I decided to start a new series this offseason taking a look at each position group and giving a likely possible upside and downside for that group for this season. In the comments we can discuss just how likely or unlikely these outcomes may be. Now these are "likely" possible outcomes, so that doesn't mean that every upside will equal the players from that position group having career years and going to the Pro Bowl. Conversely the downside isn't just that the group is injured or the worst in the league. Ideally these are reasonable possible outcomes, based on previous history, potential, supporting cast and any external factors.
First up will be the Redskins Special Teams. Typically I will break down individual positions, but with the Special Teams I decided to lump them together. They will be broken up in 4 categories: Kicking, Punting, Returns, Coverage
Glass Half Full:
-In 24 games in Washington over the past 2 seasons Kai Forbath is 35 for 40 in Field Goals for an impressive 87.5%. While last year as a whole was a down year for him (18 or 22), his two misses early in the season were while he was dealing with a groin injury and his two misses later in the year (in the same game) were blocked. While you hate seeing those four misses, they are somewhat excusable (at least from the kicker perspective). The fact is that regardless of game conditions, distance or weather, Forbath is 35 of 36 when he's healthy and his line doesn't fail him. That is really impressive and shows that Forbath could be among the league leaders in FG% this year and a big weapon for the Redskins.
The real question with kicking comes down to kick-off distance, an area where Forbath will clearly never be a weapon at. The Redskins though could still do well in this area if either their punter can handle the duties or rookie Zach Hocker can get a role on the team as a kick-off specialist. It's not ideal to keep a 3rd kicker/punter, as that is a game day roster spot that you won't have for an extra position player, but other teams do it. Whether it's Hocker or a punter, the Redskins probably won't be a top team in kick-off distance or touchbacks, but they should be well improved in both areas which will go a long way to helping their special teams as a whole.
-Right now it looks as though the Redskins will have a punting battle between Robert Malone and Blake Clingan. Malone has some experience and should be the favorite at this point. He has a career average of 44.5 yards per punt which is about average (maybe slightly below). Over the last two years Malone has averaged an improved 45.9 yards per punt, which is just above average. The good news for the Redskins is those numbers would be a vast improvement over what the Redskins have had the past couple of years. The Redskins punting game last year was just pathetic, and it led to a number of big returns last season against the Redskins. Adding an extra 3-5 yards on the punt should help reduce that field position advantage, even if there isn't a major improvement in the Redskins coverage unit.
-This is a big question mark area for the Redskins this season as it's pretty unclear as to who will exactly handle return duties this season. Last season before his knee injury Richard Crawford figured to be the punt returner, but he's no longer a lock to make this team and he might not even be recovered from his injury. Chris Thompson handled a lot of early return duties last season, but he was a major liability and for the 3rd straight season his year was cut short due to injury. Probably the safest bet and best case scenario for the Redskins is that Andre Roberts handles both return duties this year. Roberts hasn't been a primary return man since his rookie year in Arizona, but with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon entrenched in the starting roles, Roberts could be available to handle the duties. Roberts won't make anyone think he's Jacoby Jones or Devin Hester, but he can definitely improve the Redskins production here and perhaps get the Redskins to the middle of the pack in return ability (or at least close to it).
-This was another major weakness for the Redskins last year and definitely a lot of room for growth. The Redskins made special teams a major focus in their free agency and draft plans this year. Stocking up on linebackers like Adam Hayward, Akeem Jordan, and Darryl Sharpton should the special teams. Rookies Trent Murphy, Bashaud Breeland and Ted Bosler are also known for their ability to help on special teams. Add in some guys recovering from injuries like Keenan Robinson, Phillip Thomas and Richard Crawford and there is a lot of reason to hope that this unit is not only improved, but even above average. It's doubtful with so many new pieces and guys coming back from injury that this will be a top coverage unit, but it if ends up above average and it's paired with average-to-above average punting and kickoffs, than the Redskins could make a significant impact on the starting field position of their opponents.
Glass Half Empty:
-The good news is that the kicking game as a whole likely won't be entirely weak even in a negative scenario. If the Redskins can't get a punter to handle kick-off duties and go with just one kicker, they will be weak in one area, but likely struggle in the other. A healthy Forbath should be at least even above average in accuracy in a down year. The problem is the kick-offs will be pretty poor. If they go with the rookie Hocker, their kick-offs should improve, but it's likely the accuracy and effective range of the Redskins kicking game will go down. Hocker had a good senior year in terms of accuracy, but he was streaky before that and few rookie kickers show really good accuracy off the bat.
-This position is easy to see what could go wrong as the Redskins are relying on a pair of punters with very limited combined experience and success. Even if Malone wins the job, he might not match the distance that he had during his time with the Jets over the last two years. Malone also isn't known to do a great job pinning teams deep or keeping it out of the end zone, so even though the Redskins may improve from last year it might be a pretty marginal improvement. The Redskins desperately need their punting unit to be a weapon that helps the defense, but it's possible that once again it's a liability.
-With this position being up in the air, it's not hard to imagine a "Glass half empty" scenario here. Both Chris Thompson and Richard Crawford are big question marks and neither might make the team. Rookie RB Lache Seastrunk is campaigning for return duties, but he has almost no experience. Andre Roberts figures to be the best bet, but there is no guarantee he'll be that good at returns. He was pretty average when he did it as a rookie, and chances are he hasn't vastly improved. Similar to punting, this could be an area where the Redskins have a small improvement from last year, but are still among the bottom tier of the league.
-Though there is a lot of reason to believe that the Redskins coverage units will be vastly improved this year, at this point a lot of it is just that, hope. The Redskins brought in some guys with solid-to-good special teams backgrounds, but chances are none of these guys are Lorenzo Alexander. Also, how many of these players will be active on game days? Will the Redskins be able to keep all these ILB's active to help boost special teams? Same holds true with defensive backs and tight ends. Ted Bosler might be known as a good special teamer, but he's not helping special teams if he's inactive. And if he is active does that mean that Niles Paul, the Redskins lone quality special teamer is cut or inactive? One other thing to remember is that while the Redskins gained a number of better special teams players on paper, they are losing one of their only good special teamers in safety Reed Doughty. In addition to his quality special teams play, Doughty was also a leader as well so someone is going to have to take that role.
Most of these will probably be somewhere in the middle between the positive and negative scenarios, but if I had to give a confidence level, the Redskins should feel better about their Kicking and Coverage abilities and far less confident with their Punting and Return units. I don't see any of these units being truly great, though kicking accuracy definitely has a chance if Forbath is retained. Any improvements though will be greatly welcomed by both the offense and defense this season.
What do you think? What scenarios are more likely? Also what do you think will really happen?