Ron Rivera's free agency approach was simple: fill needs while fostering as much competition as possible. As the Washington Football team's new head coach, Rivera needed to see what he had before determining the next steps to build a sustainable, winning culture.
Rivera brought back established starting cornerback Kendall Fuller, but aside from him, Washington's free agent class was filled with lesser-known players on short-term deals. If they excelled, they could re-sign with Washington. If not, the team could easily move on.
With the regular season over and Washington in the playoffs for the first time since 2015, many of these players have worked out. Of the 13 players signed in the beginning of free agency, only safety Sean Davis, wide receiver Cody Latimer, tight end Richard Rodgers and offensive lineman Jeremy Vujnovich are no longer with the franchise. Eight of the nine others have started at least two games, while running back J.D. McKissic, tackle Cornelius Lucas, linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis and tight end Logan Thomas are having the best seasons of their careers.
Here's a breakdown of how each free agent signing has performed so far this season:
(NOTE: Quarterback Kyle Allen is not included in this story because Washington acquired him via trade.)
RB Peyton Barber
2020 stats: 94 carries, 258 yards (2.7 yards per attempt), 4 touchdowns
Peyton Barber has carved out a role as Washington's short-yardage running back this season, which is partly why he is only averaging 2.7 yards per attempt. The team has also relied on Barber when playing with a lead (76 of his 94 carries have come in the team's six wins). Barber's best game of the season came on Thanksgiving, when he carried the ball 11 times for 57 yards in a rout of the Dallas Cowboys.
"I don't look at a lot of the stuff that you see being said about the yards per carry or stuff like that," offensive coordinator Scott Turner said before the Steelers game. "He's a short-yardage and kind of four-minute type back for us. Those yards are hard to come by in those situations. He's done a great job of moving the chains."
CB Ronald Darby
2020 stats: 55 tackles (43 solo), 16 pass breakups, fumble recovery
Ronald Darby has been a Day 1 starter and the only member of the secondary to start every game this season, which is significant considering he missed a combined 20 games the previous three seasons in Philadelphia. Not only has Darby been reliable, but he has been productive opposite Fuller. He leads the team in pass breakups and ranks third in solo tackles.
"Darby's done a nice job for us," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "Consistency is what we're looking for. When he's playing consistently, he's a really strong player for us. We like his contributions for us. We're looking throughout our defense for more consistency, and that's how we're working at it."
LB Thomas Davis Sr.
2020 stats: 7 games, 6 tackles (5 solo), 1 pass breakup
Thomas Davis Sr. is the NFL's active leader in career tackles (1,216), but in Washington, the 37-year-old linebacker has made only made six total tackles in seven games. That said, Thomas has been a valuable veteran presence. Rivera brought in Davis to help establish his culture in Washington -- Thomas played under him for eight seasons with the Panthers -- and it seems like he has done just that for a young linebacking corps. Davis announced Dec. 29 that he will be retiring after the season.
"Shoot, he's got incredible insight and tips; you talk about street credibility with the guys," linebackers coach Steve Russ said. "He brings the juice every day. He's got a deal where people have to beat him out to the ball every day in practice before we start that segment of plays. It's amazing. Guys are flying off the field trying to get to the ball when we're going to start the next period. He's racing guys there. You talk about incredible way of starting a period out with that kind of energy and that type of intensity. It also keeps him ready. He's been phenomenal. I've said it before, he's just such an amazing leader. He's been bringing that every day. I've been very proud of him."
CB Kendall Fuller
2020 stats: 50 tackles (38 solo), 11 pass breakups, 4 interceptions
Kendall Fuller was the crown jewel of this free agent class, and he has performed as expected in his second stint in the nation's capital. Fuller, a third-round pick of Washington in 2016, is currently tied for seventh in the league with four interceptions despite missing two games because of injury.
"It helps us out a lot," Darby said about having Fuller in the secondary. "He's a real smart player, works hard during the week, studying -- there's a reason why he's ranked the way he is."
