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10 Players Who Helped Lead Washington To The Playoffs

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Thanks to these 10 players, the once 2-7 Washington Football Team's fate was suddenly turned around as it was able to clinch the NFC East and make the playoffs for the first time in five years.

QB Alex Smith

Sitting at 2-6, Washington turned to 36-year-old Alex Smith to replace the injured Kyle Allen at quarterback. After completing what seemed like an impossible comeback, Smith not only took the reigns of the offense but led Washington to wins in four of the next five games. He then missed two contests with a calf injury but returned to help the team clinch its first NFC East title since 2015.

"He's the leader of this offense. You look at how the guys look to him, and there's just a sense of confidence when he's on the field," offensive coordinator Scott Turner said Wednesday. "Has he been limited? Yeah, absolutely. But he's doing everything he can to be out there. That brings something to our team. The games he's started this year, obviously, we're 5-1. It's a team effort. Obviously, our defense is playing great and other guys have stepped up. The team feeds on that, the whole team. Seeing him out there and what he's fighting through gives us a little bit of edge and gives confidence that, 'Hey, no matter what happens, we're going to be able to push through this and find a way to win whether it's ugly or pretty or whatever.' They all count the same."

RB Antonio Gibson

Antonio Gibson had a breakout rookie campaign, proving to the rest of the NFL that he was a steal in the third-round of the 2020 draft. Gibson finished the regular season with 206 touches for 1,042 total yards (5.1 yards per touch) and 11 touchdowns. Not only was Gibson Washington's leading rusher, but he also made franchise history by being only the seventh rookie to hit the 1,000-yard mark and the first to do so since Alfred Morris in 2012.

"That's what's exciting is the possibilities," head coach Ron Rivera said about Gibson in early December. "There have been a lot of great moments so far already where you say, 'Wow, that's pretty good.' At the same time, to say we know what the finished product is going to be right now is a little premature. Is the potential there? Most certainly. Has he shown us things that get you excited? Absolutely. Again, I'll continue to say this, right now I compare his running style to Arian Foster. I like who the young man can be for us. I like the way he runs the ball. He's got good body lean when he runs. He's got the step to speed to burst and he's got good vision. He's learning to be the kind of runner that we hope he can be for us. His skillset of catching the ball in the backfield we really haven't gotten to, either."

RB J.D. McKissic

Washington picked up J.D. McKissic during free agency, and the fifth-year pro has proven to be a versatile commodity.

McKissic finished the regular season with 80 receptions for 589 yards -- both of which were second among all running backs behind the Saints' perennial Pro Bowler Alvin Kamara.

"Well, I think the biggest thing with J.D. is you see his versatility," Rivera said in early November. "You see it as a receiver, you see it as a runner. He's a quality back. 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."

TE Logan Thomas

Another incredible pickup during free agency was tight end Logan Thomas. The quarterback-turned-tight end quickly became a reliable target regardless of quarterback and emerged as a legitimate No. 1 tight end as the season progressed. He currently has 72 receptions, the third-most at his position, to go along with 670 yards and a team-high six receiving touchdowns.

Not only did Thomas gain national attention in 2020, but he also made franchise history by becoming the third tight end to post more than 70 catches, 650 yards and five touchdowns in a season.

"When you looked at him and the small body of work he had coming into the season, you saw it all there. You saw the size, you saw the speed, you saw the physicality," Turner said in December. "The more he's played, the better he's gotten. I thought he was capable of doing this, maybe not to this extent. But it's good. ...He's definitely growing and expanding his role."

WR Terry McLaurin

In his second NFL season, captain Terry McLaurin has emerged as a leader and face of the Washington Football Team. McLaurin rounded out the regular season leading Washington with 1,118 yards and four touchdowns on 87 receptions.

McLaurin and Washington Ring of Famer Gary Clark are the only two players in franchise history to eclipse 2,000 receiving yards within their first two seasons.

