NFC East

Can McLaurin Avoid Sophomore Slump?

Terry McLaurin. Photo by Joe Glorioso. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Entering 2019 as a third round pick, Terry McLaurin was expected at most to be a complimentary piece to a wide receiver core in the midst of a rebuild. Instead, McLaurin quickly cemented himself as the leader of the young receiver group. At times the rookie featured as the focal point of the offense under both Jay Gruden and interim Coach Bill Callahan. The Ohio State product overachieved in the eyes of many, amassing 58 catches, 919 yards, and 7 touchdowns. While Redskins fans are hopeful their young talent at wide receiver can continue to excel in his second year, there is concern McLaurin could face a set-back under new coaching personnel.

Keeping the Momentum

Early in the season the league had taken notice of McLaurin’s quick start off the blocks. Through 2 games McLaurin accounted for 187 yards and 2 touchdowns. Competent route running coupled with a blistering 4.35 forty-yard dash speed introduced Terry McLaurin to the NFL as one of its premier rookie wide-outs.

In those early season performances McLaurin showcased a skill set which gave fans hope that he will be the number one option at receiver for years to come. In the week 1 loss to the Eagles, McLaurin had 5 receptions for 125 yards and 1 touchdown. One of those receptions absolutely took the top off the defense for 69 yards. From that point on, “Scary Terry,” as his teammates refer to him, lined up out wide for such fly-route opportunities.

A high football IQ also helped him to exploit defenses. As McLaurin was able to change gears effectively during the route he kept both corners and safeties confused. This use of variable speed is arguably one of McLaurin’s most valuable skills. Early on corners were only becoming aware of this next level speed, and often over played the expected fly or post route as a result. This deceptive route running allowed him to get in vulnerable pockets between the second level of the defense and the safeties.

Pace and route running vaulted McLaurin to the starting lineup. His physicality is what helped him keep the starting job. While only listed at 6’0”, 210 lbs., Terry displayed superb strength in aerial duels throughout 2019. Aggressively attacking the ball and creating just enough separation compensated for his less than imposing frame.

Rounding out Inconsistencies

 At no fault of his own, Terry McLaurin had to adapt to the NFL as a whole but also to two different coaches in one season. Given the reality of the situation one could conclude that a level of inconsistency was expected. However the ebbs and flows of Terry’s season were hardly due to a schematic change.

Referenced ad nauseam are McLaurin’s mental and physical traits that separated him from most of his peers in the 2019 Draft. While showing aptitude at nearly every level, McLaurin appears to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none early in his career.

As impressive as his early start was, some of that success can be chalked up to the opposition’s lack-luster scouting report. His raw speed, the great equalizer, was a catalyst in Week 1 vs. the Eagles. Shortly after, while still showcasing the traits of NFL wide-out, McLaurin’s production began to fall back to earth. This is mostly in part due to many corners contesting him at the line of scrimmage. Struggling with that initial separation made it difficult for Terry to get involved in key games down the stretch of the season. In 7 games last season McLaurin registered less than 5 catches. It is also no coincidence that most of those games came against the more physical corners the league has to offer.

In order to keep production from falling against these corners next year, McLaurin will need to combine his multitude of strengths. Using his innate variable speed as a tool to combat against the jamming at the line of scrimmage and putting the aggressive corner on the back-foot is certainly a start. Struggling against experienced corners is hardly far-fetched for a rookie wide receiver. In McLaurin’s case, he already possesses the skill set to shorten that learning curve. It is only a matter of time when we see more dependable production from No. 17.

2020 Hopes and Expectations

A new coaching staff brings a new philosophy to Washington, namely what new OC Scott Turner brings to the table. While Washington is technically his first official OC position, Turner showcased a creative offense for Carolina in the latter half of the 2019 season. This was an offense that took considerable pressure off a first year starter in Kyle Allen, who coincidentally is also a Redskins newcomer. Turner emphasized manufacturing touches out of the backfield to running backs and wide receivers alike. The hope is this can open up lanes for speedy talents like McLaurin.

When asked what he wants to improve upon next year Terry said plainly, ‘I want to consistently keep my contested catch rate very high…I want to be a guy my teammates trusted on 3rd down.’ Taking advantage of McLaurin’s speed is key, allowing for the initial separation which devastated defenses early last season. More important, however, is to put him a position to find those vulnerable pockets in the defense and secure a needed catch in a mid to long yardage situation. Terry’s route-running potential can be elevated this year with creative schemes to give him even more open field.

Even after a lauded rookie campaign, McLaurin is eager to prove more on the field. ‘Coming into next year I’m really hungry to build on what I started my rookie year but I’m not hanging my hat on that,’ McLaurin told NBC Sports. ‘I still feel like it wasn’t enough.’ he added with palpable ambition. A revamped offensive strategy coupled with a strong base should give the Washington fan base real optimism that “Scary Terry” will continue to deliver at a high level for the Redskins in 2020.

 

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