Everyone loves a good list. But all too often, these kinds of lists turn into a ranking of the team's best players. In today's Top Ten list, the criteria is simple: Who can we simply not afford to lose to injury this season? Better put, who are the top ten players that are central to the success of THIS YEAR'S team--taking into account depth at each position and potential contributions from each player? I have taken some creative liberties with the presentation of the list, and I have made a few judgement calls that I expect some of you will disagree with--I expect you all will not hold back in the comments section.
#10 - Hunter Smith - When I heard the news that Hunter Smith had been signed, I was just slightly less happy than when I heard the news Jessica Biel was doing a nude scene in an upcoming movie. Our punting situation has been a nightmare for a while now. Derrick Frost may have been a Hall of Famer during the week in practice, but he stunk out loud too many times on Sundays when it counted. Ryan Plackemeier was not the huge upgrade that blew up everyone's skirts either. Word on the street was that he was a liability as a holder. However, I heard his personal hygiene was beyond reproach (no need to bury the guy.) Hunter Smith is a pro's pro. While he has enjoyed the dome-life in Indy, his abilities are sure to be an upgrade in D.C. And with our team expected to be led by our defense, the field position battle will have to feature the skills of Hunter the Punter. He is known in the league to be a steady and rock-solid holder, having paired with Mike Vanderjagt to form one of the most accurate kicking batteries in NFL history (and again with Adam Vinatieri when they won the Super Bowl.) Finally, he brought down Deion Sanders in the following video that always brings a smile to my face.
#9 - Derrick Dockery - We are all aware of the less than stellar year the Redskins had on the offensive line last year. Pete Kendall was a band-aid the year before and performed well enough, but last year that band-aid fell off and got lost in the chicken salad, and Jason Campbell ended up eating that band-aid in his sandwich. Let's not mix words here--we brought in Dockery to be an upgrade, not to hold down the position until someone better comes along. He has to perform well, and he has to perform well right away. Early last season we ran left on some pretty important plays. With Right Tackle being up-for-grabs, and with Randy Thomas healing yet again from injuries, the left side is going to be relied upon heavily. Behind Dockery is Chad Rinehart, who we still know very little about. Samuels and Dockery are comfortable and confident playing next to each other. Losing Dockery would hurt us from a depth perspective and would disrupt the chemistry of the left side of the line.
#8 - Fred Davis - I kind of snuck this one in. I won't pretend to be an expert talent evaluator but when I watched him practice this off season at Redskins Park in Ashburn, he really got to me. Like Cammie from the 80's flick The Great Outdoors, played by Lucy Deakins. At first you're kind of like, "OK...I like this girl, but so far she's not central to the plot," and then as the movie goes on, every other storyline becomes meaningless to you and all you can think about is Cammie and how is Buck going to pull this off?!? That is my prediction for Fred Davis this season. At first it will be all about CP, JC, Cooley, the defense, Santana Clause. But by Week 6 (against Kansas City, where Sleepy's stat line will be 6 catches, 78 yards and 2 TDs), Davis will have asserted himself as a legitimate threat for us on offense. And I predict it will be him that becomes the key to our red zone attack.
#7 - Brian Orakpo - Well, I pretty much had to change my shorts when we drafted this guy. I spent all winter clamoring for an OLB/DE player to fill the Merriman/Ware hole in our roster. As a rookie, he will be expected to play like a vet. He will be expected to show up in the stats, and he will be expected to straight-up dominate. So it goes with high first round picks I suppose. Is it fair? Dan Snyder's $20 million bones say it is more than fair. There was an offensive lineman on the board when we picked Orakpo--Michael Oher--so this selection has all the makings of being second-guessed all season long. If he fails to be a force on our defense, it will be hard to hear anything above the fans shouting the f-word: failure. Further, for us to enjoy the kind of success we are hoping for, we need nothing less than a dominant performance from his position.
#6 - Santana Moss - One could argue we have lost Santana Moss during the season every year for the last 3 years. Either by injury or by opposing defenses denying him the ball, Moss has been silenced late in the season. Still, he is one of those "magic" players that has the ability to make a play when he gets the ball in his hands. Whenever he touches the ball, there is a chance the play can end with him scoring a touchdown. We'd all like to think that with Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly in the fold, Moss might be somewhat replaceable. Not so fast. The dude is an elite NFL player and on our team, his value is as much about the comfort and confidence he gives both fans and teammates when he is on the field as it is about his skill set. Here is a highlight video of him ( a little grainy, but you get the idea.)
#5 - Jason Campbell - I fear I will be scolded for either putting him too high or for putting him on this list at all. Truth be told, I am shocked that I am not making him #1. Todd Collins has proven to be more than serviceable, with not only a stellar performance in relief of JC, but also a late-season playoff push under his belt. Colt Brennan is the apple of a lot of eyes, and Jason Campbell has yet to become the "franchise quarterback" you want from a 1st rounder. But he is absolutely central to our success this year. Despite the off season rumors and activity, the investment in JC has only grown greater. Both he and the coaching staff have put in a lot of hours in the months leading up to training camp. Jason has worked extensively with Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, and he has quietly continued to act the part of "Starting Redskins QB" which as we all know is a position of high honor and visibility. He has the confidence of his teammates and coaching staff (currently), and let's face facts--you pretty much always have most of your eggs in the starting QB basket. If you think like me, and you think JC will in fact be second to the defense among the reasons we make the playoffs, you have to put him on this list, and you probably should put him higher.
