Expectations are high at Redskins Park. Expectations may be even higher amongst the Redskins fanbase...and why shouldn't they be?
The team is coming off a 9-7 season that saw them win the NFC East, and Jay Gruden and company have had an amazing offseason so far, with an exceptional draft providing the icing on top of the triple-tiered cake. The Redskins are certainly a team on the rise, led by one of the most respected general managers in the league - Scot McCloughan, and others around the league are beginning to take notice!
It wasn't all that long ago that the Redskins were considered the punch line of the NFL. Overpriced veteran additions, combined with questionable draft decisions and poor overall depth plagued this team for decades. For fans, turning the corner, and just moving towards respectability seemed like a pipe dream.
Well not Anymore!
McCloughan and Gruden have brought back respect to a once proud orginazation, and with the current roster, and the way the team is building from within, the sky is the limit.
So, just how high can this team climb? Are the Redskins really good enough to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl?
Let's break this down by positional groups to see if this team has enough talent to take it to the next level.
Quarterback is arguably the most important position on a football team. This individual needs to be a leader, who at any moment in a game, can rally the troops, put the team on his back, and lead the men to a victory.
Kirk Cousins - Cousins, in his first year as the unquestioned starter, led his team to a 9-7 record, and an NFC East title. Along the way he set franchise records in passing yards in a season(4166), completion percentage over 16 games(69.8) and was second in touchdowns(29). You have to think Cousins will only get better with improved talent around him, and another season as a starter in Gruden's system. I don't think 4300 passing yards, 34 touchdowns, and a completion percentage over 65% is out of the question for 2016. He was a top 10 player at his position in 2015, and there is no reason to think he can't move up this list in 2016. A new multi-year contract should be plenty of motivation for him.
The Redskins have a solid backup in Colt McCoy and a rookie with some future potential in Nate Sudfeld.
The Redskins running game struggled to find consistency last season, but part of that could be blamed on a young and inexperienced offensive line. Matt Jones showed good break-away ability, and good receiving skills out of the backfield. He needs to be more consistent as an inside runner, and show better ball protection, but the skills are certainly there.
Behind Jones, are some question marks. Depth could be an issue, and if Jones were to go down, who would be the guy to step up? Thompson is a nice change-of-pack back, but he's not a workhorse. Keith Marshall is a rookie with amazing speed, but injuries de-railed his college career, and durability with be a question moving forward.
Receiver is a strength of this team. Even though we will have two players who turn 30 during the season(Garçon and Jackson), the group as a whole may be one of the better overall units in the league.
Jackson offers big-play ability that few in the league can match. Garçon is a tough possession receiver who can do all the dirty work for this group. Crowder, a second year slot reliever, set the franchise rookie receiving record last season, and is poised to take his game to the next level in 2016. The Redskins spent their first round pick this year on Josh Doctson, a 6'2 3/4" 205 pound athletic freak. Doctson has the luxury of coming in and learning the NFL game behind some great veteran guys, but he can also become an immediate red-zone threat with his size, hands and leaping ability(he has a 42" vertical).
The Redskins boast one of the best young tight ends in the NFL in Jordan Reed. He can not be covered one-on-one by a linebacker or safety, and he can even make the best slot cornerback look silly. Reed has excellent hands, runs great routes, and is a nightmare after the catch as a runner. He just received a huge new contract from the team, and his best days are surely ahead of him.
The depth behind Reed is probably the best in the NFC. Niles Paul, who is returning from a season ending injury, and newly acquired Vernon Davis, give the unit 3 legitimate receiving threats, and two players who are pretty good blockers to boot(Davis and Paul). Paulsen is more of an in-line blocking option for the team, but he does have some ability as a receiver. Darek Carrier, who is recovering from a knee injury, is likely to start the season on IR.
The Redskins young offensive line is loaded with potential. They are one of the youngest, and largest units in the NFL, with a potential starting unit left to right, of Williams, Lauvao, Long, Scherff and Moses, averaging nearly 6'5" 320, and just 26 years of age. Center is still a huge question mark for this unit, and even though I have Long as a possibility, it could be veteran Kory Lichtensteiger, Josh LeRibeus, or second year player Austin Reiter who assumes the position for the season.
