While the Redskins used two draft picks to address their defensive line woes, it is still a position in need of dire reinforcements. Both their starting level of talent and depth are both in need of additional help. The Redskins last season had perhaps the worst starting 3 man line in the league. Washington had issues both at DE and NT, which makes Alan Branch an interesting option since he has experience playing both.
Why The Redskins Need Branch:
Here is the Redskins defensive line depth chart:
Adam Carriker: Overall Carriker is an average 5-technique. He offers solid production against the run, but he doesn't do much in terms of rushing the passer. If you compared him to other starters around the league, Carriker would probably be among the worst. In an ideal world, he'd be a situational guy, used almost exclusively on rushing downs.
Phillip Daniels: Daniels has been a solid Redskin over the years, but his once solid run defense alluded him last season. He doesn't offer much in the way of a pass rush, and really isn't a great fit for his team as he will be 38 next season.
Vonnie Holliday: Holliday was a productive pass rusher for the Skins last year, and still showed he had something left in the tank. He would be a good 3rd down specialist for the Skins, but their lack of depth last year forced him to take on a larger role. He has hinted at retirement, and will be 35 next season if he does suit up.
Ma'ake Kemoeatu: Kemo was just awful last season, and while the excuse is that he was recovering from an Achilles injury, the Redskins simply can't afford to have his lack of production at the nose tackle position this season. I expect him to be released if the Redskins can add a NT in free agency.
Anthony Bryant: Bryant flashed some at the end of the year for the Redskins, but he really isn't a starting caliber NT (much less a good one). It would be a stretch for him to be a backup on most teams. He deserves an 80 man spot, but I don't think he is a sure thing for a 53 man roster spot.
Chris Neild: Neild is a rookie that has a good bit of promise, but he simply isn't the answer as a starter right now. I can see him making the roster and averaging 5-10 snaps a game, but much more than that would be a surprise.
Albert Haynesworth: Haynesworth has the talent but I don't think he has a place on this team going forward. Without Haynesworth there is a huge void at Defensive end.
Jeremy Jarmon: Jarmon didn't have much of an impact to showcase himself at the position last season, but he did show some promise late in the season. Jarmon has some potential to be a starter, but he is by no means a sure thing. I think at the very least Jarmon can be a pass rush specialist in the 3-4.
Jarvis Jenkins: Jenkins was the Redskins 2nd round pick, and has a lot of promise as he transitions to the 5-technique. He is a type of player who gets a quick first step and can be very disruptive in the backfield. He probably won't put up big sack numbers, but he is strong against the run and will collapse the pocket some. Jenkins also offers the Redskins versatility, as he can play DE, help out at NT (a little) and also kick inside when the Redskins use 4 down linemen.
The Redskins right now have three solid options along the defensive line, but none are real sure things. I think the upside of both Jenkins and Jarmon give the Redskins promise, but they really need more depth than Carriker. As for the interior of the line the Redskins need to get some help at NT. The Redskins could also use another guy who can kick inside when the Redskins go with a 4 man line. Right now only Jenkins really projects well when kicking inside, though both Jarmon and Carriker could be okay there.
Why the Redskins should sign Alan Branch:
Branch was a one-time highly touted second round pick for the Arizona Cardinals. While he has been a considered a bust in the past, he's vastly improved the past two years. He's not a starter for the Cards, but a lot of that has to do with the Cardinals have star DE's Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell.
He is known primarily as a run defender, but he does a decent job of putting some pressure on the quarterback. Branch is no longer a real NT, but he does kick inside for the Cardinals at times (usually in 4 down linemen sets). Branch offers the Redskins a lineman capable of being a starter and has the versatility to play any position along the line.
At just 26 (for the majority of next season) Branch will give the Redskins another young defensive lineman, who has the upside to be a quality starter. While Jenkins might have more upside, Branch is more of a sure thing and right now would be the Redskins top defensive linemen.
I realize the Redskins have been tied to star defenders Cullen Jenkins and Aubrayo Franklin, but I can't see them signing both, since they are both over 30. Of the two I would focus on Franklin as finding a NT is a bigger need than DE. Either way Branch offers insurance to the Redskins, as he could be a starting DE next to Franklin, or offer depth at NT and DE with Cullen Jenkins.
It's hard to say exactly how much Branch will cost in free agency, but it will be considerably less than most top tier free agents. I think he will get somewhere in the $4 million range, between 4-6 years. His signing will probably mean the end of the Phillip Daniels and Vonnie Holliday (and hopefully the Kemoeatu) eras in Washington, but he is worth it.
Steve Shoup has been a Redskins fan his entire life and dreams of the day they get back to the glory days of his youth. In addition to his regular piece on Hogs Haven, you can find his daily writings at Fanspeak.com.