#4 - Mike Sellers - This year might be the first year that I fully appreciate Sellers for exactly what he means to this team. I have both underestimated and overestimated his importance and role on this team in the last handful of years. There was a series in the pre-season a couple years back where Gibbs called for like 4 straight hand-offs to Sellers. He busted each carry for 7-8 yards a pop. I thought we were seeing the emergence of a Brandon Jacobs-type of role for Sellers. Then last season, the disappointment of him being (allegedly) unable to punch the ball in against Cincinnati on the goal line tempered that expectation. In 2005, he had 8 TDs (7 through the air, 1 on the ground), but last year just managed 1 score. So how does he land at #4 on this list? Special teams notwithstanding, he has become an invaluable lead blocker. Clinton Portis loves to get in behind Sellers and every time they both make it to the edge, you know a 1st down is a gimme. Players like Sellers seem to get marginalized by their organizations over time (see Lorenzo Neal from the San Diego Chargers a few years back.) Here's hoping the team figures out a responsible way to keep him with the team beyond this year. Sellers has become a destructive force in what has been at times an unstoppable running game. We can ill afford to lose him this year if we hope to keep Clinton Portis from taking on the first and second tacklers at the point of attack. And anything Sellers is able to add in the way of short-yardage situations for us is gravy.
#3 - Clinton Portis - Thanks to fantasy football, I have finally learned the lesson that eludes so many fans and even league personnel men: running backs really do grow on trees. So what is CP doing this high on the list? Because there are exceptions to every rule. Like for example, to those that say "No means No", I say, "Sometimes No means Maybe." ("Reservation for 1 in hell please? Yes, I'll hold.") CP is a stud...a freak of nature athletically that has enjoyed a great deal of success at running back for 7 seasons. That is twice the average career for running backs (somebody call me out on this if I am wrong, but I think the average career of a running back is roughly 3 years.) From an odds perspective there is a better chance Leonardo DiCaprio will star in the Growing Pains movie than a running back becoming highly productive in his 8th year. Yet that is what we are banking on this season. Clinton is the man yet again this year, and without him, the ship loses a lot of direction and purpose. More than anything, the ship loses a lot of identity. For better or worse, the identity of this team and specifically the offense is tied to Clinton Portis.
#2 - Chris Samuels - We spoke to a retired former Redskin a few months ago (who shall remain nameless for now) and he said that there was only ONE player on the whole roster he would label "untouchable"--only one player on the entire roster that he would start all over with tomorrow: Chris Samuels. Whether you agree with it or not, it kind of takes your breath away...wait for it...like Nicole Eggert in Charles in Charge. She was only 15 when she started out as Jamie Powell but I was only 10, so the things I was thinking about doing to her were totally legal (as a 10-year old, this consisted mostly of picturing her in a bathing suit, but by the time she was 18, I was 13, so my dream date of me, her and Samantha Micelli (Alyssa Milano) from Who's The Boss was ON.) As we discussed above, the offensive line was a debacle last year. Samuels is the class of our line. If he goes down, our team's playoff chances disappear faster than a bag of blow left alone in a room with Corey Haim. (It's not fair to beat up on Corey Haim you say? Go back and watch Lucas again. All these years later, and both Charlie Sheen and Jeremy Piven are killing it. Corey Haim has only Corey Haim to blame.)
#1 - Albert Haynesworth - If you go to a nice restaurant and order the most expensive thing on the menu, like the Filet Mignon plate, it ain't going to work for you if the steak is undercooked and gives you parasites. A good bowl of mashed potatoes or creamed spinach is not going to save the dish. We paid for the best cut of meat on the market. It had damn well better taste good and be cooked right. Haynesworth has to absolutely dominate this season for the Redskins to both save face and make some noise in the NFC. Is saving face really that important? I think so, because he represents yet another in a long line of high-priced talent brought in by Snyder to win now. This has yet to really pan out for Snyder and has left us coming up with some pretty lame one-liners over the years.
"Mark Carrier could really be the difference this season."
"Brandon Lloyd is poised to break out this season."
"Adam Archuleta should really solidify our secondary."
"Bruce Smith attacking the QB is going to get us to the next level this season."
"Chad Morton is the answer in the return game."
"Jeff George is the right guy for this offense."
OK, you get the idea. Redemption is absolutely chief among the goals for Haynesworth this year in my humble opinion. And the truth is it will come hand-in-hand with domination at the point of attack. If Blache can move him up and down the line of scrimmage effectively and keep the opposing offense guessing, Haynesworth is capable of providing the same kind of impact that Reggie White gave the Packers when he signed there and subsequently led them to a Super Bowl. Without Haynesworth, we lose twice really. We continue to get berated by everyone for trying and failing to "buy a championship" and we would be on the outside looking in yet again come December.
As I review the list, LaRon Landry jumps off the page as the one I wish I would have found a spot for, but I will have to live with leaving him off, despite my constant proclamations that Landry is an elite player. I guess I dig our safety group right now, and am hopeful that a Chris Horton/ Kareem Moore backfield would hold up (if you can't lie to yourself, who can you lie to?)
Other Honorable Mentions: Ladell Betts, London Fletcher, Carlos Rogers, and Ethan "The Red Snapper" Albright.
I expect that London will be the one I get the most grief for excluding, so let me seed my excuse for leaving him out: I love Alfred Fincher, and think that if it came down to it, he would be the feel-good story of the league stepping in and up to replace London. Think Mike Seaver-gets-Chelsea Noble...yeah, that kind of feel good.