Behind these potential starters, the Redskins boast impressive depth, where young players like Arie Kouandjio(6'5" 310), Josh LeRibeus(6'3" 315), Austin Reiter(6'3" 310), Takoby Cofield(6'4" 310) and veteran swing tackle Ty Nsekhe(6'8" 325) round out the group.
Defensive line may have seen the most changes from last season. Jason Hatcher is no longer with the team(retired), so the Redskins moved outside linebacker Trent Murphy, who is now close to 290 pounds, to defensive end. They also signed Kendall Reyes(6'4" 300), a former Joe Barry player, to compete for a starting spot at DE. The team chose not to re-sign veteran nose tackle Terrance Knighton, and this may signify a change in philosophy at the position moving forward. The role could be occupied by veteran Kedric Golston(6'4" 318)and rookie Matt Ioannidis(6'3" 305). Veterans Chris Baker, Stephen Paea, Ricky Jean-Francois, and Ziggy Hood should all contribute at multiple positions this season, while youngster Corey Crawford will look to establish himself, after spending 2015 on the practice squad.
Inside linebacker was a big question mark heading into the 2016 NFL draft. Some questions may have been answered when the Redskins selected the talented and versatile Su'a Cravens. Cravens, who can project to both linebacker and safety, is likely to start his Redskins career at the former. If he can add some weight, and establish himself as a 3-down linebacker in the league, the Redskins are well on their way to establishing some stability at the position. At the very least, Cravens could help out in sub-packages as a hybrid defender for the group.
Along with Cravens, the Redskins return veterans Perry Riley, Will Compton, Mason Foster, and new free agent Terence Garvin. Second year player Martrell Spaight returns from a season ending injury, and could challenge for playing time this season. Rookie Steven Daniels will be looking to impress coaches this summer, and earn a spot on the 53 man roster.
Overall, this group may not be world-beaters, but they are an athletic group, with some upside.
The Redskins have three pretty darn good outside linebackers to fit in their 3-4 defense. Ryan Kerrigan, Junior Galette and Preston Smith have the potential to make this unit one of the league best. All three players have the ability to put a lot of heat on opposing quarterbacks, and could eclipse 20 sacks as a unit in 2016. Galette, who is returning from a torn Achilles, will be the big wild card of this position group. If he can return to 100 percent, this group will be scary-good.
The Redskins went into the 2016 offseason with some questions, but exit with nothing but answers. The signing of All-Pro corner Josh Norman was the biggest offseason move in the NFL. It is rare to see a player of his caliber in his prime hit the free agent market, and the Redskins did a tremendous job securing his services(albeit at a hefty price tag). Norman and Bashaud Breeland give the Redskins one of the best corner tandems in the league.
In addition to Norman, the Redskins got a steal in the third round of the NFL draft when they selected Kendall Fuller. The former Virginia Tech star slipped due to some concerns about a knee injury he suffered in 2015, but the staff feels he will be 100% by training camp, and he has the talent to step in as the team's nickel corner and contribute immediately.
The unit has some solid depth with converted wide receiver Quinton Dunbar entering his second season at the position. He has enormous potential, and his length and speed are things coaches covet. Veteran Will Blackmon was brought back this offseason, and his versatility at both corner and safety will be valuable to the Skins. Veteran Greg Toler, second year player DeShazor Everette, and rookies Lloyd Carrington and Mariel Cooper will all be fighting for a roster spot this summer.
There are still some question marks at safety. DeAngelo Hall seems to have one of the spots locked down(likely FS), leaving newly signed David Bruton, Duke Ihenacho and second year player Kyshoen Jarrett fighting it out for a spot opposite Hall. Jarrett, who suffered a nerve injury to his neck late last season, is the wild card here. If he can return healthy, the unit will take on a different identity. If he is still experiencing issue with his neck, the team may be forced to put him on injured reserve, thus weakening the unit.
As I previously mentioned, veteran Will Blackmon and second year player DeShazor Everett could also factor in at safety, as could rookie Su'a Cravens.
Overall, I fell this team is the most talented group I have seen in years. We arguable have 4 positional groups that would rank in the top 5 in the NFL: Wide Receiver, Tight End, Outside Linebacker and Cornerback, with Quarterback and Offensive Line probably falling in the top 10.
With the talent this unit has at some key position, and the likelihood that improvement will occur in 2016, do the Redskins have what it takes to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl?
If you believe we are not there yet, please state why, and where we need to improve most, to become a contender.