While we all know that the Redskins have a number of pressing needs, ranging from quarterback to nose tackle, a few that often get overlooked are those on Special Teams. While the Redskins no doubt lost their games due to an ineffective Offense and Defense, their Special Teams play didn't do them any favors (outside of Brandon Banks of course). The Redskins need to find a way to improve at three key Special Team's positions; Kicker, Punter and Long Snapper.
If you asked me a month ago I would have said that Kicker is the least of the Redskins Special Teams needs, despite the numerous missed field goals from Graham Gano. Although most fans would feel the sting from those missed field goals the most, I felt that Gano was dealt a pretty unfair hand. Throughout the year Nick Sundberg's snaps were consistently high or low, that I think accounted for a least a couple of the missed field goals. I also felt that Gano's kickoffs, in particular his placement, helped make up for his spotty field goal percentage. Gano not only consistently kicked the ball deep inside the 5 yard line, but was very good at directional kicking that helped shrink the field for opposing returners. Now with kickoffs 5 yards closer, I think there it eliminates a good bit of Gano's ability as I believe a number of kickers will be able to provide the field position advantage Gano did.
Even with Gano's diminished value, he still might be worth more to keep around than the Redskins punters or LS Nick Sundberg. Sundberg was inconsistent throughout the season and left the punters and holders having to reach for the ball all season, which messed up the timing on a number of kicks. Although Sundberg's snaps could be part of the reason the Redskins punting was so poor, it's not the only reason.
The Redskins were 4th in the league in punts (thank you offense), but just 8th in yards and 11th in net yards. They ended up 2nd worst in both yards per punt and net yards per punt. The Redskins were tied for 21st in number of punts inside the 20, despite having so many more opportunities than other teams (part of that reason though goes back from the offense, since I'm guessing the majority of the time the Redskins were punting from their own 30 yard line). One thing that can't be blamed on the offense is the fact that only 17 of the Redskins 94 punts were fair caught, which comes out to just 18%. Most of the top teams were between 24-34% when it came to fair catches. The Redskins lack of fair catches, led them to being 2nd worst in return yardage.
So how do the Redskins fix these Special Team's woes? My plan after the break:
Long Snapper: Now this is obviously not going to be a major free agent signing or draft pick, but the Redskins need to make signing the best long snapper they can a priority, which will likely be an undrafted rookie free agent. The good news for the Redskins is that typically long snappers aren't drafted so they can likely get the top one. Also working in the Redskins favor is the fact that the pick of the litter, Danny Aiken, went to UVA and hails from southern Virginia. The Redskins should have a leg up in signing him if he is an undrafted free agent.
Punter: Depending on how free agency shakes out, there could be some interesting names (this assuming anyone with 4+ years is a free agent). If not, the Redskins will need to bring in a rookie, which preferably would be an undrafted free agent. There are a number of options that could be available, but there is one that I would potentially consider drafting in the 7th round (hopefully with the compensation pick). That would be Chas Henry from Florida. The Ray Guy winner, had a 45.1 yard average, and consistently placed balls inside the 20. He also has experience as a FG kicker and kickoff specialist, as well as being a holder. If the Redskins trade back or are able to trade players to stockpile more mid-round picks using a 7th rounder on a guy like Henry would be worth it to ensure that you get him.
Kicker: This is the one area I'd like to see the Redskins make a priority and potentially even use a 5th round pick on Nebraska K Alex Henery. Henery who was also an elite punter has the strongest and most accurate leg in this draft. He missed just one extra point during his career in nearly 200 chances. In addition he made over 89% of his career FG's and consistently showed range from beyond 40 and 50 yards. In fact his only missed FG this season was a blocked 51 yard attempt. He has the leg strength to be a weapon on kickoffs as well, and could be the Redskins long term answer at their revolving door of kickers.
Analysis: Now I know most Redskins fans might want to have me committed for suggesting that Washington use potentially two draft picks on specialists, but they need to find some way to address these positions. Now I would be quite a bit more reluctant to use picks on kickers if the Redskins don't trade back and stockpile selections. If Washington does acquire extra selections though, I would have little problem using a 5th and 7th rounder to fix Washington's kicking woes, which have really been an issue for the last decade. Considering how poor our late round selections preformed last season, at least the Redskins would be getting actual value and not just bench/practice squad fodder out of their late round picks, by selecting Henery and Henry (It would also be fun to grab both given their similar names).
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.