It’s time for another roster projection, but unlike the past ones, I’ll take time to clarify my mindset a little more. This isn’t necessarily how I think the roster will ultimately shape out. It’s more based upon an “if the preseason ended today” mentality. There are a few players on the outside looking in who still have a legitimate shot of making the roster, as you will see. Let’s move on.
Quarterback (3): Robert Griffin III, Rex Grossman, Kirk Cousins
Yes, they’re keeping three despite Kirk Cousins’ performance and not trotting Rex Grossman out for any action versus the Bears. Preseason is all about evaluation, and they already know what they have in Rex. That said, the Sex Cannon isn't expendable yet, but that doesn't take away from Cousins posting a robust stat sheet in his second exhibition game. It was an encouraging game from Cousins, who made few mistakes and got into an unstoppable rhythm, and he will provide youth and depth at a position that has been in shambles for years.
Halfback/Fullback (4): Tim Hightower, Evan Royster, Roy Helu, Jr., Darrel Young
There’s a lot to like about Alfred Morris, and I’m not convinced we won’t see him in a Redskins uniform at some point this season. However, I still expect him to begin his tenure with the Redskins on the practice squad like Evan Royster did. He’s a big back who runs just as big, always seeming to fall forward and taking the yards that are given to him. But picking up blitzes is still a vital part of the game, and Morris could stand to show improvement in that department.
Additionally, while Morris hasn’t been a poor runner by any stretch of the means, he hasn’t done anything that has made him a waiver-wire priority to other teams should he be placed on the practice squad. Keep in mind that if other teams had held him in such high regard, it’s likely he would have been selected before the sixth round of the draft. While I love his potential, I just don’t think he sees the roster immediately. Not at this point, at least.
Wide Receiver (6): Pierre Garcon, Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss, Joshua Morgan, Dezmon Briscoe, Aldrick Robinson
This is my first projection that does not have Brandon Banks making the final 53, and for good reason. Banks has had every opportunity to prove himself this summer, and while he has done well in camp as a receiver, he managed a paltry two catches for seven yards in the Bills game where he was force-fed the ball. He hasn't taken a snap at receiver in a preseason game since. Banks' punt return for a touchdown against the Bears helped his cause, but not by much, judging from a rather ominous quote from Mike Shanahan after the game:
“When a guy has game-breaking potential and ability, which [Banks] has shown, it is tough not to keep a guy like that,” Shanahan said.
“But we have a lot of competition and that is what you want to have. Who else can return punts? Who else can play wide receiver? That is what you have to evaluate and sometimes you let some good football players go.”
It’s pretty clear that Banks will have to earn his spot as a wide receiver this time around, and that task was made all the more difficult after what Dezmon Briscoe and Aldrick Robinson just flashed. Prior to the second preseason game, Robinson had yet to truly show how devastating a weapon his speed can be, but he did just that on Saturday. Furthermore, he ran a variety of routes to prove he can be more than just a one-trick pony, and that should give him a huge edge over Banks once cut day arrives.
As for Briscoe, he too flashed what makes him a potential threat to other teams-- his strength. No play evidenced this aspect better than his touchdown catch, as he fought through defenders to cross the goal line. As a player who caught six touchdowns last year, he could provide good insurance should another receiver go down with an injury
Tight End (4): Fred Davis, Chris Cooley, Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen
It’s not common for a team to carry so many tight ends, but right now, there’s no reason for the Redskins not to. Each one contributes something unique to either offense or special teams, and offers insurance at other positions. Chris Cooley’s usage out of the backfield could help cement his position, and Niles Paul could provide emergency insurance at wide receiver or return-man in a pinch. Paul’s transition to a new position is still very much a work-in-progress, which is another reason to hang onto Logan Paulsen for the time being, who is a solid contributor on special teams as well as a capable receiver.
Offensive Line (9): Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester, Tyler Polumbus, Adam Gettis, Josh LeRibeus, Willie Smith, Maurice Hurt.
PUP: Jammal Brown
What a mess. The starting five pretty much earn their spots by default, despite being either remarkably inconsistent in protection or just plain hurt. That leaves the rookies Adam Gettis and Josh LeRibeus who have had their ups and downs, but that’s expected from a pair of mid-round drafted rookies. Willie Smith had a nice bounce-back after a turbulent start to the preseason, and he will continue to be pushed by rookie seventh-rounder Tom Compton for a spot. The practice squad is Compton’s most likely destination to start his career, not unlike Smith who began his tenure with the Redskins on the outside of the initial 53-man roster as well. If Jammal Brown, by some stroke of luck is healthy enough to play this season, it could be Maurice Hurt who is sent packing.
Defensive Line (6): Adam Carriker, Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Jarvis Jenkins, Chris Baker, Kedric Golston
Losing Chris Neild for the season is unfortunate, although it probably clarifies that six defensive linemen will make the final cut instead of seven. The veteran Kedric Golston has a clearer path to making the cut once again, as recovering from a torn MCL and partially torn ACL had made reclaiming his roster spot more difficult. Sitting out Saturday's preseason game due to a sore elbow didn't help him either, but it doesn't appear to be serious.
Chris Baker has been one of the bigger stories around camp, and in every sense of the word. He coupled his strong practices with an absolutely dominant performance versus the Bills in his first preseason game of the year. He wasn’t as disruptive versus the Bears, but that would have been extremely difficult to repeat given how much he dismantled the Bills’ second and third stringers. Baker also has the versatility to play defensive end, which could allow Jim Haslett the freedom to experiment with some new looks up front.
Linebacker (8): London Fletcher, Perry Riley, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Lorenzo Alexander, Keenan Robinson, Rob Jackson, Chris Wilson.
There shouldn’t be many surprises here, although Chris Wilson is a new name among my projections. Wilson’s biggest competition, Markus White, is currently out with a fractured rib and bruised kidney. That absence will only hurt him, as he hasn’t been able to follow up a shaky performance versus the Bills. Wilson, however, has done a decent enough job to push White for his job since day one, however the situation remains to not look very promising should Brian Orakpo or Ryan Kerrigan become injured.
Secondary (10): DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, Cedric Griffin, Kevin Barnes, Richard Crawford, Tanard Jackson, Brandon Meriweather, Madieu Williams, DeJon Gomes, Reed Doughty
Richard Crawford is another surprise at camp, and those flashes have translated onto the field in preseason games. At such a shaky position, it has to be a breath of fresh air to the coaching staff to have found a rookie who is providing some sort of stability amid an otherwise patchwork secondary. Cedric Griffin continues to disappoint, but he isn’t going anywhere; at least not now.
While there is uncertainty at cornerback, even more lies within the safety position. As of now, the two starters at the position consist of players who couldn’t crack their 2011 team’s lineup, and injury problems throughout the depth chart make matters even murkier. For now, the Redskins are going to need as much depth as possible at a position that’s going to be picked on by opposing offenses.
Special Teams (3): Neil Rackers, Sav Rocca, Nick Sundberg
I still don’t really know what to make of the kicking situation, as the Redskins have only attempted two field goals throughout preseason thus far. Reports from camp indicate that the battle between Neil Rackers and Graham Gano is a close one, but my gut tells me to stick with the veteran for now. Despite missing a 54-yard attempt, Rackers showed he still has plenty enough leg to drill long-distance attempts. Then again, so does Gano. This will go down to the wire, and much more needs to be seen from both of them.