T Cornelius Lucas
2020 stats: 14 games (8 starts)
Cornelius Lucas could not beat out Geron Christian Sr. in training camp, but he thrived in Christian's injury absence. In his first two starts, Lucas did not allow a sack, pressure, hurry or quarterback hit, according to PFF. After missing two games with an ankle injury, Lucas returned to the starting lineup for the final five games of the regular season.
"For him, it's being in that playbook and being prepared," assistant offensive line coach Travelle Wharton said about Lucas in early November. "He's been preparing. He takes great notes. He was ready for the opportunity whenever it happened. Unfortunately, it happened to Geron, but for him to step in and do a great job is a testament to him of working hard and being patient."
RB J.D. McKissic
2020 stats: 85 carries, 365 yards (4.3 yards per attempt), 1 touchdown; 80 receptions, 589 yards (7.4 yards per reception), 2 touchdowns
Turner likes versatility in his running backs, and J.D. McKissic has certainly fit that description this season. McKissic has only scored three touchdowns, but he has helped Washington earn 57 first downs and averages 5.8 per touch. The fifth-year pro, who shattered his previous career highs in rushing yards, receptions and receiving yards this season. had the best receiving game of his career against the Steelers and proved he is more than just a pass-catcher versus the 49ers. He finished the regular second among NFL running backs in catches and receiving yards.
"You see it as a receiver, you see it as a runner -- he's a quality back," Rivera said of McKissic, who ranks second in receptions and fifth in receiving yards for a single season among Washington running backs all-time. "I think the thing that he's showing is he can be a first-, second- and third-down guy. Do you want him touching the ball 30 times a game? Probably not if you don't want him to take that type of pounding. But you want the ball in his hands as much as possible. I do think he is a quality football player."
LB Kevin Pierre-Louis
2020 stats: 13 games (11 starts), 56 tackles (36 solo), 2 pass breakups, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
Washington's coaches insisted that Kevin Pierre-Louis could be a key piece to the defense when the team signed him in March. He has lived up to those expectations with career-highs in starts and tackles, and he recorded his second-career sack against the 49ers. He has missed the past three games with an ankle injury.
"The one thing I see from KPL is improvement, and that's what we want to see," Russ said. "We want to see guys that continue to improve, continue to get comfortable being out there in our system...with the guys that he's out there playing with and just turn it loose. Turn it loose, go out there and have fun, play hard and good things will happen. That's where I think he's headed, and I'm going to be excited to see what he can turn into and continue to get better."
G Wes Schweitzer
2020 stats: 16 games (13 starts)
After an injury prevented Wes Schweitzer from competing for a starting job during training camp, he filled in for an injured Brandon Scherff earlier this season and has been the starting left guard since Week 7. In 644 pass blocking snaps, he has allowed five sacks and four quarterback hits. His best performance came in Week 12 against the Bengals when PFF gave him an overall grade of 93.7, the highest among all guards.
"I'm a team player, and I just do whatever is asked of me," Schweitzer said prior to starting against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3. "I have 38 starts at right guard and left guard. Last year, I had to start at right guard and switch mid-game to left guard, and I've done it the other way, too. ...This is my fifth year, and I'm ready to play wherever they ask me to."
TE Logan Thomas
2020 stats: 72 receptions, 670 yards, 6 touchdowns
Rivera believes there are flashes of Greg Olsen, who was his starting tight end with the Carolina Panthers, in Logan Thomas, and there have been plenty of moments where the former Virginia Tech quarterback has exhibited that talent. He finished the regular season first on the team in receiving touchdowns, second in receiving yards and third in receptions.
Thomas, who blew past his previous career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns, has been a reliable target for whoever has been at quarterback. He has made at least four catches in 10 games and eclipsed 35 yards receiving in eight of his past 11 contests. His best game of the season came versus the Seahawks, when he hauled in 13 passes for 101 yards. He finished the regular season third among all tight ends in catches, seventh in receiving yards and ninth in touchdowns.
"Logan just continues to grow," Rivera said after Washington's 23-17 win over the Steelers. "I know [tight ends coach] Pete Hoener really felt that this was a guy that was on the verge of taking the next step and so when we got him in free agency, it was one of those things that Coach Pete just felt, 'Hey, here's a guy that we can develop and help him get better,' and he sure has. He's fitting in our offense, just doing a heck of a job."