"You go out there and you watch him at practice, and you watch the way he thinks through his routes," Rivera said of McLaurin. "You can see him going through in his mind in terms of, he'll sit there and all of a sudden he'll do something like this and you know he's thinking about his release or he's thinking about widening that defender. You can tell he's thinking about the plays as he goes through it in his mind getting ready for those plays to happen."

Guard Brandon Scherff

For the past six years, guard Brandon Scherff has been a high-performing leader along Washington's offensive line. After having another solid season, Scherff was named to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time. He's only the sixth offensive linemen in Washington history to be named to the Pro Bowl four or more times.

On top of that, the team captain has been an example to this young group during the 2020 season. As a result, Scherff was recently named Washington's Ed Block Courage Award recipient.

"Brandon's toughness, his consistency and then just the resiliency that he shows dealing with that injury early in the year, being able to come back," Turner said in December. "He's just been a steady rock. Him and Morgan [Moses] playing on that right side together. Those guys working together, playing together, and then obviously Chase [Roullier] at center. Those are the leaders up front for us. They've done a great job, Brandon in particular. He brings it every day. He's the same guy, the toughness, the blue-collar mentality. It helps, energizes and drives our team."

DE Chase Young

Chase Young's dominant end to the regular season made him the clear frontrunner for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Young, the reigning No. 2 overall pick, leads all rookies with 7.5 sacks to go along with 44 tackles (10 for loss), four forced fumbles, four passes defensed, three fumble recoveries and a touchdown.

And if that's not impressive enough, Young racked several accolades including being named a captain, a Pro Bowler and the NFC Defensive Player and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for December. He's also the only rookie in franchise history to record at least one sack in seven games.

Young's play and leadership have been described as "crazy unusual" for a rookie. "I think Chase is so comfortable in his own skin and being who he is. I think guys respect that, but it's rare to have a guy that young step in and really affect his teammates as positively as he has," said quarterback Alex Smith. "He's definitely unique. I've never seen a guy roam the sidelines like he does as we're on offense. How engaged he is, how honest he is and sincere and how much he cares about his teammates, how much he loves competition. It's very, very rare."

DE Montez Sweat

Montez Sweat has proven to be another intimidating defensive end during his first two years in Washington. Sweat finished the regular season with 28 solo tackles, nine sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception returned for a touchdown.

Both Young (87.2) and Sweat (79.7) finished with top 15 overall grades among edge rushers, according to Pro Football Focus. This dangerous duo has proven this season that they will wreak havoc in the league for years to come.

"When you watch Montez, you see maturity, you see growth," defensive line coach Sam Mills III said. "He's really doing some wonderful things for us. In the run game, he plays really stout in there for us. I think he's getting used to our different techniques. When they go to throw the ball, he just has a natural ability to rush. Everything about him is just speeding everything up...using his talents and just maximizing everything. I'm really pleased with him."

S Kamren Curl

Rookie Kamren Curl was a seventh-round steal for Washington, making play after play in place of injured Pro Bowl strong safety Landon Collins. Curl finished his rookie season by leading the team with 63 solo tackles and ranking second with 88 total tackles to go along with four pass breakups, three interceptions, two sacks and a touchdown.

His efforts were recognized with he and Young making PFF's All-Rookie team.

"He's kind of come in, made the most of his opportunities, worked hard," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said in December. "The guy just got it. He understood. We had never even seen him on the field yet and hadn't even met him hardly. We were just going through Zoom and thinking: 'This guy is impressive. This guy is sharp. This guy gets it.'"

P Tress Way

Tress Way has shined year after year for Washington, and this season has been no different.

Way finished off the regular season with 73 punts, averaging 44.3 net yards per punt with 65 yards being his longest of the season. These stats earned Way NFC Special Teams player of the week twice this season. Way is also the only Washington special teamer to win the award four-plus times.

"First of all, it takes a little pressure off you in terms of decision making," Rivera said of Way in mid-December. "But the beauty of a guy who can flip the field, can eliminate the possibility of a return, a big return -- that's impactful."

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