has caught a touchdown pass in every game but one (which he was inactive due to a hamstring injury suffered during practice).
McLaurin has quickly become a focal point of the offense. The combination of his target share and his big-play threat makes him a receiver worthy of starter consideration in all fantasy formats.
McLaurin was a consistent downfield playmaker at Ohio State, where he averaged 16.7 yards per reception and 20 yards per catch in 2018.
He has instantly established himself in the same role for the Redksins by using his speed and route-running acumen to burn NFL defenses as he did Big Ten opposition.
On only his second NFL catch, McLaurin torched the Philadelphia Eagles for a 69-yard touchdown. McLaurin quickly ate up the cushion between him and Rasul Douglas and, with no safety help over the top, gained significant separation on the deep post before tracking the ball into his grasp and easing in for the score.
McLaurin would have had another long touchdown in the third quarter had Case Keenum produced a more accurate throw.
On a very similar route, McLaurin attacked Sidney Jones’ inside leverage, forcing the corner to hesitate as he turned his hips. He then fought through attempted contact from Jones and broke free over the middle, only for Keenum to miss badly with an overthrow.
The success McLaurin has had in creating big plays is down to more than just his speed. His intelligence as a route-runner has been evident already this season and was critical to this significant gain against the Dallas Cowboys.
As McLaurin breaks to the inside, he does an excellent job of flattening and altering his route depth, giving the cornerback a longer path to the football. His adjustment gives him enough time to make the reception, and he then shows the power to shake an attempted tackle and pick up extra yardage.
In Week 3 against the Chicago Bears, McLaurin utilized the threat of his deep speed to deceive a defender and make a catch for a 17-yard gain. McLaurin had the defender on his heels by effectively selling a downfield route before gearing down and breaking to the outside.
The effectiveness of his route should have made it a simple catch, but a poor ball from Keenum forced McLaurin to make a spectacular diving sideline grab.
McLaurin is not just effective when he has space to get open. He has proven himself extremely capable of excelling in tight areas like the red zone.
Red Zone success
Though McLaurin is known for his speed, at 6’0″ and 210 pounds he is capable of operating as a possession receiver. He showcased his ability to win against tight coverage when going up against Cowboys corner Byron Jones in the red zone.
Here McLaurin engineers separation with a sharp right-hand push that forces Jones to work his way back around to the ball. McLaurin is rewarded for his show of aggression with time to make a simple catch, and he then turns upfield and gets the Redskins inside the Cowboys’ 10-yard line.
McLaurin caught a touchdown late in a one-sided win for the Cowboys, though it was his play on the preceding fourth down that was more impressive.
With four yards needed to move the sticks, McLaurin freezes Jones with a jab step to the left and hauls in a routine catch. He then demonstrates the advantage of his size and his determination by fighting for the first-down yardage with four defenders enveloping him.
The mix of McLaurin’s physicality and route-running smarts bore fruit in the red zone versus Chicago.
Lined up in the slot against Buster Skrine, McLaurin leans into the contact from the corner, breaking away from it at precisely the right moment. This ensures that the safety, who rotated to the left at the snap, would not be able to get across in time. Keenum’s throw is, on this occasion, well placed, and McLaurin gains just enough separation to make a tough catch before Skrine can break it up.
If McLaurin can stay healthy, his long-term prospects for this season are incredibly bright regardless of who is playing quarterback.
Having capitalized on the 20 targets he has through three games, McLaurin has ensured he will be a favorite of Case Keenum should he remain the quarterback.
His role will likely expand if Dwayne Haskins takes the reins under center, with the pair having a well-established rapport from their season together at Ohio State in 2018.
Regular targets are all but guaranteed for McLaurin. Although the sample size remains relatively small, McLaurin has done enough to be considered a reliable fantasy option as he produces downfield plays and touchdowns consistently.
While the injury sustained ahead of the game against the New York Giants made him a surprise inactive last week, I expect it was more of a prudent decision. Without the rookie, it was even more apparent of his value to the offense and their underwhelming quarterback play.
Victories look set to be few for Washington in 2019 but, in McLaurin, the Redskins have a bright young star receiver, and fantasy owners have a promising WR2.
Nicholas McGee is a writer for Pro Football Network’s Film Room. Follow him on Twitter @nicholasmcgee24.